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Recreation For The Farmer

The country is the most attractive place in the world to live. The American farmer has been given the greatest opportunity that has ever come to any great class in all the ages to lead a satisfying life. But most of this great opportunity is being wasted, because he does not appreciate the forces by which he is surrounded or enjoy the work that is given him to do. Placed in the garden " to keep and to tend it," as were our first parents, he refuses to see the wonder and beauty of it all, although it is no less a Garden of Eden than it was then. To him no less than of old the God of nature speaks in a thousand ways ; yet his ears are stopped and he does not hear the voices. A warder in the great gallery of nature, where the eternal Artist hangs each day a new masterpiece, he scarce looks up to see what the picture may be. Placed in a great divine world, where eternal forces are working perennial miracles, he often sees only a little world of crops and prices, and looks out upon it without reverence or wonder. The results are apparent. Forty-three per cent of our American farms are now owned by absentee landlords. The boys and girls are leaving for the city. The country is not attractive to the people of the farm.


This condition is serious for all concerned. The man who works for long at a task which he does not enjoy degenerates in it. Dissatisfaction and discontent make the spirit mean.

The farmer who does not understand and appreciate the forces and laws by which he is surrounded does not grow at his work. His development stops as soon as it begins. His work is a parasite upon his spirit as long as he continues it. The farmers who are going to town are largely middle-aged men, with their best days before them. In general it would be better for the community if they committed suicide at this time. Rented farms do not yield, in most sections of the country, a revenue of more than three or four per cent on their value. The proceeds of a ten-thousand-dollar farm are not sufficient to support a family in a town or city, or even half support them, according to American standards. These retired farmers have to economize ; they are not familiar with city problems and are often a very serious menace to the general good, because they object to all improvements that require the expenditure of money. They are also a very serious menace to the welfare of the country community from which they have come ; as they no longer live there, they are unwilling to support the rural school ; they want a cheap building and a cheap teacher; they no longer support the country church; and they are not interested in good roads. The farmer has nothing to do in the town, and he is discontented and unhappy there. His life is shortened by the lack of legitimate interests, and his productive capacity is lost to the community. The tenant takes the farm for a short term. He wishes to get as much out of it as possible in that time. In general he is less intelligent than the owner, and he is not interested in the permanent fertility of the land or value of the property. He lets the fences and buildings run down. He does not care to support good schools or roads or churches, because he is a floater. Perhaps the greatest loss is that in this way the community loses the leadership in rural affairs which these retired farmers might exercise if they still lived on their farms. Such leadership is the greatest need of the countryside.

Farmers who move to town are apt to do so for the sake of their children. Yet the country village is probably the worst place in the world for them. They do not get the education that comes from farm work ; they do not get the education that comes from the varied activities of a great city, which make it a perpetual exposition of all that the world is doing. Most of the vices of children are the vices of idleness, and there is no other place where children are quite so idle, and where their occupations are so purposeless, as they are in the rural village.

The exodus of the young men and women from the farm is no less serious for the farming community, because it is mostly the able and capable ones who are going, leaving the less capable ones behind. The progressive selection of the less capable for the farm can only mean the decay of farm life and the loss of position and influence by the farmer. The young people who go to the city are probably as a whole not as well off there. Their inexperience makes them easy victims of sharpers, and their social isolation is apt to lead to the sowing of many wild oats. The country boy and girl in town are one of the most serious problems of the city.

Surely one of the gravest questions for the agricultural colleges and rural economists to answer is how to stay this cityward tide. As the migration from the farm has seemed to increase with prosperity, and it is the most prosperous ones that have gone, we cannot think that the chief reasons . for it can be industrial, but that in some way the life of the country has not been attractive. There seem to me two large reasons for this : first, the lack of social and recreational opportunities in the country ; and, second, the failure of the farmer to enjoy the work of the farm itself. The farmer has not found in his work in any sense its own reward, but has sought for returns wholly in terms of profits.


