In his November 29th Per Square Mile piece, Tim De Chant tells us about looking down from a flight between Boston and Chicago to see the ribbon farms in what used to be Nouvelle-France.
The idea is that long, thin farms were established along an existing transportation route, in this case the St. Lawrence River (but the concept applies equally well to roads), this maximized efficiency in getting good from many farms to market (more access to transportation for more farms), and provided other benefits that he describes much better than I can.
The ribbon farms arrayed to share river frontage more compactly were a French tradition, and are uncommon in North America. Square farms -- parcels plotted out and transportation figured out later -- became the standard. That led to lots of road building and shaped the landscape we see in the US and Canada today.