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Part of Three Acres and Liberty
Type Book
Keywords agriculture, public domain, farming, food
Authors Steve Solomon
Charles Aldarondo
Published 2021
License [ Public Domain]
Ported from
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Making a living —where and how[edit | edit source]

By thought and courage, we can help ourselves to own a home, surrounded by acres of fruit and vegetables, flowers and poultry,and learn the best methods so as to insure success. In olden times any one could "farm," but it is necessary to-day to teach people to obtain a livelihood directly from the earth.

Scientific methods of agriculture have revealed possibilities in the soil that make farming the most fascinating occupation known to man.

People in every city are longing for the freedom of country life,yet hesitate to enter into its liberty because no one points the way.

Most sociologists are agreed that the great problem of our day is to stop the drift of population toward the cities. Seeing the overcrowding, the want and misery of our great towns, the philanthropist chimes in with "Get the people to the country, that is the need."

But there is no such need. Man is a social animal, he naturally goes in flocks, he earns more and learns more in crowds. To transport him to the country, even if he would stay, which happily he won't, would be to doctor a symptom. As in typhoid, what is needed is not to suppress the fever, that is easy, but to remove the cause of it.

It is not the growth of the cities that we want to check, but the needless want and misery in the cities, and this can be done by restoring the natural condition of living, and among other things,by showing that it is easier and making it more attractive to live in comfort on the outskirts of the city as producers, than in the slums as paupers.

We know already that the natural and healthy life is, that in the sweat of our faces we should eat bread. We observe that everything we eat or use or make comes from the earth by labor; but no one knows how abundantly the Mother can supply her children. It is well said that no man yet knows the capacity of a square yard of earth.

The farmer thinks that he has done well if he gets a hundred and fifty or two hundred bushels of potatoes from an acre; he does not know that others have gotten 1284 bushels.

("Mr. Knight, whose name is well known to every horticulturist in England, Once dug out of his fields no less than 1284 bushels of potatoes, or thirty-four tons and nine hundreds weight (about 34 bushels to the ton), on a single acre; and at a recent competition in Minnesota, 1120 bushels, or thirty tons, could be ascertained as having been grown on one acre." P. Kropotkin's "Fields, Factories and Workshops," page 114.)

Let us realize what an acre means. An acre is a square about 209 feet each way, 4840 square yards of land. A New York City avenue block is about 200 feet long from house corner to house corner. It has eight city lots 25 X 100 in its front; about double that space (17-2/5 lots) makes an acre.

An ordinary one-horse cart holds twenty bushels, so then a full crop of potatoes from that space would fill 56 carts.

To raise potatoes as an ordinary farmer raises them, requires him to go over the ground not less than a dozen times, plowing, harrowing,marking, planting, cultivating, three times weeding, three times for bugs, and digging; it would pay him to go over it much oftener.

If he plants his rows of potatoes three feet apart, to allow for horse cultivation, he has 69 rows of 200 feet each; which makes him walk at least thirty-three miles over each acre. If he has a twenty-acre lot in potatoes, he walks each year more than 650 miles over the field and gets, let us say, 150 bushels of poor potatoes per acre, or 3000 bushels off his twenty-acre field.

Now suppose he cultivates the soil, instead of just "raising a crop," and gets 600 bushels of fine potatoes to the acre, he need plant only five acres, walk only 200 miles, and, because his potatoes are choice and early, get many times the price that his pedestrian neighbor gets. It is much easier to grow 200,000 lb. of feed on one acre than to grow them on ten acres.

To cultivate is to watch the soil as you would watch your cooking and to tend the crop as you would tend your animals. The crop is as alive as the stock and as easily gets sick.

If an ordinary farmer rents 60 acres at $5.00 per acre, a moderate rent for good land, he pays out in cash $300, besides farm wages. If he buys it, his interest and taxes will amount to nearly as much; but if he tills but five acres intelligently, he can get as much out of it as out of an ordinary farm, and even if his rent be as high as $30 per acre for well situated land, he is $150 to the good; besides, doing the work himself, he has no drain of capital for wages.

Large barns and shelter for help being unnecessary, he can live in a cheap shack till he accumulates enough for proper buildings. Many of the successful vacant lot farmers live in a tent or in shanties made of old boxes and such like.

Of course, if we have the knowledge and ability and the capital and can give it the attention, it is more profitable to cultivate on a large scale than on a small one, because in that case each worker necessarily produces more than he gets as wages--and we pocket the difference.

