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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XXIII.—Gentleman-farming—Establishing a Home

I am sure I ought not to be considered as belonging to the class of gentlemen farmers. They go into the country because they are rich—I went because I was poor. Yet they have done good service to the public in various ways. They have imported, naturalized, and propagated valuable vegetables and fruits. They have patronized costly labor-saving farm machines and agricultural implements, they have made expensive agricultural experiments, in the benefits of which all cultivators have participated. Especially has this been so in relation to fertilizers, foreign and domestic, natural and artificial. They have improved the breed of domestic cattle, and imported the best blood from abroad, including all the fine-woolled sheep. They have shown us how large crops can be grown, and have otherwise and in various ways radiated good influences around them, and contributed science, dignity, and encouragement to the farmer's vocation.

No one can justly deny the value of their services. Yet it is not by merely cultivating new trees and plants, and exhibiting large vegetables, gigantic apples or pears, corpulative pumpkins, and enormous general crops, that agriculture is to be substantially improved and made profitable to the farmer who depends upon it for a living. Something more than prodigious crops or beautiful fruit is necessary for him. He wants to know the cost of them—to see the balance-sheet in which, while credit is given for the sales of all these fine products, deductions are made for the expenditures rendered necessary to secure them. A tree may produce splendid fruit, but the pears may be few, the apples may be very perishable, and the choice peaches and other trees may bear only every other year, or only once in three or four perhaps, and then die before another crop. The accounts must therefore comprehend several years before the real profits of farming can be truly ascertained.

Herein it is that gentleman-farming is most commonly in fault. The pecuniary results are never either accurately known and stated, or are neglected, because of little consequence to the proprietor. When they happen to be ascertained and divulged, they are often discovered to be far from remunerative. This disregard of cost has brought this genteel agriculture, as it may be called, into disrepute. Common people turn away from it, as inapplicable to the condition of their' purses. They think they cannot afford it; and doubtless they are really unable to indulge in this species of agricultural luxury.

It may thus be assumed that this kind of agriculture, so far from being serviceable to many working farmers, is really injurious to them. They confound this uncalculating, heedless practice with book-farming. They believe the conduct of their wealthy neighbors, who follow farming as an amusement, merely relying on their city business for their incomes, to be regulated by the instructions in the agricultural publications of the day. But I fear that this description of literature does not occupy them much. Moreover, it is wisely cautious in its recommendations, as those must be who have witnessed the futility of so many speculations and experiments. High farming is not bottomed on book-learning, if it fails to make suitable deductions for the cost of every operation. In truth, gentleman-farming is too rarely founded on anything but a full purse, and an ambition to outshine all rivals at a country fair, without much regard to expense. As far as this is true, such agriculture is neither beneficial in a pecuniary view, either to themselves or to the working farmer. The latter finds little in such cultivation that he can copy, because the essential element of expense is left out of the computation. But book-farming ought not to fall under censure because genteel farming happens not to be lucrative. For the man who can afford to buy almost everything he needs, and sell very little that he raises, farming is undoubtedly a delightful amusement. For the man who can afford to sell almost everything he raises, and whose wants are moderate as mine, farming is a lucrative employment. To the oft paraded statistics of premium reports I cannot answer with a sneer. The question is simply this— whether farming, upon the whole, is a profession warranting a certain degree of scientific culture, and giving room for its display—whether it is worthy to enlist the energies and ambition of a young man who has a good life to live, and a career to make? This question may be answered by looking almost anywhere around us. No doubt a farmer should have some practical familiarity with those facts, whether of science or experiment, which have a bear­ing on his trade. It would be well for him to under­stand chemistry in its application to farming, yet he should also assiduously gather up those unexplained facts for which even chemistry cannot account.

It would be well for him to know why the johnswort, the wild carrot, and the Canada thistle thrive so heriocally in spite of bad treatment, where are their weak points, where the heel of these Greeks, what degree of heat in the compost pile will destroy the germinating power of seeds, and whether the law of one seed is the law of another seed. He should be a man of business and of some means, for he has his system to decide upon, his labor to engage and direct, his stock and implements to buy, and then his crops to sell, his bills to pay, and his books to balance. Superphosphates certified to by one set of gentlemen-farmers, and the most brilliant eulogies on American farmers, delivered by another set, will not help him much at these things. Money may: indeed every farmer ought to have a little of this commodity to start him fairly.

