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"Life, to the average man, means hard, anxious work, with disappointment at the end, whereas it ought to mean plenty of time for books and talk. There is something wrong about a system which condemns ninety-nine hundredths of the race to an existence as bare of intellectual activity and enjoyment as that of a horse, and with the added anxiety concerning the next month's rent. Is there no escape? Through years of hard toil I suspected that there might be such an escape. Now, having escaped, I am sure of it, so long as oatmeal is less expensive than Hour, so long as the fish and the cabbage grows, I shall keep out of the slavery of modern city existence, and live in God's sunshine." (Hubert, "Liberty and a Living.")
The wealthy class are taking up farming as a healthy and beautifying diversion, and we may expect others to follow, as it certainly promotes happiness and adds to the attractions of those who adopt it. With the aids which science has given, a farmer can now make good profits with less labor than was formerly necessary to get a bare living. The amount that a single well-managed, well-tilled acre will produce in a season is simply incredible. This accounts for the increased demand for farming lands wherever they are to be had on reasonable terms. The wage earners are learning this, and it is only a question of a little time when manufacturing plants will have to be convenient to lands where the families of the hands can have a small tract of land to cultivate. This requires good transportation facilities from the homes to the factories.
Corporate operation has been a great aid to human progress.
Organization is man's orderly way of following the Divine Plan for his economic salvation vet the far mer has profited less by organization than trades unions. Where farmers have organized to aid each other to buy and sell, they have gained wonderfully, but a beginning in this direction has but served to show how much more is needed.
To the individual farmer with large area and small means, the improvements in machinery that cheapen his production are not at present available. The discoveries in methods of fertilization of the soil only make it more difficult for him to earn a living in competition with those whose ample capital increases production by its use. Improvements in fruits and vegetation, by hybridization and various methods that add wealth to those of means, only add to the troubles of our present small farmers.
Hitherto corporate operation has been mainly for the benefit of stockholders. The cases where those whose labor creates dividends get more than wages have been rare. "A living wage" has been the ambition of labor itself: all profit beyond this is supposed to be the right of capital. There is with some persons an unconscious reluctance to share profits with labor lest the laborers become independent, and thus reduce their number to an extent to raise the labor market, so that it is difficult to get fair consideration of any business proposition that promises better conditions for the producer or independence for the laborer. This is undoubtedly short sighted, as the higher intelligence of the people who have land increases production and gives enlarged opportunities for the profitable employment of money. However, if capitalists persist in this narrow view, the money of the people when they learn and think,can be applied to this purpose instead of being deposited in savings banks, where much of it is used in increasing the wealth of those who already have abundance.
The idea of "helping others to help themselves" finds a responsive chord in the hearts of many wealthy people. But the question is, how can all be helped? No business method by which this can be accomplished has, as yet, been practically demonstrated.
In no field does corporate operation promise more for the betterment of human conditions, for a higher standard of morals and of education, or great certainty of profit for capital, than by systematically aiding men to obtain farms.
Progress proceeds on the line of returns for expenditure. When a man's economic condition permits, his first thought is to give his children an education and a better chance in life than he had. Those who extol the simple life as the ideal condition of happiness do not mean that want and deprivation of necessities is the ideal condition. If they did, they would put their children in that condition to make them happy. Both extremes of wealth and of poverty are burdens and retard mental and moral progress. The ideal condition is to be found on a farm where the land is paid for and ample means are at hand to supply the necessities for physical demands, with leisure to learn and enjoy those pleasures of the mind which come with knowledge of Nature's laws, and wisdom to live in harmony with them, and in a measure comprehend the purposes of creation.
Mr. G. W. Smith, founder of the Hundred Year Club, suggests that there is an opening in intensive farming for the benevolent but canny wealthy who are interested in the soil and want to combine philanthropy and percentage.
His plan is to get capital to secure land and all the necessary means, give to each approved applicant perpetual leases of land for a small farm and a lot in a village site convenient thereto, with a house merely sufficient for shelter, requiring as a first payment sufficient to secure capital against loss in case the farmer forfeits his contract, say $100. Let the company provide scientific supervision and conduct the operation mainly as though the farmers were employees, all the necessaries to be charged to each with only sufficient profit to pay the expense and a fair interest on the capital employed. Through a purchasing and sales department all products should be sold in the best market and each farmer credited with the net result of his productions until the agreed sale price is received, when title should pass in fee to the farmer, who,during the time, has become scientific so far as that piece of land is concerned, and in future can operate it with the advantages which progress has made. A public building would be necessary for a storehouse, in which rooms for meetings of various kinds should be provided, also such shelter as might be necessary for assembling and storage of products for shipment.
