Can one assume that the pinch of this war is really bringing home to us the vital need of growing our own food henceforth? I do not think so. Is there any serious shame felt at our parasitic condition? None. Are we in earnest about the resettlement of the land? Not yet.
All our history shows us to be a practical people with short views. "Tiens! Une montagne!" Never was a better summing up of British character than those words of the French cartoonist during the Boer War, beneath his picture of a certain British General of those days, riding at a hand gallop till his head was butting a cliff. Without seeing a hand's breadth before our noses we have built our Empire, our towns, our law. We are born empiricists, and must have our faces ground by hard facts, before we attempt to wriggle past them. We have thriven so far, but the ruin of England is likely to be the work of practical men who burn the house down to roast the pig, because they cannot see beyond the next meal. Visions are airy; but I propose to see visions for a moment, and Britain as she might be in 1948.
I see our towns, not indeed diminished from their present size, but no larger; much cleaner, and surrounded by wide belts of garden allotments, wherein town workers spend many of their leisure hours. I see in Great Britain fifty millions instead of forty-one; but the town population only thirty-two millions as now, and the rural population eighteen millions instead of the present nine. I see the land farmed in three ways: very large farms growing corn and milk, meat and wool, or sugar beet; small farms co-operatively run growing everything; and large groups of co-operative small holdings, growing vegetables, fruit, pigs, poultry, and dairy produce to some extent. There are no game laws to speak of, and certainly no large areas of ground cut to waste for private whims. I see very decent cottages everywhere, with large plots of ground at economic rents, and decently waged people paying them; no tithes, but a band of extinguished tithe-holders, happy with their compensation. The main waterways of the country seem joined by wide canals, and along these canals factories are spread out on the garden city plan, with allotments for the factory workers. Along better roads run long chains of small holdings, so that the co-operated holders have no difficulty in marketing their produce. I see motor transport; tractor ploughs; improved farm machinery; forestry properly looked after, and foreshores reclaimed; each village owning its recreation hall, with stage and cinema attached; and public-houses run only on the principle of no commission on the drink sold; every school teaching the truth that happiness and health, not mere money and learning, are the prizes of life and the objects of education, and for ever impressing on the scholars that life in the open air and pleasure in their work are the two chief secrets of health and happiness. In every district a model farm radiates scientific knowledge of the art of husbandry, bringing instruction to each individual farmer, and leaving him no excuse for ignorance. The land produces what it ought; not, as now, feeding with each hundred acres only fifty persons, while a German hundred acres, not nearly so favoured by Nature, feeds seventy-five. Every little girl has been taught to cook. Farmers are no longer fearful of bankruptcy, as in the years from 1875 to 1897, but hold their own with all comers, proud of their industry, the spine and marrow of a country which respects itself once more. There seems no longer jealousy or division between town and country; and statesmen by tacit consent leave the land free from Party politics. I see taller and stronger men and women, rosier and happier children; a race no longer narrow, squashed, and disproportionate; no longer smoke-dried and nerve-racked, with the driven, don't-care look of a town-ridden land. And surely the words "Old England" are spoken by all voices with a new affection, as of a land no longer sucking its sustenance from other lands, but sound and sweet, the worthy heart once more of a great commonwealth of countries.
All this I seem to see, if certain things are done now and persevered in hereafter. But let none think that we can restore self-respect and the land-spirit to this country under the mere momentary pressure of our present-day need. Such a transformation cannot come unless we are genuinely ashamed that Britain should be a sponge; unless we truly wish to make her again sound metal, ringing true, instead of a splay-footed creature, dependent for vital nourishment on oversea supplies—a cockshy for every foe.
We are practically secured by Nature, yet have thrown security to the winds because we cannot feed ourselves! We have as good a climate and soil as any in the world, not indeed for pleasure, but for health and food, and yet, I am sure, we are rotting physically faster than any other people!
Let the nation put that reflection in its pipe and smoke it day by day; for only so shall we emerge from a bad dream and seize again on our birthright.
Let us dream a little of what we might become. Let us not crawl on with our stomachs to the ground, and not an ounce of vision in our heads for fear lest we be called visionaries. And let us rid our minds of one or two noxious superstitions. It is not true that country life need mean dull and cloddish life; it has in the past, because agriculture as been neglected for the false glamour of the towns, and village life left to seed down. There is no real reason why the villager should not have all he needs of social life and sane amusement; village life only wants organising. It is not true that country folk must be worse fed and worse plenished than town folk. This has only been so sometimes because a starved industry which was losing hope has paid starvation wages. It is not true that our soil and climate are of indifferent value for the growth of wheat. The contrary is the case. "The fact which has been lost sight of in the past twenty years must be insisted on nowadays, that England is naturally one of the best, if not the very best wheat-growing country in the world. Its climate and soil are almost ideal for the production of the heaviest crops": Professor R. H. Biffen. "The view of leading German agriculturists is that their soils and climate are distinctly inferior to those of Britain": Mr. T. H. Middleton, Assistant Secretary to the Board of Agriculture.