In almost all locations there are difficulties to encounter. One of these is that of securing efficient laborers. American laborers of the right sort are rarely to be found. American blood is fast, and fast blood is impatient with a hoe among carrots. It is well enough that blood is so fast, and hopes so tall. These tell grandly in certain directions, but they are not available for working over a heap of compost. Farm labor, to be effective, must have the personal oversight of the master. There is breadth and significance in the old saying of Palladius, "If you would push a crop through, look after it yourself." Another difficulty is the lack of desirable market facilities. The middleman stands between the producer and the consumer, and monopolizes much of the profit. In this respect farmers might help each other by judicious combination, but they lack coherency as a class. They have too little esprit du corps. There is too much of isolation, and isolation will inevitably prey upon the farmer's purse. Then Young America has a growing aversion to manual labor. He is a gentleman; and shall a gentleman take off his coat? He is vain of his culture, and is mortified to find that ordinary sagacity and a rude energy surpass him in success. He learns with pain that knowledge is not confined to books, and that the shrewdness which can mould raw laborers into effective helps, tells more upon the year's profits than the theories of Liebig, or the experiments of Lawes.

But the difficulties thus referred to are many of them gradually disappearing. The labor question, especially, has been wonderfully simplified by the introduction of new and effective implements, which enable the farmer to reduce the number of his hands. But since they do exist,—and I think my representations, though they may seem to show the shady side of the business, will be sustained by the testimony of practical men,—it is best to meet the whole truth in this matter, whatever ugly faces it may wear. No man conquers a difficulty until he sees it plainly. Oaks are fine things, and rivers are flne things; and so are sunsets, and morning-glories, and new-mown hay, and fresh curds, and milch cows. But, after all, a farm, and farming, do not absorb all the romance of life, or all its stateliest heroics. There is width, and beauty, and independence indeed; but there is also sweat, and anxiety about the weather, the crops, and the markets, with horny hands, and sometimes a good deal of hay-dust in the hair. But if a man, as has been said, is thoroughly in earnest; if he have the sagacity to see all over his farm, to systematize his labor, to carry out his plans punctually and thoroughly; if he is not above economics, nor heedless of the teachings of science, nor unobservant of progress otherwise, nor neglectful of the multitude of agricultural lights which shine everywhere around him; let him work, and he will have his reward. But work as he may, it will be impossible to toil harder than thousands in the cities; who, with all their toil of head and hands, end life as poverty-stricken as when they began.

Somehow it happens, that almost every man who has been city-bred feels at times a strong desire to settle down among the trees and green fields, from a vague and undefined belief that the country is the scene where human life attains its highest development. He cherishes a hope, though perhaps a faint one, that he may yet possess a country home, where he may tranquilly pass his latter years, far away from city tumults and trials. This hope is founded on the instinctive desire there is in human nature to possess some portion of the earth's surface. I know that one looks with indescribable interest at an acre of ground which is his own. I am sure that there is something remarkable about my trees. I have a sense of property in every sunset over my own hills, and there is perpetual pleasure in the sight of the glowing landscape at my own door. I have found Ten Acres Enough; and I know well what pleasures, interests, and compensations are to be found in the little affairs of that limited tract. The windows of the snug library, into which I retire in winter, look out across the garden on the blank gable of my barn. When I came here, it was rough and unsightly. But now that homely gable is a blank no longer. Every inch is clustered over with climbing roses, honeysuckles, and variegated ivy, in whose tangled mass of vine and foliage the song-birds build in summer, while to the same annual granary the snowbirds come in flocks to gather seeds in winter. Though I could not aspire to being a gentleman-farmer, seeing that I came to make my fortune, not to spend one, yet I have sought to make farming a sort of social science, in which not only the head and hands could be employed, but the sympathies of the heart enlarged and elevated. In short, to establish a home for the family.

I desire no association with the man or boy who would wantonly kill the birds that sing so cheerfully around our dwellings and our farms: he is fitted for treason and murder. Who among us does not, with the freshness of early morning, call up the memory of the garden of his infancy and childhood; the robin's nest in the old cherry-tree, and the nest of young chirping birds in the currant-bush; the flowers planted by his mother, and nurtured by his sisters? In all our wanderings, the memory of childhood's birds and flowers is associated with that of mother, sister, and our early home. As you would have your children intelligent, virtuous, and happy, and their memory, in after-life, of early home a pleasant or repulsive one, so make your farms and your children's home as your business of life, then adorn that business throughout. If you would inspire your own children and your neighbors with the nobleness of your business, then draw about you such an array of beauty as no one but the cultivator of the soil can collect. Let every foot of your farm show the touch of refinement. While you are arranging your fields for convenient and successful cropping, let it be done with order and neatness. While building the fence, let it be beautiful as well as substantial. While arranging your vegetable-gardens and orchards do not overlook geometrical regularity. Do not, on any account, omit the planting of flowers and the various kinds of fruit-trees.

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