Why does not the farmer enjoy his work ? The first reason which must be reasonably evident to every one is that he is working too long hours. Any work becomes drudgery when it leads to weariness and denies any free time for enjoyment of leisure. Such work makes slaves of men and can no more be rewarded by a financial return than can slavery or prostitution itself. " What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own life ? " The only advantage that a man gets out of wealth who spends all his time acquiring it is the sense of possession, the dignity that he feels and that others accord to him because of what he has gained. Wealth, so acquired, is nearly always a curse to the children and often to the community as well. Life must be enjoyed as we go along. If for a long term of years we devote all our energies to making money, we soon lose the capacity for any other form of enjoyment. The farmer or other worker who has spent his prime thus is apt to come to a realization in the end that it is not worth while, that his life is going by with-out being lived, and he thinks the solution of the situation is to retire and enjoy himself. No one can play all the time and find it play. In time it palls upon the appetite. This comes sooner or later to all, but it comes very soon to one like the farmer, who has never learned how to play. How much better it would have been if he had taken his enjoyment as he went along, and developed his capacity for the use of leisure as he approached old age. In this way he might have enjoyed his work from day to day instead of finding it drudgery, have developed in mental stature, have kept his children on the farm, and, in the long run, have been much more successful financially; for it is quite impossible for a man to be a twentieth-century farmer or to use modern methods in agriculture and work twelve or fourteen hours a day. More and more the farmer must be a manager, a business man, a scientist, and a mechanic. Because of his interest in the result the farmer may not himself notice the strain of the long hours, but his son and daughter and the hired man surely will. Not only does the farmer need shorter hours each day, but he needs a half holiday each week. The education of the farm comes largely from the opportunity which it gives to think out problems, but this means that the farmer must have some-thing to think about. t is almost absolutely necessary that he should replenish his mind at frequent intervals with facts and experiences to work over.


The love of nature is one of the most fundamental elements in the enjoyment of country life ; the reverence for it will give dignity and worth of character as few other things can. Yet farmers as a class are indifferent to sunsets and autumn leaves and the hundred changes of the seasons, which give the country its eternal charm. He who sees in a field of waving grain only so many bushels of wheat is losing the best part of his harvest. He will do his milking quite as well if, as he goes with his pail, he still perceives the beauty of the flowers, the freshness of the grass, the songs of the birds, and the changing colors of the dawn.


I know a gentleman of eighty-two, in comfortable circumstances, who still lives on the farm, despite the protests of his children, because of his fondness for the pigs and chickens and cows and horses by which he is surrounded. He is wont to talk to them as he goes about among them, and gets much of his society in this way. So do all farmers. The farmer who finds no company in his team or his cows will soon leave the farm from utter loneliness. The company of animals must largely supply the missing human society. There is no difficulty in making the children fond of animals. All that is needed is to give them some to care for during their early years, and nature will do the rest. We always come to love that which is dependent upon us, especially if it is our own. The farmer ought to give his son a pig or lamb or calf occasionally, because he thus gains a sense of the value of property and acquires a new dignity in his own eyes as a property holder; he learns much about the animal by caring for it, and, best of all, he comes to love it, which is an important moral training in itself and helps to make farm life more pleasant and less lonesome.


The farmer needs to understand his world and appreciate its laws. He cannot go on doing things by rule of thumb because his father did that way and have any large enjoyment of his work ; but if he sees the principles that lie behind the rotation of crops, fertilization, and breeding, every crop becomes a scientific experiment, as interesting as those of the laboratory. With a knowledge of plants and insects he no longer need look to a blind fate or the changes of the moon for results, but becomes a molder of the forces with which he works. Our rural schools, again, have done almost nothing in the past to give to the farm children the knowledge which they need in order that they may be intelligent workers on the farm. But a better day is coming, with agriculture in our rural elementary schools and rural high schools, with our boys' corn clubs and our girls' canning clubs, with the winter courses in the agricultural colleges, farmers' institutes, and the like. This work should be greatly extended. "Trade schools have become very nearly universal abroad, and we have a good beginning in Massachusetts and some other eastern states. Many of the trades that are being trained for are already overcrowded, and there is scant time to give the training. On the other hand, all the farm boys and girls have plenty of time during the winter for a short course in agriculture. Such winter courses should be started in every town-ship as fast as the teachers can be trained to take charge. Very likely some of the more progressive farmers of mature years would also be led to attend these schools. This work is more necessary in agriculture than in any other trade or profession, in as much as practice is probably farther behind our knowledge in agriculture than it is in any other subject. t is a series of such schools and cooperation that have produced the unparalleled prosperity of Denmark despite every kind of adverse condition. A sandy peninsula nearly surrounded by the frigid waters of two oceans, where they have to blanket the cows in August to protect them from the cold wind, it has prospered as no other agricultural country has done. t is hard to conjecture what the American farm might yield, with our improved machinery, rich soil, and mild climate, under similar methods of agriculture. I believe the annual products of the state of Michigan might be increased a hundred millions in value by the introduction of such a system of schools.