Most American farmers are holding land that somebody ought to pay them a bonus for working, else they must come out of the little end of the horn. They get poor or poorly situated land, because it costs less, and then put three or four hundred dollars' worth of labor and money a year into the land and take out four or five hundred dollars' worth of crops.

The farmer thinks he must have big fields to feed his cattle, and that he must have cattle to keep the big fields fertilized, so he raises hay.

In that he makes two mistakes; hay, like most other low-priced crops, is risky--the cost of harvesting is high and the margin of profit small. A week of wet weather at cutting time or the impossibility of getting enough men and machines in the week when it should be cut, may make a loss.

But the scientific dairy man does not take that risk, nor let his cattle use up this fodder by wandering over the fields in search of tid-bits of grass or clover, or, goaded by the flies, trampling more grass than they eat and wasting their manure.

He keeps the cows in cool sheds, feeds them on cut fodder, and saves every ounce of the manure.

The modern cow is a ruminating machine for producing milk and cares little for exercise and needs little. To exploit the cattle as employers exploit the factory hands, he gives the cows a cool, shady place and food, and they stand there all day long to their profit and his.

(United States Agricultural Bulletin No. 22 says: "The New Jersey Experiment Station has been conducting a practical trial in soiling dairy cows for a number of years past, and finds that complete soiling is entirely practicable, i.e. that green foliage crops may serve as the sole food of the dewy herd, aside from the grain ration, without injury to the animals and with a considerable saving in the cost of milk.

"Under the soiling system a large number of animals can be kept upon a given acreage and by allowing open-air exercises in a large yard or pasture the practice has been demonstrated as entirely feasible for dairy animals.

"One acre of soiling crops produced sufficient fodder for an equivalent of 3 cows for six months. Rye, corn, crimson clover,alfalfa, oats and peas, and millets have been found to furnish food more economically than any other green crops in that locality. A grain rotation was always fed in addition to the soiling crops.")

Although we can feed a cow on less than an acre by raising forage crops, she needs to be milked every day at regular hours, and the milk, as well as the cans and the cow, need to be cared for--and she cannot wait.

The stock-raiser has a different proposition; he needs fields and grass; but if time and available labor is limited, we had better specialize on the garden--unlike the farmers.

The farmers are not to blame that they do not usually cultivate the land intelligently. They are mostly cut off from the educational advantages of the cities by distance and by bad roads.

Usually, that is because, desirable land being held at speculative prices, they are forced to places where the farm itself is worth less than the good improvements on it cost. Sometimes it is because,also, the land is poor or worn out; more often because it is thoughtlessly managed, nearly always because the land-hungry farmer has taken ten times as much land as he needs for farming. In the hope of a rise that often does not come, nearly all have bought more land than they can take good care of with limited capital and scarcity of help.

In addition, the farms have held out such poor prospects of fortune that the smarter and more enterprising boys and girls have left them for the towns, leaving behind the duller and more conservative to the mercy of the railroads and other monopolies. What wonder, then,that the overworked and struggling farmer finds little chance to study, or to investigate and invest in fertilizers or even in modern methods of agriculture.

No wonder farming does not pay if a "farmer" means a stupid man with neither training for, nor knowledge of, his business. Those who have the knowledge seldom have the experience and those who have the experience seldom have the knowledge.

The bonanza farms of the West are other samples of great areas of the most productive land in the United States being used most unscientifically. By the methods used, the land produces less per acre than land in the East which is not so good. Accordingly, we find that the bonanza farm plan, where great areas of wheat are worked by machines with labor employed only in the seed time and harvest, is rapidly breaking up. As the land becomes valuable and is taxed, such wasteful, wholesale methods do not pay as well as it pays to rent or sell the land to farmers, who each for themselves attend to details of the business. Consequently, most of those farms are being sold off. The whole amount of wheat ever raised on them,however, is small compared to the rice, millet, and wheat raised in China, India, and Russia, and is insignificant compared to the amount of produce grown on the myriad little farm plots.

A comparison of productions as taken from the 12th and 13th United States Censuses in the bonanza farm states shows that the yield of wheat was:

while New England shows 23.5 bu. per acre.

In 1899 In 1909

Minnesota 14.5 bu. per acre 17.4 North Dakota 13.5 bu. per acre 14.3 South Dakota 10.5 bu. per acre 14.6

By 1917 these largely increased, but the differences remain.

"The average extent of land tilled by one family in Japan does not exceed one hectare" (2.471 acres), less than two and a half acres.

("Japan in the Beginning of the Twentieth Century," page 89.

Published by the Department of Agriculture and Commerce of Japan.)

"Farm households contain on an average 5.8 persons, of whom two and a half persons per family may be regarded of an age capable of doing effective work."

