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Exchange And Distribution








The machinery whereby the farmer of our day converts into cash or other
values that portion of his products which is not consumed in his house
or on his farm, seems to me lamentably imperfect. Let me illustrate my
meaning:

After three all but fruitless years, we have this year a bountiful
Apple-crop, in this State and (I believe) throughout the North. Our old
orchards being still, for the most part, preserved and in bearing
condition, while a good many young ones, planted ten to twenty years
ago, begin to fruit considerably, we had, throughout the three Fall
months, a superabundance of this homely, wholesome, palatable fruit. It
should have been cheap for the great body of our mechanics and laborers
to provide their families with all the ripe, good Apples that they could
consume without injuring themselves by gluttony. Good Apples should have
been constantly displayed on every workingman's table, to be eaten raw
as a dessert, or baked and eaten with bread and milk for breakfast or
supper. Each provident housewife should now have her tub of applesauce,
her barrel of dried apples, or both, for Winter use; while a dozen
bushels of good keepers should be stored in every cellar, to be drawn
upon from day to day during the next four or five months. In short,
Apples should have been and be, from last August to next May, as common
as bread and potatoes, and should have been and be as freely eaten in
every household and by every fireside.

How nearly have we realized this?

I will not guess how many millions of bushels have rotted under the
trees that bore them, been eaten by animals to little or no profit, or
turned into cider that did not sell for so much as it cost, counting the
Apples of no value. Living immediately on a railroad that rims into this
City, wherefrom my place is 35 miles distant, I should be able to do
better with Apples than most growers; and yet I judge that half my
Apples were of no use to me. Many of them sold in this City for $1 per
barrel, including the cask, which cost me 40 cents; and, when you have
added the cost of transportation, you can guess that I had no surplus,
after paying men $1.50 per day for picking and barreling them. I sold
all I could to vinegar-makers at fifty cents per bushel for
cider-apples--the casks being returned. But they could not take all I
wished to sell them, there being so many sellers pressing to get rid of
their windfalls before they rotted on their hands that even this market
was glutted. That it was much worse for the farmer a dozen miles from a
railroad and a hundred from the nearest city, none can doubt. I have
heard that, in parts of Connecticut, cider was sold for fifty cents per
barrel to whoever would furnish casks, and that their size was hardly
considered. Manifestly, this left nothing for the apples.

If Apples could have been daily supplied to our poorer citizens in such
quantities as they could conveniently take, at from fifty to
seventy-five cents per bushel, according to quality and comeliness, I am
confident that this City and its suburbs would have taken Two or Three
Millions of bushels more than they have done; and the same is true of
other cities. But the poor rarely buy a barrel of Apples at once; and
they have been required to pay as much for half a peck as I could get
for a bushel just like them. In other words: the hucksters and middlemen
set so high a price on their respective services in dividing up a barrel
of Apples and conveying them from the rural producer to the urban
consumer that a large portion of the farmer's apples must rot on his
hands or be sold by him for less than the cost of harvesting, while the
poor of the cities find them too dear to be freely eaten.

Nor are Apples singular in this respect. I would like to grow a thousand
bushels of English (round) and French or Swede Turnips per annum if I
could be sure of getting $1 per barrel for them delivered at the
railroad. If the poor of this City could buy such Turnips throughout
their season by the half peck at the rate of $2 per barrel, I believe
they would buy and eat many more than they do. But they are usually
asked twenty-five cents per half peck, which is at the rate of $5 per
barrel; and at this rate they hold them too dear for every-day use. So
the Turnips are not grown, or the cattle are invited to clear them off
before they rot and become worthless and nuisance.

Quite often, a green youth undertakes to get rich by farming near some
great city. He has heard and believes that Cabbages bring from $5 to $8
and even $10 per hundred, Squashes from $10 to $25 per hundred,
Watermelons from $20 to $50, and so on. He has made his calculations on
this basis, and sanguinely expects to make money rapidly. But his
products, in the first place, fall short of his estimates; they are not
ready for market so soon as he expected they would be; and, when at
length they are ready, every one else seems to have rushed in ahead of
him. The market is glutted; no one seems to want his "truck" at any
figure; he sells it for a song, and quits farming disgusted and
bankrupt. May be, his stuff would have sold much better next week or
the week after; but he could not afford to bring it to market and take
it back day after day, on the chance that the demand for it would
improve by-and-by. I judge that more young men have on this account
turned their backs on farming, after a brief trial, than on any other.
They might have borne up against the shortness of their crops, hoping
for better luck next time; but the necessity for selling them for a
price that would not have reimbursed their cost, had they been ever so
luxuriant, utterly disheartens and alienates them.

I preach no crusade against hucksters and middlemen. I hold them, in the
actual state of things, benefactors to both producers and consumers. In
so far as they deal honestly and meet promptly their obligations, they
deserve commendation rather than reproach. What I urge is, that more
economical and efficient machinery of exchange and distribution ought to
be devised and set at work--machinery that would do all that is required
at a moderate, reasonable cost.

I would like to see one of our solvent, well-managed Railroads advertise
that it would henceforth buy at any of its stations all the farmers'
produce that might be offered, and pay the highest prices that the state
of the markets would justify. Let its agents purchase whatever came
along--a basket of eggs, a coop of chickens, a barrel of apples, a sack
of beans, a pail of currants--anything that could be sold in the city to
which it runs, and which would conduce to human sustenance or comfort.
Its object should be Freight--the rapid and vast increase of its
transportations, not extra profit on the articles transported. But let
its agents be ready to buy at fair prices whatever was offered, paying
cash down, and pushing everything purchased directly into market, so as
to have the money back to buy more with directly. The Railroad Company,
thus owning nearly everything edible it brought into market, would buy
and sell at uniform prices, and not bid against itself, as a crowd of
hucksters and middlemen will often do. I am confident that a Railroad
that would inaugurate this system on a right basis, saying to every
farmer living near it, "Grow whatever your soil is best adapted to, and
bring it to our station: there, you shall have cash down for it, at the
highest price we can afford to give," would rapidly double and quadruple
its freights, and would thus build up a business which has no parallel
under the present system.

It is urged, in opposition to this proposal, that a Railroad so managed
would monopolize markets, and deal on its own terms with the producer
and consumer. If there were but one railroad entering a great city, and
no other mode of reaching it, this objection would be plausible, but not
in the actual case. Whoever chose would be at liberty to start an
opposition, and to use the railroad or dispense with it as he found
advisable.





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