site logo

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


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, prese
ved 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