We have many mouths in this country, but no real excuse for not growing the wherewithal to feed them.
To break the chains of our lethargy and superstitions, let us keep before us a thought and a vision—the thought that, since the air is mastered and there are pathways under the sea, we, the proudest people in the world, will exist henceforth by mere merciful accident, until we grow our own food; and the vision of ourselves as a finer race in body and mind than we have ever yet been. And then let us be practical by all means; for in the practical measures of the present, spurred on by that thought, inspired by that vision, alone lies the hope and safety of the future.
What are those measures?
The measure which underlies all else is the ploughing up of permanent grass—the reconversion of land which was once arable, the addition to arable of land which has never been arable, so as to secure the only possible basis of success—the wheat basis.
I have before me a Report on the Breaking up of Grass Land in fifty-five counties for the winter of 1916–1917, which shows four successes for every failure. The Report says: "It has been argued during the past few months that it is hopeless to attempt to plough out old grass land in the expectation of adding to the nation's food. The experience of 1917 does not support this contention. It shows not only that the successes far outnumber the failures, but that the latter are to some extent preventable."
The Government's 1918 tillage programme for England and Wales was to increase (as compared with 1916), (1) the area under corn by 2,600,000 acres, (2) the area under potatoes and mangolds by 400,000 acres, (3) the arable land by 2,000,000 acres. I have it on the best authority that the Government hopes to better this in the forth-coming harvest. That shows what our farmers can do with their backs to the wall. It sometimes happens in this world that we act virtuously without in any way believing that virtue is its own reward. Most of our farmers are hoeing their rows in this crisis in the full belief that they are serving the country to the hurt of their own interests; they will not, I imagine, realise that they are laying the foundations of a future prosperity beyond their happiest dreams until the crisis is long past. All the more credit to them for a great effort. They by no means grasp at present the fact that with every acre they add to arable, with each additional acre of wheat, they increase their own importance and stability, and set the snowball of permanent prosperity in their industry rolling anew. Pasture was a policy adopted by men who felt defeat in their bones, saw bankruptcy round every corner. Those who best know seem agreed that after the war the price of wheat will not come down with a run. The world shortage of food and shipping will be very great, and the "new world's" surplus will be small. Let our farmers take their courage in their hands, play a bold game, and back their own horse for the next four or five seasons, and they will, if supported by the country, be in a position once more to defy competition. Let them have faith and go for the gloves and they will end by living without fear of the new worlds. "There is a tide in the affairs of men." This is the British farmer's tide, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. But only if the British farmer intends that Britain shall feed herself; only if he farms the land of Britain so that acre by acre it yields the maximum of food. A hundred acres under potatoes feeds 420 persons; a hundred acres under wheat feeds 200 persons; a hundred acres of grass feeds fifteen persons. It requires no expert to see that the last is the losing horse; for increase of arable means also increase of winter food, and in the long run increase, not decrease, of live stock. In Denmark (1912) arable was to permanent grass as about 4 to 5; in the United Kingdom it was only as about 5 to 7. Yet in Denmark there were five cattle to every eight acres of grass, and in the United Kingdom only four cattle to every nine acres.
Let me quote Professor Biffen on the prospects of wheat: "In the United States the amount exported tends to fall. The results are so marked that we find American agricultural experts seriously considering the possibility of the United States having to become a wheat importing country in order to feed the rapidly growing population." When she does, that wheat will come from Canada; and "there are several other facts which lead one to question the statement so frequently made that Canada will shortly be the Empire's granary...." He thinks that the Argentine (which trebles her population every forty years) is an uncertain source; that Russia, where the population also increases with extreme rapidity, is still more uncertain; that neither India nor Australia are dependable fields of supply. "The world's crop continues to increase slowly, and concurrently the number of wheat consumers increases.... Prices have tended to rise of late years, a fact which may indicate that the world's consumption is increasing faster than its rate of production. There are now no vast areas of land comparable with those of North and South America awaiting the pioneer wheat growers, and consequently there is no likelihood of any repetition of the over-production characteristic of the period of 1874–1894....
"If as there is every reason to hope the problem of breeding satisfactory strong wheats" (for this country) "has been solved, then their cultivation should add about £1 to the value of the produce of every acre of wheat in the country....
