Read FORWARD STEPS: CHAPTER XV of Chapters in Rural Progress , free online book, by Kenyon L. Butterfield, on


One might name a score of important activities that should be encouraged in order to better New England agriculture. But the two fundamental needs are (1) adaptation and (2) co-operation.

By adaptation is meant such development of agriculture as shall more fully utilize existing physical and commercial conditions. The West has for seventy-five years pressed hard upon New England farming. But along with this western competition has come a new opportunity for the eastern farmer. New England farmers as a whole have not quickly enough responded to this new opportunity. Many of their troubles may be traced to the failure to adapt themselves to the new conditions. The men in New England who have met the new opportunity are succeeding.

What does this adaptation consist in? It means, first, the adaptation of the New England farmer to his markets. In most parts of the country the type of farming is perhaps more dependent upon physical conditions of soil and climate than upon the immediate market. In New England the reverse is now true, and the type of New England farming must be adapted, absolutely and completely, to the demands of its market. New England farmers have the most superb markets in the country. Of the six million people in New England, approximately 75 per cent. live in the cities and villages. There are, in New England, thirty cities having a population of twenty-five thousand or more. The great majority of these cities are manufacturing cities peopled by the best class of consumers in the world the American skilled artisan. They constitute a nearby market that demands fresh products which cannot be transported across a continent. New England is also especially favored in its nearness to the European market. The New England farmer then must adapt his crops, his methods, and his style of farming to his peculiar market.

In the second place, this adaptation must be one of soil, just as anywhere else, only the problem here becomes more complicated because of the varied character of the farming lands. How to make the valleys and the hills, the rocky ridges and the sand plains of New England yield their largest possibilities in agriculture is a problem of the greatest scientific and industrial interest, and it is the problem that New England agriculture has to face. In this connection comes also the need of special varieties adapted not only to the market but to the soil and climate.

This principle of adaptation is the industrial key to future agricultural development in New England. But to achieve this adaptation, to make the key work, there is needed the force of social organization. The farmer must be reached before the farm can be improved. The man who treads the furrow is a greater factor than nitrogen or potash. How is this man to be reached, inspired, instructed? Largely by some form of organization. The second and greater need therefore is co-operation.

Co-operation means faith in agriculture a faith too seldom found in the Israel of New England’s yeomanry. Co-operation means ideals ideals of rural possibilities too seldom dreamed of in the philosophy of the Yankee farmer. Co-operation means power power that cannot be acquired by the lone man, not even by the resolute individualism so dominant in New England character.

There are three forms of co-operation, all of which are desirable and even essential if the most rapid agricultural progress in New England is to be secured co-operation among individuals, among organizations, among states.

The farmers of New England must work together. The Grange is stronger in New England than in any other portion of the country of similar area yet not one farmer in ten belongs to the Grange. We need not dwell on this point, for it is a truth constantly preached through the Grange and through other means. Let me suggest two ideas relative to co-operation which have not received so much attention.

Each organization has its peculiar work. The school is to train the young, the agricultural college to prepare the youth, the farmers’ institute to instruct and inspire the middle-aged and mature. The experiment station seeks to discover the means by which nature and man may better work together. The producers’ unions endeavor to secure a fair price for their goods. The Grange enlarges the views of its members and brings the power which comes from working together, buying together, meeting together, talking together, acting together. Boards of agriculture control conditions of health and disease among animals and plants. The country fair educates and interests. The church crowns all in its ministrations of spiritual vision, moral uplift, and insistence upon character as the supreme end of life.

But no institution can do the work of the others. They are members one of another. The hand cannot say to the foot, I have no need of thee. All these things make for rural progress. None can be spared. The Grange cannot take the place of the church. The institute cannot supplant the Grange. The college course cannot reach the adult farmer. The experiment station cannot instruct the young. The church cannot secure reforms in taxation.

These agencies may however co-operate. Indeed the most rapid and most secure rural progress, the broadest and soundest agricultural growth, can not take place unless there be this form of co-operation. There will come added interest, increased efficiency, larger views, greater ambitions in our agricultural development, if, in each state, all of these forces work together.

We may therefore welcome most cordially the proposed plan of federating the various agricultural societies of each state into one grand committee organized for the purpose of forwarding all the agricultural interests of that state. Let there be, moreover, a “League for Rural Progress,” in each state or, at least, an annual conference on rural progress, in each state, in which the representatives of the farmers’ societies, of the schools, of the churches, and indeed all other people who have the slightest interest in rural advancement may meet to discuss plans and methods which shall better agriculture and the farmer.

