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What Type of Farming Did the Middle Colonies Practice?

Updated April 17, 2017

The 13 original colonies were divided into three regions: New England, the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies. New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware made up the Middle Colonies. With the benefit of excellent soil, subsistence farming became the primary occupation in the Middle Colonies. The few cash-crop farms produced grain, the Middle Colonies' biggest export.

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Subsistence Farming

Most colonists in the Middle Colonies tended smaller farm plots that fed only their own family, a practice known as subsistence farming. Any surplus was traded in their local communities for other items the family might need. Farming large plots of land required large labour forces. Only planters with slaves or indentured servants could afford to grow cash crops.


Large Quaker populations in Pennsylvania opposed slavery, reducing the number of large plantations in the Middle Colonies. Grain became the primary crop for planters in William Penn's colony, providing wheat and other grains to Europe and the Caribbean islands. Subsistence farmers easily provided for their families in Pennsylvania. They grew beans, squash, corn and potatoes. Orchards provided fruit, and many berries grew wild.

New York

First settled by the Dutch and subject to the patroon system, which is similar to the feudal system in Europe, large farms in New York produced grain and raised livestock. Even so, agriculture ranked second to colonial trade and the lucrative Indian fur trade, both of which flourished in New York.

New Jersey

Protected between two larger colonies, New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey colonists enjoyed a peaceful existence in small farming communities and escaped the Indian Wars that impacted other colonial settlements. Unlike New York and Pennsylvania, the colonists of New Jersey were almost entirely English with very few German, Dutch or Swedish settlers. While most had subsistence farms, New Jersey farmers also grew indigo, hemp, tobacco and grains.


Like the other Middle Colonies, subsistence farmers in Delaware grew grains and native crops like squash and beans. Initially tobacco became a primary crop in Delaware, but it was later replaced by corn and wheat. The prevalence of these grain products earned the Middle Colonies the designation of "the breadbasket" of the colonies.

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About the Author

Based in Cape Coral, Fla., Jennifer Groepl began writing career-related articles in 2010. She also runs her own medical transcription service. Certified in secondary education, Groepl holds a Bachelor of Science in social sciences from Florida State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University.

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