Who Should Go Back?

Who Should Go Back?


America has long been deeply concerned about the never-ceasing flow of rural population from its country homes to the industrial centres. This worry now seems not to be exclusively confined to the New World, for we are told that France, the nation which prided itself upon its scientifically adjusted tariff and a perfect system, of small holdings, intended to keep the rural population happy, contented, industrious and prosperous, is face to face with the grave problem of providing city homes for thousands of her farmers and farm labourers. Paris alone is said to reap an annual toll of from 25,000 to 26,000 people from the surrounding provinces. It is estimated that one-tenth of the entire number of inhabitants of the great centre of fashion live in rooms, without air and without light, so great is the demand for houses, and still the steady depopulation of the agricultural districts goes on. Why people leave the fresh, pure air for such unhealthful and deplorable conditions, is hard to conceive. These must be a reason. Better wages, more entertainment, and provision for care during illness, are said to be the drawing card.

It is remarkable how few of those leaving the farm or farm labour to seek new occupations in the city estimate the difference in cost of living. The unmarried, farm labourer usually gets his board, and often his laundry, with his wages. These he counts as nothing. The city contractor or industrial king offers what, on the surface, appears to be much more money, but by the time from four to six dollars per week goes for board, and in the weekly earnings of the labourer. The married man, with a family to support, gets a house for a very low rent in the country, very often being allowed a house, garden, potato patch and keep of a cow, by the land-owner, yet this man cannot withstand the lure of the city, packs up and moves thence, to find himself confronted with high rents and high prices for food products, which more than counterbalance the extra wage paid. Many farmers themselves, not being able to hire and retain satisfactory labour, quit the farm and move to the city, where they have a chance to become ordinary labourers in factories, on construction gangs, or perhaps street-car conductors or motormen. Once in the city, and accustomed to its ways, it takes almost a revolution to stir them back to the country. They hang on tenaciously, grasping at the thin and thinner straw of hope that the future may hold better things in store for them. Hope keeps many of them in the same old rut, while others who would return lack means and energy to make the change. The thrall of poverty enslaves them. Seldom, indeed , do either class rise far above the level at which their city career began.

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City men, many of whom have had little or no farm experience, are manifesting an increasing interest in country life and farm work generally. The “back to the soil” movement is gradually gaining force as a result of the high cost of living. Farming or market-gardening is not the easiest vocation in the world for the uninitiated to make an unqualified success. Many of the would-be successful city farmers have in mind the operation of a comparatively small holding and the growing of special crops, forgetting that special crops require special knowledge and experience. Small holdings are not always successful under the best management. The greatest success with the average farmer results when a system is followed which gives several branches to fall back upon, in case one particular phase of the industry proves a failure in any one season.

As Dr. L. H. Bailey ably puts it, “the man must know the business--really know it. If he doesn’t know it, and know it as a practical farmer, he must learn it by actually going on a farm and working out for a time. You can’t dream farming, and you can’t get it out of books.” One of the greatest mistakes of the man accustomed to farm work is that he depends too much upon books, and is unable to adapt himself to the thousands of conditions peculiar to his own holding, conditions which are not considered in his books more than in a general way, and which are large factors in his individual success of failure.

Many an urban dweller sees nothing but profit in agriculture. True, the profit is there, but the prime requisite is business ability and willingness to take off the coat and work. A failure in one business is very often a failure in another, and success in one business often points the way to success in others, so there is little to be gained by the bankrupt merchant, doctor, lawyer or contractor grappling with the problems of practical agriculture.

Then, who should leave the city for the farm? First of all, those who have had practical experience on the soil, who really can improve their conditions by the change. There is no use of anyone who has more liking for crowded streets and stuffy theatres than for the things of nature, thinking of making a success of agriculture. There must be an inherent or acquired liking for the work. There are thousands in our cities to-day who understand farm work very well, but who simply cannot tear themselves away from our city surroundings. There are also many men possessing considerable means who have the “soil fever.” Such men with business ability may make a success of farming, provided they can get satisfactory help ; but, as a rule, the man to achieve success on the farm, must be willing to work, as well as able to manage the business. This is especially so of the small holding so popular in the suburbs of large cities. Again, the man with money must exercise judgment in his farm equipment. Many lay out so much that it is impossible for the farm to pay the interest on the investment. This is a grave mistake. What will be the result if thousands of these men engage in farming. Failure in many cases, and in many others a tiring of the venture, followed by an increased rush citywards, with a further detrimental effect on agriculture and another jump in the cost of living. For those city men without farm experience, desiring to move to the country, the best method would be to hire for a season or two with some up-to-date farmer and learn the business, after which, provided he liked the work, he could move permanently to his country home, with reasonable assurance of success.

The farms of our country need more men--real live, ambitious, strong, willing workers, with a “bent” towards country work and country conditions, and a reasonable understanding of the principles and practice of farming in one or more of its particular phases, and a fair amount of business ability. This is the the kind of city man that will make a success in the country, whether working for others or for himself. This is the man who will say “I’m glad I returned to the farm,” and this is the man who will help agriculture up to its proper position. The country and city both need men, but there is no good to come from taking men from one place, where they are doing well, to make a failure elsewhere; neither is there anything to be gained by a city failure making the same mistakes in the country. “Back to the land” is a cry we would like to see answered by thousands of the right kind of men, but those totally unfamiliar with what the move means to them had better think twice before they leap. The influx to the city should be checked, and in time conditions would right themselves.


Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture