The split rail fence, wheat field, rooting pigs, and log house represent a four-year-old farm, established when Iowa became a state in 1846. The farm site is in transition between subsistence agriculture (producing enough for the family to survive) and becoming a profit-making farm. Most farms in 1850 averaged 160 acres in size, with farmers cultivating anywhere from 25 to 40 acres. Corn, wheat, and potatoes were the three major crops in 1850. Most farmers used their corn crop to feed the pigs that were then sold for profit. Wheat and hogs were cash crops for farmers, and potatoes were a staple with nearly every meal and lasted throughout the winter.
Until pioneer families earned enough money to purchase modern 1850 technology, they relied on older farming methods. For example, women prepared food over an open fire even though wood-burning cookstoves were available. The majority of people who settled in Iowa in the 1840s and 1850s came from the Eastern United States, and were eager to build a multi-room dwelling like they had lived in before coming west. Log houses were temporary structures that the pioneers improved or replaced once the farm was established.
Pioneer families relied on poultry for three major purposes: meat, eggs, and money. Most pioneers who raised pigs built a smokehouse to help preserve the pork. In 1850, barns were of less significance to the farm than in later years. Pioneers used barns to store tools and some crops, rather than to house animals. The big barns that are associated with modern farms were not built in Iowa until the 1870s.