"At a rough estimate the careful use of artificials might increase the average yield of the acre from four quarters up to five....
"England is one of the best, if not the very best wheat-growing country in the world."
That, shortly, is the wheat position for this country in the view of our most brilliant practical expert. I commend it to the notice of those who are faint-hearted about the future of wheat in Britain.
With these prospects and possibilities before him, and a fair price for wheat guaranteed him, is the British farmer going to let down the land to grass again when the war is over? The fair price for wheat will be the point on which his decision will turn. When things have settled down after the war, the fair price will be that at which the average farmer can profitably grow wheat, and such a price must be maintained—by bounty, if necessary. It never can be too often urged on politicians and electorate that they, who thwart a policy which makes wheat-growing firm and profitable, are knocking nails in the coffin of their country. We are no longer, and never shall again be, an island. The air is henceforth as simple an avenue of approach as Piccadilly is to Leicester Square. If we are ever attacked there will be no time to get our second wind, unless we can feed ourselves. And since we are constitutionally liable to be caught napping, we shall infallibly be brought to the German heel next time, if we are not self-supporting. But if we are, there will be no next time. An attempt on us will not be worth the cost. Further, we are running to seed physically from too much town-life and the failure of country stocks; we shall never stem that rot unless we re-establish agriculture on a large scale. To do that, in the view of nearly all who have thought this matter out, we must found our farming on wheat; grow four-fifths instead of one-fifth of our supply, and all else will follow.
In England and Wales 11,246,106 acres were arable land in 1917, and 15,835,375 permanent grass land. To reverse these figures, at least, is the condition of security, perhaps even of existence in the present and the only guarantee of a decent and safe future.
One expert pins faith to large farms; another to small holdings. How agreeable to think that both are right. We cannot afford to neglect any type of holding; all must be developed and supported, for all serve vital purposes. For instance, the great development of small holdings in Germany is mainly responsible for the plentiful supply of labour on the land there; "until measures can be devised for greatly increasing the area under holdings of less than 100 acres in Britain we are not likely to breed and maintain in the country a sufficient number of that class of worker which will be required if we are greatly to extend our arable land": Mr. T. H. Middleton, Assistant Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. But I am not going into the pros and cons of the holdings question. I desire rather to point out here that a moment is approaching, which will never come again, for the resettling of the land.
A rough census taken in 1916 among our soldiers gave the astounding figure of 750,000 desirous of going on the land. That figure will shrink to a mere skeleton unless on demobilisation the Government is ready with a comprehensive plan. The men fall roughly into two classes: those who were already on the land; those who were not. The first will want to go back to their own districts, but not to the cottages and wages they had before the war. For them, it is essential to provide new cottages with larger gardens, otherwise they will go to the Dominions, to America, or to the towns. A fresh census should be taken and kept up to date, the wants of each man noted, and a definite attempt made now to earmark sites and material for building, to provide the garden plots, and plan the best and prettiest type of cottage. For lack of labour and material no substantial progress can be made with housing while the war is on, but if a man can see his cottage and his ground ready, in the air, he will wait; if he cannot, he will be off, and we shall have lost him. Wages are not to fall again below twenty-five shillings, and will probably stay at a considerably higher level. The cottage and the garden ground for these men will be the determining factor, and that garden ground should be at least an acre. A larger class by far will be men who were not on the land, but having tasted open-air life, think they wish to continue it. A fresh census of this class and their wants should be taken also. It will subdivide them into men who want the life of independent medium and small holders, with from 100 to 20 acres of land, and men who with 5 or 10 acres of their own are willing to supplement their living by seasonal work on the large farms. For all a cut-and-dried scheme providing land and homes is absolutely essential. If they cannot be assured of having these within a few months of their return to civil life, they will go either to the Dominions or back to the towns. One of them, I am told, thus forecasts their future wants: "When we're free we shall have a big spree in the town; we shall then take the first job that comes along; if it's an indoor job we shan't be able to stick it and shall want to get on the land." I am pretty sure he's wrong. He will want his spree, of course; but if he is allowed to go back to a town job he is not at all likely to leave it again. Men so soon get used to things, and the towns have a fierce grip. For this second class, no less than the first, it is vital to have the land ready, and the cottages estimated for. I think men of both these classes, when free, should be set at once to the building of their own homes and the preparation of their land. I think huts ought to be ready for them and their wives till their homes are habitable. A man who takes a hand in the building of his house, and the first work on his new holding, is far less likely to abandon his idea of settling on the land than a man who is simply dumped into a ready-made concern. That is human nature. Let him begin at the beginning, and while his house is going up be assisted and instructed. Frankly, I am afraid that in the difficulty of fixing on an ideal scheme and ideal ways of working it, we shall forget that the moment of demobilisation is unique. Any scheme, however rough and ready, which will fix men or their intention of settling on the land in Britain at the moment of demobilisation will be worth a hundred better-laid plans which have waited for perfection till that one precious moment is overpast. While doctors quarrel, or lay their heads together, the patient dies.
