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Buying A Farm

No one need be told at this day that good land is cheaper than

poor--that the former may be bought at less cost than it can be made.

Yet this, like most truths, may be given undue emphasis. It should be

considered in the light of the less obvious truth that Every farmer may

make advantageous use of SOME poor land. The smallest farm

should have its strip or belt of forest; the larger should have an

abundance and variety
of trees; and sterile, stony land grows many if

not most trees thriftily: Even at the risk of arousing Western

prejudice, I maintain that New-England, and all broken, hilly, rocky

countries, have a decided advantage (abundantly counterbalanced, no

doubt) over regions of great fertility and nearly uniform facility, in

that human stupidity and mole-eyed greed can never wholly divest them of

forests--that their sterile crags and steep acclivities must mainly be

left to wood forever. Avarice may strip them of their covering of

to-day; but, defying the plow and the spade, they cannot be so denuded

that they will not be speedily reclothed with trees and foliage.

I am not a believer that "Five Acres" or "Ten Acres" suffice for a farm.

I know where money is made on even fewer than five acres; but they who

do it are few, and men of exceptional capacity and diligence. Their

achievements are necessarily confined to the vicinage of cities or

manufacturing villages. The great majority of all who live by

Agriculture want room to turn upon--want to grow grass and keep

stock--and, for such, no mere garden or potato-patch will answer. They

want genuine farms.

Yet, go where you may in this country, you will hear a farmer saying of

his neighbor, "He has too much land," even where the criticism might

justly be reciprocated. We cannot all be mistaken on this head.

There are men who can each manage thousands of acres of tillage, just as

there are those who can skillfully wield an army of a hundred thousand

men. Napoleon said there were two of this class in the Europe of his

day. There are others who cannot handle a hundred acres so that nothing

is lost through neglect or oversight. Rules must be adapted to average

capacities and circumstances. He who expects to live by cattle-rearing

needs many more acres than he who is intent on grain-growing; while he

who contemplates vegetable, root, and fruit culture, needs fewer acres

still. As to the direction of his efforts, each one will be a law unto


If I were asked, by a young man intent on farming, to indicate the

proper area for him, I would say, Buy just so large a farm as half

your means will pay for. In other words, "If you are worth $20,000,

invest half of it in land, the residue in stock, tools, etc.; and

observe the same rule of proportion, whether you be worth $1,000,000 or

only $1,000. If you are worth just nothing at all, I would invest in

land the half of that, and no more. In other words, I would either wait

to earn $500 or over, or push Westward till I found land that costs

practically nothing."

This, then, I take to be the gist of the popular criticism on our

farmers as having unduly enlarged their borders: They have more land

than they have capital to stock and till to the best advantage. He who

has but fifty acre has too much if he lets part of his land lie idle and

unproductive for lack of team or hands to till it efficiently; while he

who has a thousand acres has none too much if he has the means and

talents wherewith to make the best of it all.

I have said that I consider the soil of New England as cheap, all things

considered, for him who is able to buy and work it, as that of Minnesota

or Arkansas--that I urge migration to the West only upon those who

cannot pay for farms in the old States. I doubt whether the farmers of

any other section have, in the average, done better, throughout the last

ten years, than the butter-makers of Vermont, the cheese-dairymen of

this State. And yet there is, in the ridgy, rocky, patchy character of

most of our Eastern farms, an insuperable barrier to the most economic,

effective cultivation. If the ridges were further apart--if each rocky

or gravelly knoll were not in close proximity to a strip of bog or

morass--it would be different. But the genius of our age points

unmistakably to cultivation by steam or some other mechanical

application of power; and this requires spacious fields, with few or no

obstacles to the equable progress of the plow. I apprehend that, for

this reason, the growth of bread-corn eastward of the Hudson can never

more be considerably extended, so long as the boundless, fertile

prairies can so easily pour their exhaustless supplies upon us. Fruits,

Vegetables, Roots and Grass, we must continue to grow, probably in

ever-increasing abundance; but we of the East will buy our bread-corn

largely if not mainly from the West.

He, therefore, who bays land in the Eastern States should regard

primarily its capacity to produce those crops in which the East can

never be supplanted--Grass, Fruits, Vegetables, Timber. If a farm will

also produce good Corn or Wheat, that is a recommendation; but let him

place a higher value on those capacities which will be more generally

required and drawn upon.

In the West, the case is different; for, though Wheat-culture still

recedes before the footsteps of advancing population, and Minnesota may

soon cease to grow for others, as Western New-York, Ohio, Indiana, and

Northern Illinois, have already done, yet Indian Corn, being the basis

of both Beef and Pork, will long hold its own in the Valley of the Ohio

and in that of the Upper Mississippi. As it recedes slowly Westward,

Clover and Timothy, Butter and Cheese, will press closely on its


Good neighbors, good roads, good schools, good mechanics at hand, and a

good church within reach, will always be valued and sought: few farmers

are likely to disregard them. Let whoever buys a farm whereon to live,

resolve to buy once for all, and let him not forget that health is not

only wealth but happiness--that an eligible location and a beautiful

prospect are elements of enjoyment not only for ourselves but our

friends; let him not fancy that all the land will soon be gobbled up and

held at exorbitant prices, but believe that money will almost always

command money's worth of whatever may be needed, so that he need not

embarrass himself to-day through fear that he may not be able to find

sellers to-morrow, and he can hardly fail to buy judiciously, and thus

escape that worst species of home-sickness--sickness of home.