During the last three or four decades the work of the farm has been almost entirely transformed. Thirty years ago the farmer held the handles of his plow in a single furrow. He harrowed the furrows with a drag which he followed. He planted the corn with a hoe or a hand planter, cultivated it with a walking cultivator, and cut it up and husked it by hand. To-day the land is largely plowed with a gang plow, or at any rate by a riding plow, and harrowed with a riding harrow ; the corn is planted by a machine planter, cut up, if cut up at all, by a corn reaper, and husked by a machine husker. The person who does not understand machinery or enjoy the operation' of machines will be increasingly unsuited for the life of a farmer. The ingenious person always enjoys machinery and the taking it apart and putting it together. The per-son without mechanical training or ability always finds it a bore. t always goes wrong, gets out of order just at the critical moment, and, in general, exhibits a total depravity which is as nearly complete as anything we know. All children like to watch machinery and take it to pieces. It does not take much encouragement to make almost any child ingenious with tools. As the farmer is becoming increasingly a mechanic, so his enjoyment of farm life is going to depend increasingly on his mechanical skill and the pleasure which he has in operating machines. The school must give him the training.


The family life is more intimate on the farm than else-where, since all of the members are working together in a common cause. Each understands the work which is being done, and each cooperates with the others to secure results. This is not true of most other trades and professions. The work of the lawyer and business man is almost absolutely apart from his family. The factory employee may not even bring his children in to see what he is doing. The result is that the family has few points of contact and sympathy. There are also many diversions that separate them at night. In the country the family work together and generally spend their evenings together. If the members manage to cooperate and to spend the evenings pleasantly, this will do very much to make the farm home and farm life attractive. The city home has been very nearly destroyed by the hundred influences that are separating the family, but this is not yet true in the country. If the farmer will only appreciate that it is quite as much his work to raise a worthy family of children as it is to raise good pigs or corn, and will think of these evenings as no less important a part of the day than the day-light hours, then we may expect that the country will be the best place in the world to raise children at any rate, and that the city migration will ultimately be stayed. The farm home is the greatest asset of our American democracy. It has produced many of our greatest men and given stability to our national character.


After all, it is the enjoyment of children and their play and their fresh points of view that gives most of the recreation to adults everywhere. t is hard to tell how much of the joy and hopefulness of life we should lose if our lives were not constantly refreshed by the gladness and hopefulness of children. Perhaps there is no other one thing that would do so much for the home, the parents, and the children as to develop an appreciation of the fact that playing with their children is one of the most sacred duties that are laid upon parents ; that a crop of children is not less important than a crop of corn ; and that they are worthy of quite as much care. No parent can ever be so good a counselor or understand his child so well if he does not play with him.


The aged come again into the position of children in the community. After the working days are over, there is plenty of time to play. If retirement comes while they are still vigorous, it is then that many get the time to travel and do the things that they had wished to do but had not had time for before. t is the time when one drops his occupation and takes up his avocation. When this time comes to the farmer, he usually buys a little cottage in the neighboring village and moves to town. The natural recreation of old people comes largely from watching the progress of their children and playing with their grandchildren, from gossip and sociability and the deference of the community to a successful and useful life. There ought to be a pioneer's club in every community, where these old people could get together occasionally and tell yarns as the soldiers do at their reunions. Besides this they need plenty to read, of an entertaining nature, a horse to drive, a few chickens or a pig, and pleasant neighbors.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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