The Government, I understand, have adopted a scheme by which they can secure land. If they have not ascertained from these men what land they will want, and secured that land by the time the men are ready, that scheme will be of little use to them.
The Government, I gather, have decided on a huge scheme for urban and rural housing. About that I have this to say. The rural housing ought to take precedence of the urban, not because it is more intrinsically necessary, but because if the moment of demobilisation is let slip for want of rural cottages, we shall lose our very life blood, our future safety, perhaps our existence as a nation. We must seize on this one precious chance of restoring the land and guaranteeing our future. The towns can wait a little for their housing, the country cannot. It is a sort of test question for our leaders in every Party. Surely they will rise to the vital necessity of grasping this chance! If, when the danger of starvation has been staring us hourly in the face for years on end, and we have for once men in hundreds of thousands waiting and hoping to be settled on the land, to give us the safety of the future—if, in such circumstances, we cannot agree to make the most of that chance, it will show such lack of vision that I really feel we may as well throw up the sponge. If jealousy by towns of country can so blind public opinion to our danger and our chance, so that no precedence can be given to rural needs, well, then, frankly we are not fit to live as a nation.
I am told that Germany has seen to this matter. She does not mean to be starved in the future; she intends to keep the backbone of her country sound. She, who already grew 80 per cent. of her food, will grow it all. She, who already appreciated the dangers of a rampant industrialism, will take no further risks with the physique of her population. We who did not grow one-half of our food, and whose riotous industrialism has made far greater inroads on our physique; we who, though we have not yet suffered the privations of Germany, have been in far more real danger—we shall talk about it, say how grave the situation is, how "profoundly" we are impressed by the need to feed ourselves—and we shall act, I am very much afraid, too late.
There are times when the proverb: "Act in haste and repent at leisure" should be written "Unless you act in haste you will repent at leisure." This is such a time. We can take, of course, the right steps or the wrong steps to settle our soldiers on the land; but no wrong step we can take will be so utterly wrong as to let the moment of demobilisation slip. We have a good and zealous Minister of Agriculture, we have good men alive to the necessity, working on this job. If we miss the chance it will be because "interests" purblind, selfish and perverse, and a lethargic public opinion, do not back them; because we want to talk it out; because trade and industry think themselves of superior importance to the land. Henceforth trade and industry are of secondary importance in this country. There is only one thing of absolutely vital importance, and that is agriculture.
I who have lived most of my time on a farm for many years, in daily contact with farmer and labourer, do really appreciate what variety and depth of knowledge is wanted for good farming. It is a lesson to the armchair reformer to watch a farmer walking across the "home meadow" whence he can see a good way over his land. One can feel the slow wisdom working in his head. A halt, a look this way and that, a whistle, the call of some instruction so vernacular that only a native could understand; the contemplation of sheep, beasts, sky, crops; always something being noted, and shrewd deductions made therefrom. It is a great art, and, like all art, to be learned only with the sweat of the brow and a long, minute attention to innumerable details. You cannot play at farming, and you cannot "mug it up." One understands the contempt of the farmer born and bred for the book-skilled gentleman who tries to instruct his grandmother in the sucking of eggs. The farmer's knowledge, acquired through years of dumb wrestling with Nature, in his own particular corner, is his strength and—his weakness. Vision of the land at large, of its potentialities, and its needs is almost of necessity excluded. The practical farmers of our generation might well be likened unto sailing-ship seamen in an age when it has suddenly become needful to carry commerce by steam. They are pupils of the stern taskmaster bankruptcy; the children of the years from 1874–1897, when the nation had turned its thumb down on British farmers, and left them to fight, unaided, against extinction. They have been brought up to carry on against contrary winds and save themselves as best they could. Well, they have done it; and now they are being asked to reverse their processes in the interests of a country which left them in the lurch. Naturally they are not yet persuaded that the country will not leave them in the lurch again.
