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Rural Life Institutions

( Originally Published 1915 )

Agriculture a Mode of Life.—The study of agriculture means more than the study of how to make a material living. Agriculture is a mode of life. The study of agriculture is partly the study of how to find happiness in the open country. To be sure agriculture must be relatively profitable and respectable, but it will never be satisfying unless we learn to find beauty in grass and flowers, in birds and trees and ripening grain; it will never be satisfying unless we have, as our ideal, plain living and high thinking. Agriculture is satisfying when we find that we have in it a " work that none other can do."

The Country Life Problem.—Our country life problem is the problem of making the country attractive to people of ability and initiative. It is the problem of making country life satisfying to vigorous, capable, and enterprising young men and women. There is danger that the desire for the " conspicuous consumption of wealth," that the " lure of the crowd," the craze for the show, the pomp, and the chances of the city will attract the leading young men and women from the country. The problem, then, is the problem of how to maintain a stable population in the country. Before we can do that we must realize keenly the necessity for redirecting and revitalizing certain social institutions. Teachers are moulders of public opinion and hence, before they go to teach in the country, should have a good course in rural sociology. Rural sociology has been neglected in both our agricultural colleges and in our normal schools. This is not the place for a full treatment of all of the social problems of the country. I lack space to treat of a number—the liquor problem, the labor problem, the restricted markets, the unfair banking system, the antiquated taxing systems and a number of others. The discussions of our rural social problems have recently called forth some excellent books among which are the " Report of the Country Life Commission," Bailey's " The State and the Farmer," Butterfield's " Chapters in Rural Progress," Cubberley's " Rural Life and Education," Gillet's " Constructive Rural Sociology," Betts and Hall's " Better Rural Schools," and Wilson's "The Church in the Open Country." In this chapter I wish to treat briefly of the following:

1. Rural cooperation.
2. Better roads.
3. The country church.
4. Efficient rural government.
5. The country home.


Rural Cooperation.—Students who have visited Denmark and have made special efforts to ascertain the secret of her wonderful agricultural development attribute that development principally to two causes; namely, agriculture in her rural and secondary schools and her efficient rural cooperative organizations. In the United States, bankers gather money to loan to town business men. Sometimes bankers make farm loans for people in other parts of the country. But farmers, especially in the east, cannot borrow money for five, ten or twenty years, at rates as low as are made to corporations. In Denmark and parts of Germany, farmers themselves organize the loan associations where farmers can borrow for a long time, at lower rates than town people pay. This is as it should be. Farms and farm products are the best security in the world. The facilities for enabling farmers to borrow money at low interest, for a long time, make land ownership attractive. Renters do not as a rule make the best of farmers. The love of ownership is an instinct almost as deep as any in the human heart. No country can hope to make farming popular to people of ability, unless that country makes it easy for the actual tiller of the soil to own the soil which he tills. When we organize institutions and make laws so that the actual farmers have the advantage for borrowing money on land, we make land ownership attractive to the people in the country and unattractive to the speculators and the retired land-lords in towns. This is just the reverse of what we have in the United States today. We need cooperative farm loan associations in the United States, and of late there has been much agitation for farm credits, and such associations.

And we need cooperation in other lines. Each of a half-dozen farmers may be able to buy a fairly good breeding animal, but the half-dozen by cooperating could afford a first-class animal.

Again, each farmer may sell a few bushels of apples, potatoes, peaches or whatever it may be. Each may have articles of a variety different from those. of his neighbors. There being no reserve supply, the merchant does not desire to take the articles and work up a demand among his customers for them. But if the farmers would cooperate and get together enough of any one variety, they might be able to command the very best market.

It is claimed that our colleges have failed to show young people how to go home and get people together. Cooperation offers us a great opportunity. Its beginning should be in the country home, the school and the country church. These, must be socialized, that is, made interesting and helpful to all. From learning to help others while in the country home, the school and the church, the child grows into habits that will enable him to be a helpful member of a cooperating society. We must become keenly conscious of the economic advantages of cooperation in order to enable us to overcome the individualism and isolation which the farmer is accustomed to. We have overdone the theory of competition. It is cooperation and not competition that enables a group or a people to do well in the economic world. If teachers believe that more cooperation is needed in their districts, the teachers must read and talk about it until the farm folk live it before we expect them to get pleasure from cooperating. Two good books on cooperation among farmers have recently been published ; one is Coulter's " Cooperation," and the other is Powell's " Cooperation in Agriculture." An-other helpful book for teachers to read is Curtis's " Play and Recreation for the Open Country."

There is a revival of interest in the Grange. This is to be encouraged for in the Grange the farmers learn to work together, and to discuss matters of vital and mutual interest. The Grange has taught more farmers to cooperate than has any other single institution. The active Grange is a typical rural institution that has a program to help rural people and knows definitely what it is aiming to do and what there is to be done.

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