But this is not enough. There ought to be co-operation among these various social institutions without respect to state lines. The farm problem in New England is one problem, although differing in details, it is true, in different states. Co-operation should not stop with the federating of the organizations of a state. There is no reason, for instance, why the agricultural colleges and experiment stations of New England should not co-operate. It is not practicable to prevent all duplication of work. I do suggest the desirability and the feasibility of genuine co-operation.

Why should not those in charge of the rural schools of all New England meet together and discuss the difficulties and achievements as they exist in different states? Why not have a “New England Society for Agricultural Education,” in which all organizations and all individuals who are interested in any phase of this subject may meet for discussing New England problems? Could not boards of agriculture co-operate to some extent, especially in farmers’ institute work with general plans and ideas? Certainly conferences between these boards ought to yield most valuable results. Is the idea of a genuine New England fair a mere dream?

Cannot the Granges of New England profitably co-operate more fully? It is true that there is considerable intervisitation, and yet the rank and file of members in one state know comparatively little of the progress and methods of the Grange in an adjoining state; this knowledge is confined to a few leaders. Would it not be worth while to attempt an occasional New England assemblage of Grange members, a representative gathering for discussing Grange work and for enthusing the Grange people of New England with the possibilities of still further Grange development?

The idea of New England as a unit of interest in church matters is already exemplified by the appointment of a New England secretary of the federation of churches. It is not too much to expect that, in the near future, all the means for church federation in New England shall work together, because it is evident that co-operation and unity are demanded by the nature of the field.

And finally, is it idle to think that there might be a New England League for Rural Progress or, at least, a New England Conference on Rural Progress, which shall bring from every corner of New England representatives of the agricultural colleges, of the Granges, of the country church, of the rural school, of the country press, and all other individuals who believe in the possibilities of New England agriculture, and in the efficiency of the fullest and freest co-operation?

There are several powerful reasons why an attempt to better New England agriculture will be greatly aided by co-operation that includes every inch of New England soil from Boston harbor to the Berkshires, and from Mt. Katahdin to Point Judith.

(1) The importance of New England agriculture. In the appended table is attempted a comparison between New England as a unit, the state of Michigan representing an average agricultural state, and the state of Iowa representing the foremost agricultural state. The figures, taken from the Census of 1900, are given in round numbers. Such a table is not conclusive as to agricultural conditions. But it is very suggestive as to the importance of New England agriculture both industrially and socially. It will be seen that, with an area only a little larger than Michigan, New England compares in every respect favorably with that average state and, in some respects, excels it, while it excels both Michigan and Iowa by 65 per cent. in gross value of product per acre of improved land.

(2) Agricultural conditions all over New England are quite similar. Speaking broadly, the soil and climate of one state are the soil and climate of another. The people are of the same stock, the same views, the same habits, the same traditions. The demand of the market is fairly uniform for different sections. The New England city is the New Englander’s special possession as a market. Farm labor conditions are much the same. In fact, there is hardly a portion of our country, of the same area, which in all these respects yields itself more completely to the idea of unity.

(3) The hopefulness of the farm problem. Nearly four millions of city people live in New England. They must be fed. The nearness of the market means high-class products. This means intensive agriculture. Intensive agriculture means education and intelligence. The cities are growing. Their power of consumption is steadily and rapidly increasing.

(4) The unusual social equipment. It must be remembered that in an area but little larger than Iowa, which has one agricultural college and one agricultural experiment station and no Granges to speak of, New England has, in comparison, six agricultural colleges, six experiment stations, six boards of agriculture, over a thousand Granges, and numerous agricultural societies. The means of agricultural education in New England are more numerous and may be more efficient than in any other portion of this country of similar area. Moreover, the cities are now in a position to help solve the problem in New England. They have leaders. There are in them men with leisure and talent who are interested in this problem and who are willing to help solve it.

(5) The sentimental side. A campaign for rural progress, with New England as the unit, ought to arouse the pride and enthusiasm of all the sons and daughters of New England who still have the privilege of living within her borders, as well as the interest and sympathy of all her grandsons who, though living under western skies, still cherish in their hearts the deepest affection for their Fatherland. Shall not the idea of uniting all the forces of agricultural betterment that exist in New England be a stimulus to every farmer in the six states, and, indeed, attract the sympathy and practical aid of every lover of New England soil?

Adaptation, co-operation: these are the primary needs of New England agriculture; an adaptation of the farmer and his farm to existing conditions, a co-operation that unites individual farmers into various associated efforts, that federates the work and influence of the different social agencies within the state, and that ultimately secures the unity of all New England in a great movement for rural advancement.