Instruction of the British farmer begins with the fortification of his will by confidence. When you ask him to plough up grass land, to revise the rotation of his crops, to grow wheat, to use new brands of corn, to plough with tractors, and to co-operate, you are asking a man deeply and deservedly cynical about your intentions and your knowledge. He has seen wheat fail all his life, he has seen grass succeed. Grass has saved him, and now he is asked to turn his back on it. Little wonder that he curses you for a meddling fool. "Prove it!" he says—and you cannot. You could if you had it in your power to show him that your guarantee of a fair price for wheat was "good as the Bank." Thus, the first item of instruction to the farmer consists in the definite alteration of public opinion towards the land by adoption of the sine quâ non that in future we will feed ourselves. The majority of our farmers do not think their interests are being served by the present revolution of farming. Patriotic fear for the country, and dread of D.O.R.A.—not quite the same thing—are driving them on. Besides, it is the townsmen of Britain, not the farmers, who are in danger of starvation, not merely now, but henceforth for evermore until we feed ourselves. If starvation really knocked at our doors, the only houses it would not enter would be the houses of those who grow food. The farmers in Germany are all right; they would be all right here. The townsmen of this country were entirely responsible for our present condition, and the very least they can do is to support their own salvation. But while with one corner of their mouths the towns are now shouting: "Grow food! Feed us, please!" with the other they are still inclined to add: "You pampered industry!" Alas! we cannot have it both ways.
The second point I want to make about instruction is the importance of youth. In America, where they contemplate a labour shortage of 2,000,000 men on their farms, they are using boys from sixteen to twenty-one, when their military age begins. Can we not do the same here? Most of our boys from fifteen to eighteen are now on other work. But the work they are doing could surely be done by girls or women. If we could put even a couple of hundred thousand boys of that age on the land it would be the solution of our present agricultural labour shortage, and the very best thing that could happen for the future of farming. The boys would learn at first hand; they would learn slowly and thoroughly; and many of them would stay on the land. They might be given specialised schooling in agriculture, the most important schooling we can give our rising generation, while all of them would gain physically. By employing women on the land, where we can employ boys of from fifteen to eighteen, we are blind-alleying. Women will not stay on the land in any numbers; few will wish that they should. Boys will, and every one would wish that they may.
The third point I want to make concerns the model farm. If we are to have resettlement on any large scale and base our farming on crops in future, the accessibility of the best practical advice is an absolute essential.
Till reformed education begins to take effect, the advice and aid of "model" farmers should be available in every district. Some recognised diploma might with advantage be given to farmers for outstanding merit and enterprise. No instruction provided from our advisory agricultural councils or colleges can have as much prestige and use in any district as the advice of the leading farmer who had been crowned as a successful expert. It is ever well in this country to take advantage of the competitive spirit which lies deep in the bones of our race. To give the best farmers a position and prestige to which other farmers can aspire would speed up effort everywhere. We want more competition in actual husbandry and less competition in matters of purchase and sale. And that brings us to the vital question of co-operation.
"The most important economic question for all nations in the past has been, and in the future will be, the question of a sufficient food supply, independent of imports.
"It is doubtful whether the replacement of German agriculture on a sound basis in the last ten years is to be ascribed in a greater measure to technical advance in agricultural methods, or to the development of the co-operative system. Perhaps it would be right to say that for the large farms it is due to the first, and for the smaller farms (three quarters of the arable land in Germany) to the second. For it is only through co-operation that the advantages of farming on a large scale are made possible for smaller farmers. The more important of those advantages are the regulated purchase of all raw materials and half-finished products (artificial manures, feeding stuffs, seeds, etc.), better prices for products, facilities for making use, in moderation, of personal credit at a cheap rate of interest, together with the possibility of saving and putting aside small sums of interest; all these advantages of the large farmer have been placed within the reach of the small farmers by local co-operative societies for buying, selling, and farming co-operatively, as well as by saving and other banks, all connected to central associations and central co-operative societies.
"Over two million small farmers are organised in Germany on co-operative lines." [From an essay by the President of the German Agricultural Council, quoted by Mr. T. H. Middleton, of the Board of Agriculture, in his report on the recent development of German agriculture.]
Nearly two million small farmers co-operated in Germany; and here-how many? The Registrar returns the numbers for 1916 at 1,427 small holders.
In the view of all authorities co-operation is essential for the success of small farmers and small holders; but it needs no brilliant intellect, nor any sweep of the imagination to see a truth plainer than the nose on a man's face.
"There is some reason to hope," says Mr. Middleton, "that after the war agriculturalists will show a greater disposition to co-operate; but we cannot expect co-operation to do as much for British agriculture as it has done for the Germans, who so readily join societies and support co-operative efforts."
So much the worse for us!
The Agricultural Organisation Society, the officially recognised agency for fostering the co-operative principle, has recently formed an Agricultural Wholesale Society with a large subscribed capital, for the purchase of all farming requirements, and the marketing of produce, to be at the disposal of all co-operated farmers, small holders, and allotment holders, whose societies are affiliated to the Agricultural Organisation. Society. This is a step of infinite promise. The drawing together of these three classes of workers on the land is in itself a matter of great importance. One of the chief complaints of small holders in the past has been that large holders regard them askance. The same, perhaps, applies to the attitude of the small holder to the allotment holder. That is all bad. Men and women on the land should be one big family, with interests, and sympathies in common and a neighbourly feeling.
