Monday, January 16, 2012

Diversify to Feed Your Family, 1916

“Diversity and Live at Home” by A.L. French, Rockingham County, N.C., published in The Southern Planter, January 1916

I have been going about a little more than usual since late summer, among the farmers and businessmen in several states, and have listened to see what I could hear that I might pass along with benefit to my fellow farmers.

I have found contented “well-to-do” farmers in a community and in the same community found those who were hard up, whose families were lacking a great many of the necessities of life.

There is always a cause for every effect, so my search was for the causes in these cases, and they were many but the two that “stuck out” were buying a living and working poor land. I have talked so much to Planter readers about the poor land problem, of what a drag it is on the farmer, that I shall say nothing of it at this time except just this: that it is our greatest problem and we want to be thinking about it all the time.

This time, however, at the beginning of another good year, I want to have a word with the man who is in the habit of bringing home with him something for his family or stock to eat every time he goes to town. I was out in the great middle South last month, taking part in the big farm improvement campaign carried on in the territory tributary to Memphis, Tenn., by the Business Men’s Club of Memphis and the business men of the local towns, supplemented by the fine work of the Farm Extension Division of the International Harvester Company of Chicago.

Before one of the teams of 22 men and women struck a county, our advance man had been there and ascertained by investigation at the freight houses, just what the people of that county spent the previous year for food supplies for man and beast. It was a curious fact that in almost every instance, the amount so expended was just about equaled to the amount of the cotton sales for the same period. And the money was, of course, if we are raising a money crop to buy supplies, why not cut down the acreage of cotton somewhat, raise the food supplies and thus cut out some of the “wear and tear?” This, of course, if the food supplies can be as easily grown in our territory as in other sections—a question we Southern folks will answer in the affirmative every time, of course; for we all know what our soil, when properly handled, will produce all sorts of food products in greater abundance than will soils in colder sections, and of quality unequaled elsewhere.

Of course, we would not want to cut out the cotton crop or other money crop entirely, but it has been demonstrated many times that the same number of pounds of cotton may be much more economically produced on one acre than on two acres of land.

So cutting somewhat the acreage of cotton does not necessarily mean the reduction of the number of bales. The fact is, in boll weevil sections, the reduction of acreage and better handling of the crop means more pounds of cotton per given acre instead of less.

So there is no economic rule we will be compelled to violate and no climatic conditions to overcome if we start in this month with the determination to produce, on our own farm, all the meat we are to use this year, all the eggs our idle rich are to consume, all the garden peas, Irish potatoes, beans of ever sort, cabbage, peppers, sweet potatoes, roasting ears, lettuce, salsify, parsnips, spinach, turnips, carrots, beets, and you know all the others without me mentioning them, that should be produced for home consumption and sale.

This means fairly good hogs, decently kept on corn, grass and clover, with a clean house to sleep in. It means we must weed out the four and five-year-old hens and hatch plenty of pullets to take their place, out of eggs from the best layers of the flock. And it may mean battening the cracks on the west, north and east sides of the old hen house and the cleaning and spraying of the houses at more regular and frequent intervals. It means that we must abandon the old square garden patch and plow a good long piece of well-drained land very deep at the first opportunity when the land is in proper condition; fertilize this land well and lay off our garden on this good deep soil in long rows, so cultivation may be done with the horse at a minimum of expense. “Then the planting must be done on time, and often, so abundance from the garden will be the rule.

Then it may mean the planting of more than the usual acreage of peas and soja [soybean?] beans for hay and hog feed and, of course, it must mean better handling of an increased acreage of corn. And it might mean the cutting and curing while green and tender of a large amount of broom straw and Johnson grass for hay, in case other hay should be short. I would far rather feed early cut broom straw to horses next winter at a cost of two or three dollars per ton, than to feed the hay that the other fellows had piled up the cost on until the price is so high that only the very rich can afford to feed it. Understand that I am not advocating the use of broom straw hay except as a makeshift until we get caught up on better quality hay; however, I believe I have seen enough broom straw within the past month to have fed all the cattle in the South in better shape than the majority of them are being fed, had it been cut when green and succulent, and well cured.

Animal food and human food is costing our South country a large proportion of the money that our tobacco and cotton crops are bringing, and by a little readjustment of our farming practice and more economical handling of the work on the farm, we could grow every dollar’s worth of it with our present supply of labor and not reduce the cotton or tobacco crop by one pound.

The Southern Planter: Devoted to Practical and Progressive Agriculture, Horticulture, Trucking, Live Stock and Fireside

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