Prelude to the First Edition
1. Flight from the City
II. Domestic Production
III. Food, Pure Food, and FreshFood
IV. The Loom and the Sewing-machine
VI. Water, Hot Water, and WasteWater
VII. Education--The Schoolof Living
IX. Security versus Insecurity
X. Independence versus Dependence
FLIGHT FROM THE CITY
IN 1920 the Borsodi family--my wife,my two small sons, and myself--lived in a rented home. We bought ourfood and clothing and furnishings from retail stores. We were dependent entirelyupon my income from a none too certain white-collar job.
We lived in New York City--the metropolisof the country. We had the opportunity to enjoy the incredible variety of foodstuffswhich pour into that great city from every corner of the continent; to live in themost luxurious apartments built to house men and women in this country; to use thespeedy subways, the smart restaurants, the great office buildings, the libraries,theaters, public schools--all the thousand and one conveniences which make New Yorkone of the most fantastic creations in the history of man. Yet in the truest sense,we could not enjoy any of them.
How could we enjoy them when we werefinancially insecure and never knew when we might be without a job; when we lackedthe zest of living which comes from real health and suffered all the minor and sometimesmajor ailments which come from too much excitement, too much artificial food, toomuch sedentary work, and too much of the smoke and noise and dust of the city; whenwe had to work just as hard to get to the places in which we tried to entertain ourselvesas we had to get to the places in which we worked; when our lives were barren ofreal beauty--the beauty which comes only from contact with nature and from the growthof the soil, from flowers and fruits, from gardens and trees, from birds and animals?
We couldn't. Even though we were ablefor years and years, like so many others, to forget the fact--to ignore it amid thehost of distractions which make up city life.
And then in 1920,the year of the greathousing shortage, the house in which we were living was sold over our heads. NewYork in 1920 was no place for a houseless family. Rents, owing to the shortage ofbuilding which dated back to the World War, were outrageously high. Evictions wereepidemic--to enable rapacious landlords to secure higher rents from new tenants--andmost of the renters in the city seemed to be in the courts trying to secure the protectionof the Emergency Rent Laws. We had the choice of looking for an equally endurablehome in the city, of reading endless numbers of classified advertisements, of visitingcountless real estate agents, of walking weary miles and climbing endless flightsof steps, in an effort to rent another home, or of flight from the city. And whilewe were trying to prepare ourselves for the struggle with this typical city problem,we were overcome with longing for the country--for the security, the health, theleisure, the beauty we felt it must be possible to achieve there. Thus we came tomake the experiment in living which we had often discussed but which we had postponedtime and again because it involved so radical a change in our manner of life.
Instead, therefore, of starting theirritating task of house and apartment hunting, we wrote to real estate dealers withincommuting distance of the city. We asked them for a house which could be readilyremodeled; a location near the railroad station because we had no automobile; fiveto ten acres of land with fruit trees, garden space, pasturage, a woodlot, and ifpossible a brook; a location where electricity was available, and last but not least,a low purchase price. Even if the place we could afford only barely complied withthese specifications, we felt confident that we could achieve economic freedom onit and a degree of comfort we never enjoyed in the city. All the other essentialsof the good life, not even excepting schooling for our two sons, we decided we couldproduce for ourselves if we were unable to buy in a neighborhood which already possessedthem.
We finally bought a place located aboutan hour and three-quarters from the city. It included a small frame house, one anda half stories high, containing not a single modern improvement--there was no plumbing,no running water, no gas, no electricity, no steam heat. There were an old barn,and a chicken-house which was on the verge of collapse, and a little over seven acresof land. There was a little fruit in the orchard--some apples, cherries, and plums,but of the apples at least there were plenty. An idea of the modesty of the firstBorsodi homestead can be secured from the picture on page 64, though the pictureshows it after we had spent nearly two years repainting and remodeling the tiny littlebuilding. Yet "Sevenacres," as we called the place, was large enough forour initial experiment. Four years later we were able to select a more suitable siteand begin the building of the sort of home we really wanted.
Where the experiment started. The House and Barns on "Sevenacres,"Taken after They Were Remodelled. The Chicken-house Back of the Barn Was the FirstCarpentry Work Undertaken. After That, Shifting the Door on the House from the Endand Replacing it with a Window, Building the Pergola on One End, and Putting up theWindow Boxes and Side-lights Became Easy.
We began the experiment with threeprincipal assets, courage-- foolhardiness, our city friends called it; a vision ofwhat modern methods and modern domestic machinery might be made to do in the wayof eliminating drudgery, and the fact that my wife had been born and had lived upto her twelfth year on a ranch in the West. She at least had had childhood experienceof life in the country.
