Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Agriculture
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

In the days of the pioneer the farm business was hardly affected by community conditions. A general store where necessities could be purchased, a mill where grain could be ground, and a blacksmith shop were about the only necessary business agencies. The farm was largely self-sufficient and there was but little real community life. Nor was there much change in the next generation or two among the farmers who built substantial homes, supported their neighborhood churches and schools, and with the free labor of a good-sized family made a comfortable living.

Their interests were chiefly in their families and neighbors, and questions of local government were about the only community bond. When new sections of the country were opened up by railroads and with the growth of cities farm lands increased rapidly in value, there was an era of speculative farming, which Dr. Warren H. Wilson has called the era of the "exploiter."[18] A farm was bought with an idea of its improvement and resale at a good profit, and many farmers moved from one section to another in search of new land which was both fertile and cheap.[19] The era of land speculation has by no means passed, as has been learned to their sorrow by many who bought farms at inflated prices during the World War, and whenever there is a sudden rise in land values, speculation will doubtless recur. On the other hand, as cheap lands become scarce, as the better lands become more valuable and the amount of capital required to equip and operate a farm in the better agricultural sections increases, there will be less tendency to be on the lookout for a profitable sale and the farm business will become more permanent because of the large effort and capital expended in the enterprise and the consequent attachment of the owner. A man with a considerable investment does not care to move frequently. Thus higher land values--inevitable with an increasing population--will favor a more permanent type of farming, conducted on scientific and business principles, of what Dr. Wilson calls the "husbandman" type. This type of farmer not only desires but requires better institutions of all sorts, which can only be maintained at a community center. Thus permanency of ownership of farm operators conduces to community development.

Unfortunately, however, the rise of values of the best land seems to encourage tenancy rather than ownership, for tenancy is greatest and increases most on the best farm lands. The general economic aspects and the ultimate solution of the tenancy problem are national rather than local problems. The effect of tenancy as it now exists, with a frequent shifting from one community to another, is, however, a very serious community problem, for all observers agree that the maintenance of a satisfactory standard of community life is much more difficult where tenancy predominates.

One important economic aspect of tenancy is that tenants, who are frequently moving, will less readily and effectively affiliate in coöperative enterprises, and we shall see that coöperative organizations have a large influence in promoting the solidarity of the rural community. This has been well brought out by one of our best students of the tenancy problem, Dr. C. L. Stewart, who says:

      "Farming efficiency in the future, however, will probably consist to a greater extent in the ability to increase net profits through coöperative dealing with the market. The efficiency test must, therefore, rule more strongly against operators of the tenures, whose characteristics are opposed to successful coöperative effort on their part.

      "That tenants," he continues, "changing from farm to farm at more or less short intervals, should generally be more active and successful than owners in building up coöperative organizations is hardly in the line of reason.... If in the future, coöperation assumes forms requiring greater permanency of membership in the societies, greater intimacy of acquaintance among the members, or greater investment per member, the tenants will doubtless find themselves handicapped in their relation thereto."[20]

The effect of a large percentage of tenants is even more serious upon the social side of community life. Those who have studied the problem are agreed that both schools and churches tend to be inferior in tenant communities. There is little "chance of development of deep friendships and associations which give vitality to church life" where a large proportion of the tenants are frequently moving, nor can they give as good financial support to the church as landowners. The frequent shifting of the tenant population creates a difficult problem for all the social life of the community, for it is impossible for a community to assimilate a considerable percentage of its population every year and to develop those strong ties of loyalty which are essential to real community life.

Thus a reasonable permanency of residence of its population is essential to successful community life and this is largely determined by the economic situation of the farm business. And the importance of the effect of tenancy, or any other economic aspect of agriculture on the life of its people must be recognized as a fundamental consideration in determining rural policies. Well being _on_ the land and not wealth _from_ the land is the final goal of agriculture.

Community life is also affected by the type of farming which is prevalent among its people. Modern agriculture is becoming specialized, and the crops grown are determined both by soil and climate and by the markets available. Fruit sections are due primarily to the former, while the regions producing market milk are determined chiefly by the latter factor. Now various types of farming make distinctly different demands upon the time of the farmer and so to a considerable extent they condition his social life. Dairying is probably the most confining sort of farming, and on the one-man farm there is little opportunity for getting away. "Haven't missed milking morning or night for six years," one dairyman replied to me when asked if he ever had a vacation. The fruit grower, on the other hand, during the winter can take a few weeks to go South or visit relatives without injury to his business. In the South after the crops are "laid by" in midsummer is the season for camp-meetings, picnics, and "frolicking" in general. Not only does the fruit grower have more leisure than the dairyman, but population is denser in a fruit-growing or trucking community and hence the communities are smaller and more compact. Just what characteristics of community life may be attributed to these differences in vocation it would be difficult to say, for so far as I am aware no exact studies have compared several communities of each type, but that they exercise a large influence on community customs and the social attitudes of the people is patent to even a casual observer who passes from a dairy section to a fruit region, or from the northwestern grain belt to a region of general farming.[21]

Specialization in agricultural production also affects community life in that its economic interests are unified both as regards production and marketing and as the income of most of its people comes from one or two products, their attention is focused upon them and a greater degree of solidarity results than where farming is more diversified and farmers are not so dependent on the sale of one or two crops. Specialization is chiefly due to advantages which it ensures in marketing, as will be indicated in the next chapter, and it is because there is less economic pressure to compel general farmers to market together and that they lack the solidarity developed by specialization, that coöperative selling associations have not generally succeeded in a general farming region when they have attempted to handle various farm products.