The expense of public buildings and other utilities could be paid for out of the increased value that they bring to the land. The company should have a nursery to provide fruit tree, etc., the growth of which, with the increase of population would make the farms, when paid for, worth far more than their cost. Such opportunities as this, opened to all, would do away with the tramps who are now able to live on the charitable, only because of the known difficulties of finding work.
The farmers should be utilized as far as possible in the purchasing and sales department, and should divide into committees to try various experiments connected with their business, that through their reports all may be benefited by the knowledge gained. Dairying and large orchards on land suitable and not of use in the general farming plan could be conducted by the community, each farmer being a stockholder. The labor performed on these cooperative undertakings should be paid for and charged to cost of production, each one who performs a share of the labor participating in the profits as near as may be. As money is received by the company from products, it can be used in similar operations. When the farms are paid for, the farmers can continue the cooperative features that experience has proved useful and extend the business principle to other fields,such as heating, light, and power by electricity, machinery for preparing products for market, drying, canning, etc., as well as for the cultivation of the soil.
Where the land is level the farms can be laid out on a general plan that will admit of the use of steam plows to reduce the cost of plowing, save hard labor, and reduce the number of work animals.
Among the multitude of advantages the individual would have in these communities, social, educational, and economic, health and physical development appear as not the least.
The farm, as it is, still furnishes a horde of recruits for insane asylums; its isolation and monotony of everyday life, with its lack of social intercourse and educational advantages, nearly counterbalance the strain and poverty of the cities.
But the greatest difficulty is the growing inability of the farmers'sons to secure land and the means to cultivate it when they arrive at a marriageable age. Those who have seen for threescore years the ever-increasing flow of boys and girls from the farms to the cities,greater in proportion to the rural population than in any other age,realize the necessity for aid in this direction. While it is true that the farm has contributed largely to the numbers of our successful city men, the fact remains that the mass of boys who come to the cities as well as the city born, lack the faculty to grab or save, and fail, while the healthy girls swell the ranks of prostitution, where an average of eight years lands them in a pauper's grave.
Our soldiers, as well as those of other countries, are not up to former physical standards. Degeneracy, disintegration is apparent in every direction.
The power of a nation depends on the physical and mental condition of the great mass of people, and to leave the people in ignorance that they may be controlled by the intelligent few who understand their needs and may have their welfare at heart, is a mistake that other nations than Russia have made. The law of the survival of the fittest has wiped out races and nations who have ignored this fundamental law, that all men must progress together.
A race or civilization with such a basis of farmers as this plan would create would be enduring.
The nation or race, like the individual, must have intelligent organization and live in harmony with the laws of nature in order to survive. Opposition to them means destruction Cooperation is constructive.
If we are to profit by this lesson, it is necessary that we improve the conditions surrounding our lower classes. That this is recognized by a large number of leading minds is proved by the efforts of the many who are engaged in educational and other social movements, most of which result in little net good to the wage-earners.
Obstacles to small farming near large cities are that farms of three to ten acres with buildings are not plentiful, and that mortgage loans are hard to get in the East and loans to help in building are hardly to be had at all.
Land is either held intact as large farms or is sold entire to speculators who hold it until it can be divided into city lots.
Here, it would seem, is an opportunity for those who are interested in bettering the condition of their fellow men by wholesale, and can invest large capital, but little time, in the work.
Let them buy up land in large acreages and cut it up into small plots of from one to ten acres, charging enough advance to return interest on the money invested and to meet the necessary expenses in such operation. Then make liberal building loans to buyers.
Inquiries among real estate men show that they always have a larger demand for small acreage than they can meet, so an immediate market with large profits would await those who are first in this field.
There is no use in blaming people for not leaving the cities to go to the farms; they don't know enough to go, they don't know enough to make a living if they do go, and they don't know enough to enjoy it. Besides this, they have not the capital. We must teach them and help them.
George H. Maxwell's Homecrofters' Guild at Watertown, Mass., where boys are taught what to do with the earth and how to do it, is worth whole shelves of books on "The Exodus to the Cities" or the "Prosperity of the Settler."
It is reported that the state of Texas offered six million acres of land for sale to settlers, at one dollar per acre. It has been suggested that it would be better that the states should rent out the land at four per cent of the sale price. This would leave more money in the hands of settlers and enable many to get farms who cannot pay the price and have enough left to raise a crop. In reality it would be better for the state to help farmers get a start rather than to tax them one dollar per acre to begin with. However,under our system of government, we permit only those who have money to have land.
There can be no doubt that the state of Texas and her people would be better off if the land were leased than to have it sold. Probably a tax on the value of the land instead of a rent would be the best for all the people, especially as it would check speculation.