A leaflet of the Agricultural Organisation Society thus describes a certain co-operative small holdings' society with seventeen members renting ninety acres. "It owns a team of horses, cart, horse-hoe, plough, ridger, harrow, Cambridge roller, marker; and hires other implements as required; it insures, buys, and sells co-operatively. This year (for patriotic reasons) wheat and potatoes form the chief crop, with sufficient oats, barley, beans and mangolds to feed the horses and the pigs, of which there are many. The society last year marketed more fat pigs than the rest of the village and adjoining farms put together.
"The land, on the whole, is undoubtedly better cultivated and cropped, and supports a far larger head of population per acre than the neighbouring large farms." Even allowing that the first statement may be disputed, the last is beyond dispute, and is the important thing to bear in mind about small holdings from the national point of view; for every extra man and woman on the land is a credit item in the bank book of the nation's future.
"In addition," says the leaflet, "there is a friendly spirit prevalent among the members, who are always willing to help each other, and at harvest time combine to gather in the crops."
With more land, not only some, but all the members of this little society could support themselves entirely on their holdings. "The members value their independence and freedom, but recognise the value of combined action and new ideas."
Now this is exactly what we want. For instance, these members have found out that the profit on potatoes when home-grown farmyard manure alone was used was only 14s. 6d. per acre; and that a suitable combination of artificial manures gave a profit of £14 12s. 6d. an acre, with double the yield. Mutual help and the spread of knowledge; more men and women on the land—this is the value of the agricultural co-operative movement, whose importance to this country it is impossible to over-estimate.
From letters of small holders I take the following remarks:—
"Of course it's absolutely necessary that the prospective small holder should have a thorough knowledge of farming."
"In regard to implements, you need as many of some sorts on a small holding as you do on a large farm. A small man can't afford to buy all, so he has to work at a disadvantage.... Then as to seeds, why not buy them wholesale, and sell them to the small holder, also manures, and many other things which the small holder has to pay through the nose for."
"Men with no actual knowledge of land work would rarely succeed whatever financial backing they might receive."
"About here small holdings are usually let to men who have been tradesmen or pitmen, and they of course cannot be expected to make the most of them."
"When you restrict a farmer to 50 acres he ought to be provided with ample and proper buildings for every kind of stock he wishes to keep."
These few remarks, which might be supplemented ad libitum, illustrate the difficulties and dangers which beset any large scheme of land settlement by our returning soldiers and others. Such a scheme is bound to fail unless it is based most firmly on co-operation, for, without that, the two absolute essentials—knowledge, with the benefit of practical advice and help; and assistance by way of co-operative finance, and co-operatively-owned implements, will be lacking.
Set the returning soldier down on the land to work it on his own and, whatever his good-will, you present the countryside with failure. Place at his back pooled labour, monetary help and knowledge, and, above all, the spirit of mutual aid, and you may, and I believe will, triumph over difficulties, which are admittedly very great.
The growth of allotment gardens is a striking feature of our agricultural development under stimulus of the war. They say a million and a half allotment gardens are now being worked on. That is, no doubt, a papery figure; nor is it so much the number, as what is being done on them, that matters. Romance may have "brought up the nine-fifteen," but it will not bring up potatoes. Still, these new allotments without doubt add very greatly to our food supply, give hosts of our town population healthy work in the open air, and revive in them that "earth instinct" which was in danger of being utterly lost. The spade is a grand corrective of nerve strain, and the more town and factory workers take up allotment gardens, the better for each individual, and for us all as a race.
They say nearly all the ground available round our towns has already been utilised. But DORA, in her wild career, may yet wring out another hundred thousand acres. I wish her well in this particular activity. And the Government she serves with such devotion will betray her if, when DORA is in her grave—consummation devoutly to be wished—her work on allotment gardens is not continued. There is always a ring of land round a town, like a halo round the moon. As the town's girth increases, so should that halo; and even in time of peace, larger and larger, not less and less, should grow the number of town dwellers raising vegetables, fruit and flowers, resting their nerves and expanding lungs and muscles with healthy outdoor work.
"In no direction is the co-operative principle more adaptable or more useful than in the matter of Allotment Associations."
There are now allotment associations in many parts of the country. One at Winchester has over 1,000 tenant members. And round the great manufacturing towns many others have been formed.