Specialization in agriculture encourages further division of labor because there is a sufficient volume of work to pay for expert services. Thus dairy communities have developed cow-test associations, which employ one man to test the percent of butter-fat for each cow, to interpret their milk production records, and sometimes to advise them with regard to feeding. In fruit regions a considerable business is done in contract spraying. Threshing crews and threshing-rings have long been common. Custom plowing by tractor, and hauling of farm produce by motor truck are becoming common. It seems probable that such division of labor will increase as much as is practicable, but it finds very definite limitations in the agricultural industry, due to the very short season in which many operations can be performed and which thus gives short employment for any of the seasonal operations.

Division of labor also involves increasing the manufacture or "processing" of agricultural products which is an asset to the community if performed locally as far as possible. Butter is no longer made in the home but at the creamery, and milk is prepared for the city market at the shipping station, or is sold to a local condensary, all of which employ more or less skilled labor. With crops which are perishable or bulky, "processing" must be performed locally. Thus canneries are located where the vegetables or fruits are grown. Although the selling of equipment for coöperative canning plants has been almost as much of a swindle as promoting coöperative creameries, yet large numbers of coöperative creameries exist where conditions for them are suitable, and there seems no inherent reason why coöperative canneries cannot be made successful when farmers have learned how to organize and to employ expert help.[22] In his delightful vision of the possibilities of a new Ireland, entitled "The National Being," George William Russell ("A. E."), holds out the hope that the increase of such local coöperative manufacture of agricultural products may be the means of furnishing an opportunity for the rural laborer to better his status.

      "But what I hope for most," he says, "is first that the natural evolution of the rural community, and the concentration of individual manufacture, purchase, and sale into communal enterprises, will lead to a very large coöperative ownership of expensive machinery, which will necessitate the communal employment of labor. If this takes place, as I hope it will, the rural laborer, instead of being a manual worker using primitive implements, will have the status of a skilled mechanic employed permanently by a coöperative community. He should be a member of the society which employs him, and in the division of the profits receive in proportion to his wage, as the farmers in proportion to their trade."[23]

To the extent that "processing" farm products is taken from the farm and performed at the community center, or that there is a division of labor, the local community is thereby strengthened, for its life is more highly organized; it is more inter-dependent.

An interesting phase of the relation of the community to the farm business is in the protection of crops and animals from insect pests and diseases. If one man plants his wheat late enough to escape the Hessian fly his crop is benefited, but if all in a community do so the subsequent infection is greatly reduced with consequent advantage to all. The chief obstacle preventing the successful combating of the cotton boll weevil in the South has been the difficulty of securing united action in the necessary cultural measures for its control. Most striking results have been secured in the eradication of the Texas Fever Tick from large areas of the South, although this has been carried on using the county as a unit; for many purposes in the South the county is practically a community. Some of the best community work in this field has been in the West in poisoning ground squirrels and other injurious rodents and in rabbit drives. Although the poisoning campaigns are conducted over whole counties or several counties, they are organized by communities and their success is possible only because every one in the community does his part. Whenever the farmers of a community become convinced that they are unable to fight a pest or disease individually, but can do so if they act collectively so that a sufficiently large area is treated as to prevent immediate re-infection, a new community bond has been established. Whether these activities are carried on by communities of the exact nature previously defined (page 10) is immaterial. The significant fact is that their people are learning how to act together in the common defense, for it was the common defense which first compelled mankind to live in communities, and it is defense for one purpose or another which is ever compelling the people of a locality to act together.

Farm management experts point out the practical value to the farmer of community experience with regard to methods of farm practice peculiarly adapted to local climate, soils, and markets. If one is going into dairying he can learn little from his neighbors if he locates in a fruit section, but in a dairy section he may constantly learn from the common experience. Dr. G. F. Warren says:

      "There is so much to learn about farming in any community that one man cannot hope to learn it alone. The experience of the community is of the utmost value to every farmer. Different men try out new varieties of crops, new machines, different breeds of animals, different methods of raising crops, different methods of building construction, different ways of saving labor. Each man gets the experiences of all; if a man is following a type of farming different from his neighbors, he cannot hope to try all these things. He is not likely to progress very rapidly."[24]

These advantages occur if there be a true community; i.e., if through communication one may learn the experience of others, but in some cases the experience is of little value because it is not available.

Finally farmers are coming to find it profitable to establish the reputation of a community for advertising purposes. So at the railroad station we are faced with the sign, "Kalamazoo, the home of celery." We know of "Kalamazoo, direct to you" stoves, but we had forgotten that it is one of the oldest and best celery-growing communities in the country. Thus increased specialization gives very real advertising values to a community which builds up a reputation for its products. But such a reputation is simply the recognition by the outside world of the character of the community. Thus ability to advertise itself is a very real index of its solidarity, and the desire to be able to gain advantage from advertising may become a real motive for activities of a community, as it does with many an individual. The ability to advertise but shows the economic value of the creation of a real community.

Common interests in the farm business form the primary bond for the establishment of true rural communities, and the strongest of these common interests are those involved in the problems of marketing.


[18] See "The Evolution of the Country Community."

[19] See Hamlin Garland, "A Son of the Middle Border."

[20] Land Tenure in the United States with special reference to Illinois, University of Illinois, "Studies in the Social Sciences," Vol. V, No. 3, Sept., 1916, p. 124.

[21] See John M. Gillette, "Constructive Rural Sociology" (1st Ed.), Chapter III.

[22] For an excellent discussion of "Processing Farm Products," see Theodore Macklin, "Efficient Marketing for Agriculture," Macmillan, New York, 1921, Chap. VI.

[23] "The National Being, Some Thoughts on Irish Polity," p. 57, Maunsel & Co., Dublin and London, 1916.

[24] "Farm Management," p. 98, Macmillan & Co., New York, 1913.

powered by social2s