Golden Grains: Environmental Implications of Mennonite Migration to Kansas in the Late Nineteenth Century



In 1874, Dutch-descendent Mennonites from present-day Ukraine (New Russia at the time) travelled across the Atlantic to Kansas. They brought with them experience of grain farming on the steppes, as well as the Turkey Red wheat variety, according to popular accounts. These Mennonites were crucial in turning Kansas into the breadbasket of America. As a result of agricultural development, traditional tallgrass prairie was destroyed in a few generations. The nostalgic mythology surrounding Turkey Red, for which Kansas and Mennonites became famous, provides a misleading picture of these Mennonites as a community that lived in harmony with the land, upholding a traditional agrarian lifestyle. Focusing on Kansas, this article explores the damage done both by farming and new social relationships with the land.

Author Biography

Katherine Hill, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Katherine Hill is a historian specializing in the religious culture of non-conformist Protestant movements, especially Mennonites, with interests in migration, material cultures, memory, and histories of place and environment. She is currently a senior lecturer in early modern history at Birkbeck College, University of London, and holds a Leverhulme Research Leadership award for a five-year project on the global legacies of Anabaptism from 1525 to the present day. Hill is also working on a completely different project on bothy culture in the Scottish Highlands, which combines her interest in the environmental humanities with her love of the outdoors.