To illustrate the advantages of such co-operation, let me quote a little from the Hon. Secretary of the Urmston Allotments Association, near Manchester: "Though the Urmston men had foremost in their mind the aim of producing payable crops ... they determined that their allotments should be convenient and comfortable to work, and pleasing to look upon.... It is a delusion often found among novices that ordinary ground takes a long time to get into decent order; and is an expensive business. But enlightened and energetic men working together can do wonderful things. They did them at Urmston. The ground was only broken up in March, 1916, but in the same season splendid crops of peas, potatoes and other vegetables were raised by the holders, the majority of whom had little or no previous experience of gardening.... So as to deal with the main needs of the members co-operatively in the most effective manner a Trading Committee was appointed to advise and make contracts.... Manure, lime, salt, and artificial manures have been ordered collectively; and seeds and other gardening requisites arranged for at liberal discounts."
Besides all this the association has fought the potato wart disease; had its soil analyzed; educated its members through literature and lectures; made roads and fences; looked after the appearance of its plots, and encouraged flower-growing. Finally, a neighbourly feeling of friendly emulation has grown up among its members. And this is their conclusion: "The advantages of co-operation are not confined to economy in time and money, for the common interest that binds all members to seek the success of the Association, also provides the means of developing and utilising the individual talents of the members for communal and national purposes."
They speak, indeed, like a book, and every word is true—which is not always the same thing.
The Agricultural Organization Society gives every assistance in forming these associations; and the more there are of them the greater will be the output of food, the strength and knowledge of the individual plot-holder, the stability of his tenure, and the advantage of the nation.
Mistrust and reserve between workers on the land, be they large farmers, small farmers, or plotholders is the result of combining husbandry with the habits and qualities of the salesman. If a man's business is to get the better of his neighbours on market days, it will be his pleasure to doubt them on all other days.
The co-operative system, by conducting purchase and sale impersonally, removes half the reason and excuse for curmudgeonery, besides securing better prices both at sale and purchase. To the disgust of the cynic, moral and material advantage here go hand in hand. Throughout agriculture co-operation will do more than anything else to restore spirit and economy to an industry which had long become dejected, suspicious and wasteful; and it will help to remove jealousy and distrust between townsmen and countrymen. The allotment holder, if encouraged and given fixity of tenure, or at all events the power of getting fresh ground if he must give up what he has—a vital matter—will become the necessary link between town and country, with mind open to the influence of both. The more he is brought into working contact with the small holder and the large farmer the better he will appreciate his own importance to the country and ensure theirs. But this contact can only be established through some central body, and by use of a wholesale society for trading and other purposes, such as has just been set up for all classes of co-operated agriculturalists.
Addressing a recent meeting of its members, the Chairman of the Agricultural Organisation Society, Mr. Leslie Scott, spoke thus:—"We have to cover the country" (with co-operative societies), "and we have got to get all the farmers in! If we can carry out any such scheme as this, which will rope in all the farmers of the country, what a magnificent position we shall be in! You will have your great trading organisation with its central wholesale society! You will have your organisation side with the Agricultural Organisation Society at the centre.... You will be able to use that side for all the ancillary purposes connected with farming; and do a great deal in the way of expert assistance. And through your electing the Board of Governors of the Agricultural Organisation Society, with the provincial branch Committees, you will have what is in effect a central Parliament in London.... You will be able to put before the country, both locally and here in London, the views of the farming community, and, those views will get from Government Departments an attention which the farming industry in the past has failed to get. You will command a power in the country."
And in a letter to Mr. Scott, read at the same meeting, the present Minister of Agriculture had this to say about co-operation:
"Farming is a business in which as in every other industry union is strength.... Every farmer should belong to a co-operative society.... Small societies like small farmers, must" (in their turn) "co-operate.... The word 'farmers' is intended to include all those who cultivate the land. In this sense allotment holders are farmers, and I trust that the union of all cultivators of the land in this sense will help to bridge the gap between town and country."
That townsman and countryman should feel their interests to be at bottom the same goes to the root of any land revival.
"There are many who contend that the nation will never again allow its rural industry to be neglected and discouraged as it was in the past; that the war has taught a lesson which will not soon be forgotten. This view of the national temperament is considered by others to be too confident. It is the firm conviction of this school that the consumer will speedily return to his old habit of indifference to national stability in the matter of food, and that Parliament acting at his bidding, will manifest equal apathy."
