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What I Know Of Farming

Will Farming Pay?

I commence my essays with this question, because, when I urge the
superior advantages of a rural life, I am often met by the objection
that Farming doesn't pay. That, if true, is a serious matter. Let us

I do not understand it to be urged that the farmer who owns a large,
fertile estate, well-fenced, well-stocked, with good store of effective
implements, cannot live and thrive by farming. What is meant is, that he
who has little but two brown hands to depend upon cannot make money, or
can make very little, by farming.

I think those who urge this point have a very inadequate conception of
the difficulty encountered by every poor young man in securing a good
start in life, no matter in what pursuit. I came to New-York when not
quite of age, with a good constitution, a fair common-school education,
good health, good habits, and a pretty fair trade--(that of printer.) I
think my outfit for a campaign against adverse fortune was decidedly
better than the average; yet ten long years elapsed before it was
settled that I could remain here and make any decided headway. Meantime,
I drank no liquors, used no tobacco, attended no balls or other
expensive entertainments, worked hard and long whenever I could find
work to do, lost less than a month altogether by sickness, and did very
little in the way of helping others. I judge that quite as many did
worse than I as did better; and that, of the young lawyers and doctors
who try to establish themselves here in their professions, quite as many
earn less as earn more than their bare board during the first ten years
of their struggle.

John Jacob Astor, near the close of a long, diligent, prosperous career,
wherein he amassed a large fortune, is said to have remarked that, if he
were to begin life again, and had to choose between making his first
thousand dollars with nothing to start on, or with that thousand making
all that he had actually accumulated, he would deem the latter the
easier task. Depend upon it, young men, it is and must be hard work to
earn honestly your first thousand dollars. The burglar, the forger, the
blackleg (whether he play with cards, with dice, or with stocks), may
seem to have a quick and easy way of making a thousand dollars; but
whoever makes that sum honestly, with nothing but his own capacities and
energies as capital, does a very good five-years' work, and may deem
himself fortunate if he finishes it so soon.

I have known men do better, even at farming. I recollect one who, with
no capital but a good wife and four or five hundred dollars, bought
(near Boston) a farm of two hundred mainly rough acres, for $2,500, and
paid for it out of its products within the next five years, during which
he had nearly doubled its value. I lost sight of him then; but I have
not a doubt that, if he lived fifteen years longer and had no very bad
luck, he was worth, as the net result of twenty years' effort, at least
$100,000. But this man would rise at four o'clock of a winter morning,
harness his span of horses and hitch them to his large market-wagon
(loaded over night), drive ten miles into Boston, unload and load back
again, be home at fair breakfast-time, and, hastily swallowing his meal,
be fresh as a daisy for his day's work, in which he would lead his hired
men, keeping them clear of the least danger of falling asleep. Such men
are rare, but they still exist, proving scarcely anything impossible to
an indomitable will. I would not advise any to work so unmercifully; I
seek only to enforce the truth that great achievements are within the
reach of whoever will pay their price.

An energetic farmer bought, some twenty-five years ago, a large grazing
farm in Northern Vermont, consisting of some 150 acres, and costing him
about $3,000. He had a small stock of cattle, which was all his land
would carry; but he resolved to increase that stock by at least ten per
cent. per annum, and to so improve his land by cultivation, fertilizing,
clover, &c., that it would amply carry that increase. Fifteen years
later, he sold out farm and stock for $45,000, and migrated to the West.
I did not understand that he was a specially hard worker, but only a
good manager, who kept his eyes wide open, let nothing go to waste, and
steadily devoted his energies and means to the improvement of his stock
and his farm.

Walking one day over the farm of the late Prof. Mapes, he showed me a
field of rather less than ten acres, and said, "I bought that field for
$2,400, a year ago last September. There was then a light crop of corn
on it, which the seller reserved and took away. I underdrained the field
that Fall, plowed and sub-soiled it, fertilized it liberally, and
planted it with cabbage; and, when these matured, I sold them for enough
to pay for land, labor, and fertilizers, altogether." The field was now
worth far more than when he bought it, and he had cleared it within
fifteen months from the date of its purchase. I consider that a good
operation. Another year, the crop might have been poor, or might have
sold much lower, so as hardly to pay for the labor; but there are risks
in other pursuits as well as in farming.

A fruit-farmer, on the Hudson above Newburg, showed me, three years
since, a field of eight or ten acres which he had nicely set with
Grapes, in rows ten feet apart, with beds of Strawberries between the
rows, from which he assured me that his sales per acre exceeded $700 per
annum. I presume his outlay for labor, including picking, was less than
$300 per annum; but it had cost something, to make this field what it
then was. Say that he had spent $1,000 per acre in underdraining,
enriching and tilling this field, to bring it to this condition,
including the cost of his plants, and still there must have been a clear
profit here of at least $300 per acre.

I might multiply illustrations; but let the foregoing suffice. I readily
admit that shiftless farming doesn't pay--that poor crops don't pay--that
it is hard work to make money by farming without some capital--that
frost, or hail, or drouth, or floods, or insects, may blast the farmer's
hopes, after he has done his best to deserve and achieve success; but I
insist that, as a general proposition, GOOD Farming DOES pay--that
few pursuits afford as good a prospect, as full an assurance, of reward
for intelligent, energetic, persistent effort, as this does.

I am not arguing that every man should be a farmer. Other vocations are
useful and necessary, and many pursue them with advantage to themselves
and to others. But those pursuits are apt to be modified by time, and
some of them may yet be entirely dispensed with, which Farming never can
be. It is the first and most essential of human pursuits; it is every
one's interest that this calling should be honored and prosperous. If
not adequately recompensed, I judge that is because it is not wisely and
energetically followed. My aim is to show how it may be pursued with
satisfaction and profit.

Next: Good And Bad Husbandry

Previous: Permanency Desired

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