"So that here we have more than one person working on each acre and each acre supporting more than two persons, notwithstanding that their 22,000,000 tenant farmers pay sometimes four fifths of their product as rent." (Same, page 103.)

Denmark, one of the best agricultural countries and probably one of the happiest communities on earth, reported

1,900 farms of 250-300 acres,74,000 farms averaging 100 acres,150,000 farms averaging 7 to 10 acres,1,050 cooperative dairies, and so on.

And so impressed has the ruling class there become with the advantage of this that the Government will supply the poor worker nine tenths of the means necessary to buy a small farm.

Says Kropotkin, "the small island of Jersey, eight miles long and less than six miles wide, still remains a land of open field culture; but, although it comprises only 28,707 acres (nearly 45 square miles), rocks included, it nourishes a population of about two inhabitants to each acre, or 1300 inhabitants to the square mile, and there is not one writer on agriculture who, after having paid a visit to this island, does not praise the well-being of the Jersey peasants and the admirable results which they obtain in their small farms of from five to twenty acres--very often less than five acres--by means of a rational and intensive culture.

"Most of my readers will probably be astonished to learn that the soil of Jersey, which consists of decomposed granite, with no organic matter in it, is not at all of surprising fertility, and that its climate, though more sunny than the climate of the British Isles, offers many drawbacks on account of the small amount of sun heat during the summer and of the cold winds in spring."

("The successes accomplished lately in Jersey are entirely due to the amount of labor which a dense population is putting on the land; to a system of land-tenure, land-transference, and inheritance very different from those which prevail elsewhere; to freedom from State taxation; and to the fact that communal institutions have been maintained down to quite a recent period, while a number of communal habits and customs of mutual support, derived there-from, are alive to the present time." (Fields, Factories and Workshops.")

"It will suffice to say that on the whole the inhabitants of Jersey obtain agricultural products to the value of $250 to each acre of the aggregate surface of land." (Same, page 113.))

In a small plot the character of the soil is of little consequence.

We hear of one garden in New York City on the roof of a big building where the janitor smuggled up the needed soil in baskets.

The school gardens in New York City, some in a space as small as a hearth rug, one yard by two, show how to use a very small patch of land to the best advantage. Nor need it take more time than you can afford.

"Some of the cultivators of city lots on Long Island who kept count of the number of days they worked, show the surprising conclusion that they earned, not farm wages (seventy-five cents a day with board and lodging for the worker), but mechanics' wages (four dollars per day) for every working day; as, for instance, a stone-cutter, assisted by his two boys, worked fifty hours and made $120.23." ("Cultivation of Vacant Lots, New York," page 12); and four city lots is a very little farm.

But though one may not own even a little farm, almost any one who wants to can have a home garden--it needs but a small plot of land.

Nor need we be discouraged because acquaintances who play at gardening tell us that their vegetables cost them more than if they bought them.

They naturally would, with thoughtless methods of cultivation, with the selection of crops and the purchase of seeds left to an uneducated man who does all his work the way he saw his grandfather do it.

Nor are we to be discouraged even by the "gentleman farmer" who runs a model farm, a model of how not to do it, for, notwithstanding its large capital, it seldom pays.

I am passing such a farm now as I write in the train--it is surrounded by a cut stone wall. Do you suppose the owner business would pay if it were run in the same way that his farm is run? We know the story of the white sparrow to find which would bring luck to the farm--but it was out only at daybreak; the farmer got up each morning to find the sparrow and found a lot of other things to attend to, which did bring luck to the farm. I don't think the owner of that wall worked at it, at daybreak.

The time is not far distant when the builders of homes in our American cities will be compelled to leave room for a garden, in order to meet the requirements of the people In the mad rush for wealth we have overlooked the natural state, but we see a healthy reaction setting in. With the improvements in steam and electricity,the revolutionizing of transportation, the cutting of the arbitrary telephone charges, it is becoming possible to live at a distance from our business. May we not expect in the near future to see one portion of our cities devoted entirely to business, with the homes of the people so separated as to give light, sunshine, and air to all, besides a piece of ground for a garden sufficient to supply the table with vegetables?

You raise more than vegetables in your garden: you raise your expectation of life.

Life belongs in the garden. Do you remember--the first chapters of Genesis show us our babyhood in a garden--the garden that all babyhood remembers, and the last chapter of the Apocalypse leaves us with the vision of the garden in the Holy City, on either side of the river, where the trees yield their fruits every month and bear leaves of universal healing. Just so will it be in our holy cities of the future--the garden will be right there "in the midst."