These words, taken from a leader in The Times of February 11th, 1918, bring me back to the starting point of these ragged reflections. There will be no permanent stablishing of our agriculture, no lasting advance towards safety and health, if we have not vision and a fixed ideal. The ruts of the past were deep, and our habit is to walk along without looking to left or right. A Liberalism worthy of the word should lift its head and see new paths. The Liberalism of the past, bent on the improvement of the people and the growth of good-will between nations, forgot in that absorption to take in the whole truth. Fixing its eyes on measures which should redeem the evils of the day, it did not see that those evils were growing faster than all possible remedy, because we had forgotten that a great community bountifully blessed by Nature has no business to exist parasitically on the earth produce of other communities; and because our position under pure free trade, and pure industrialism, was making us a tempting bait for aggression, and retarding the very good-will between nations which it desired so earnestly.
The human animal perishes if not fed. We have gone so far with our happy-go-lucky scheme of existence that it has become necessary to remind ourselves of that. So long as we had money we thought we could continue to exist. Not so. Henceforth till we feed ourselves again, we live on sufferance, and dangle before all eyes the apple of discord. A self-supporting Britain, free from this carking fear, would become once more a liberalising power. A Britain fed from overseas can only be an Imperialistic Junker, armed to the teeth, jealous and doubtful of each move by any foreigner; prizing quantity not quality; indifferent about the condition of his heart. Such a Britain dare not be liberal if it will.
The greatest obstacle to a true League of Nations, with the exception of the condition of Russia, will be the condition of Britain, till she can feed herself.
I believe in the principle of free trade, because it forces man to put his best leg foremost. But all is a question of degree in this world. It is no use starting a donkey, in the Derby, and bawling in its ear: "A fair field and no favour!" especially if all your money is on the donkey. All our money is henceforth on our agriculture till we have brought it into its own. And that can only be done at present with the help of bounty.
The other day a Canadian free trader said: "It all depends on what sort of peace we secure; if we have a crushing victory, I see no reason why Britain should not go on importing her food."
Fallacy—politically and biologically! The worst thing that could happen to us after the war would be a sense of perfect security, in which to continue to neglect our agriculture and increase our towns. Does any man think that a momentary exhaustion of our enemy is going to prevent that huge and vigorous nation from becoming strong again? Does he believe that we can trust a League of Nations—a noble project, for which we must all work—to prevent war till we have seen it successful for at least a generation? Does he consider that our national physique will stand another fifty years of rampant industrialism without fresh country stocks to breed from? Does he suppose that the use of the air and the underparts of the sea is more than just beginning?
Politically, our independence in the matter of food is essential to good will between the nations. Biologically, more country life is essential to British health. The improvement of town and factory conditions may do something to arrest degeneration, but in my firm conviction it cannot hope to do enough in a land where towns have been allowed to absorb seven-ninths of the population, and—such crowded, grimy towns!
Even from the economic point of view it will be far cheaper to restore the countryside and re-establish agriculture on a paying basis than to demolish and rebuild our towns till they become health resorts. And behind it all there is this: Are we satisfied with the trend of our modern civilisation? Are we easy in our consciences? Have not machines, and the demands of industry run away with our sense of proportion? Grant for a moment that this age marks the highest water so far of British advance. Are we content with that high-water mark? In health, happiness, taste, beauty, we are surely far from the ideal. I do not say that restoration of the land will work a miracle; but I do say that nothing we can do will benefit us so potently as the redress of balance between town and country life.
We are at the parting of the ways. The war has brought us realisation and opportunity. We can close our eyes again and drift, or we can move forward under the star of a new ideal. The principle which alone preserves the sanity of nations is the principle of balance. Not even the most enraged defender of our present condition will dare maintain that we have followed out that principle. The scales are loaded in favour of the towns, till they almost touch earth; unless our eyes are cleared to see that, unless our will is moved to set it right, we shall bump the ground before another two decades have slipped away, and in the mud shall stay, an invitation to any trampling heel.
I have tried to indicate general measures and considerations vital to the resettlement of the land, conscious that some of my readers will have forgotten more than I know, and that what could be said would fill volumes. But the thought which, of all others, I have wished to convey is this: Without vision we perish. Without apprehension of danger and ardour for salvation in the great body of this people there is no hope of anything save a momentary spurt, which will die away, and leave us plodding down the hill. There are two essentials. The farmer—and that means every cultivator of the land—must have faith in the vital importance of his work and in the possibility of success; the townsman must see and believe that the future of the country, and with it his own prosperity, is involved in the revival of our agriculture and bound up with our independence of oversea supply. Without that vision and belief in the townsman the farmer will never regain faith, and without that faith of the farmer agriculture will not revive.
Statesmen may contrive, reformers plan, farmers struggle on, but if there be not conviction in the body politic, it will be no use.
Resettlement of the land, and independence of outside food supply, is the only hope of welfare and safety for this country. Fervently believing that, I have set down these poor words.