In 1886, my great-great-grandfather bought a 20 acre fruit farm in Oshtemo.  I knew a little about what was grown on the farm from his widow's pension application, but I wanted to see if I could dig up anything else. Too bad, he bought the place after the 1880 agricultural census, I thought. But wait, even though Edward Flynn wasn't there in 1880, I could still learn something about the land. I knew from newspaper accounts that Edward had bought his farm from Jeremiah Williams.  By comparing the 1873 (when Williams also owned the land) and 1890 plat maps (when Flynn was there), I was able to confirm that the plot was the same size and shape in both years. [2,3]
My next step was to find Jeremiah in the 1880 agricultural census. I discovered that in 1879 the land produced five tons of hay as well as 200 bushels of “Indian corn” and 30 of Irish potatoes.  Beyond that there were 2-3 acres of apple and peach orchards, producing 30 bushels of apples and 10 of peaches, though the value of the orchard products was only listed as $16.  They may have done better with the vineyard which produced 1500 pounds of grapes that year.  At first I thought that seemed like a huge amount of grapes, but after thinking about how many grapes we grew last summer on just two vines that we basically ignored, it's no longer so difficult to imagine. The farm also produced 10 pounds of honey, 75 lbs. butter and 75 dozen eggs. 
By the time my ancestors lived on the land they also grew strawberries (from the widow's pension).  And a note in the Kalamazoo Telegraph stated “We are indebted to E. Flynn for a generous donation of Bartlett pears, which he had the kindness to leave at our office this morning.”  While I know that things on the farm were unlikely to be exactly the same in the 1890s as they were as described for 1879, I expect that much was similar. No one with sense would buy a fruit farm and chop down the trees knowing the sandy the soil was unfit for other crops. I do know that as of 1900 when Edward died they grew mostly fruit, though strawberries were the only ones specifically mentioned.  I don't know everything I'd like, but I do have a much better idea of my gg-grandparents' life on the farm than I did before.
Now I'd like to do a similar analysis to find out what was grown on a piece of land just doors down from Edward's place where another set of my gg-grandparents lived. That won't be quite as straight forward since I'll first have to determine who owned the land in 1880. But, with a little bit of work, I should be able to find out.
- “Jottings,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Daily Telegraph, 20 April 1886, page 6, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 25 February 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
- Oshtemo, Jeremiah Williams, Section 27, In: Atlas of Kalamazoo Co. Michigan. From Recent And Actual Surveys And Records. (New York: F.W. Beers & Co., 1873) page 29, digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 25 January 2015) U.S. Indexed County Land Ownership Maps 1860-1918.
- Oshtemo, E. Flynn, Section 27, In: Illustrated Atlas of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. (Detroit, Michigan: Wm. C. Sauer, C.E., 1890) page 25.
- 1850-1880 U.S. Federal Census, Michigan, Agricultural schedule, 1880, Oshtemo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, E.D. 186, Pg. 10B, Line 7, Jeremiah Williams; NARA microfilm publication, Record Group 29, T1164, digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 25 January 2015) Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880.
- Deposition of Sarah Flynn, filed with Sarah Flynn's widow's pension application no. 721091, certificate no. 497116; service of Edward A. Flynn (Cpl.. Co. I, 2nd Michigan Infantry, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
- “Paragraphic,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Daily Telegraph, 4 September 1886, page 7, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 25 February 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.