But we had plenty of liabilities. Wehad little capital and only a modest salary. We knew nothing about raising vegetables,fruit, and poultry. All these things we had to learn. While I was a handy man, Ihad hardly ever had occasion to use a hammer and saw (a man working in an officerarely does), and yet if our experiment was to succeed it required that I shouldmake myself a master of all trades. We cut ourselves off from the city comforts towhich we had become so accustomed, without the countryman's material and spiritualcompensations for them.
We went to the country with nothingbut our city furniture. We began by adding to this wholly unsuitable equipment forpioneering, an electric range. This was the first purchase in the long list of domesticmachines with which we proposed to test our theory that it was possible to be morecomfortable in the country than in the city, with security, independence, and freedomto do the work to which we aspired thrown in for good measure.
Discomforts were plentiful in the beginning.The hardships of those early years are now fading into a romantic haze, but theywere real enough at the time. A family starting with our handicaps had to expectthem. But almost from the beginning there were compensations for the discomforts.
Before the end of the first year, theyear of the depression of 1921 when millions were tramping the streets of our citieslooking for work, we began to enjoy the feeling of plenty which the city-dwellernever experiences. We cut our hay; gathered our fruit; made gallons and gallons ofcider. We had a cow, and produced our own milk and butter, but finally gave her up.By furnishing us twenty quarts of milk a day she threatened to put us in the dairybusiness. So we changed to a pair of blooded Swiss goats. We equipped a poultry-yard,and had eggs, chickens, and fat roast capons. We ended the year with plenty not onlyfor our own needs but for a generous hospitality to our friends--some of whom wereout of work--a hospitality which, unlike city hospitality, did not involve purchasingeverything we served our guests.
To these things which we produced inour first year, we have since added ducks, guineas, and turkeys; bees for honey;pigeons for appearance; and dogs for company. We have in the past twelve years builtthree houses and a barn from stones picked up on our place; we weave suitings, blankets,carpets, and draperies; we make some of our own clothing; we do all of our own laundrywork; we grind flour, corn meal, and breakfast cereals; we have our own workshops,including a printing plant; and we have a swimming-pool, tennis-court, and even abilliard-room.
In certain important respects our experimentwas very different from the ordinary back-to-the-land adventure. We quickly abandonedall efforts to raise anything to sell. After the first year, during which we raisedsome poultry for the market, this became an inviolable principle. We produced onlyfor our own consumption. If we found it difficult to consume or give away any surplus,we cut down our production of that particular thing and devoted the time to producingsomething else which we were then buying. We used machinery wherever we could, andtried to apply the most approved scientific methods to small-scale production. Weacted on the theory that there was always some way of doing what we wanted to do,if we only sought long enough for the necessary information, and that efficient machinerywould pay for itself in the home precisely as it pays for itself in the factory.
The part which domestic machinery hasplayed in making our adventure in homesteading a success cannot be too strongly emphasized.Machinery enabled us to eliminate drudgery; it furnished us skills which we did notpossess, and it reduced the costs of production both in terms of money and in termsof labor. Not only do we use machines to pump our water, to do our laundry, to runour refrigerator--we use them to produce food, to produce clothing, to produce shelter.
Some of the machines we have purchasedhave proved unsatisfactory-- something which is to be expected since so little realthought has been devoted by our factory-dominated inventors and engineers to thedevelopment of household equipment and domestic machinery. But taking the machinesand appliances which we have used as a whole, it is no exaggeration to say that westarted our quest of comfort with all the discomforts possible in the country, and,because of the machines, we have now achieved more comforts than the average prosperouscity man enjoys.
What we have managed to accomplishis the outcome of nothing but a conscious determination to use machinery for thepurpose of eliminating drudgery from the home and to produce for our selves enoughof the essentials of living to free us from the thralldom of our factory-dominatedcivilization.
What are the social, economic, political,and philosophical implications of such a type of living? What would be the consequenceof a widespread transference of production from factories to the home?
If enough families were to make theirhomes economically productive, cash-crop farmers specializing in one crop would haveto abandon farming as a business and go back to it as a way of life. The packinghouses,mills, and canneries, not to mention the railroads, wholesalers, and retailers, whichnow distribute agricultural products would find their business confined to the productionand distribution of exotic foodstuffs. Food is our most important industry. A warof attrition, such as we have been carrying on all alone, if extended on a largeenough scale, would put the food industry out of its misery, for miserable it certainlyis, all the way from the farmers who produce the raw materials to the men, women,and children who toil in the canneries, mills, and packing-towns, and in additionreduce proportionately the congestion, adulteration, unemployment, and unpleasantodors to all of which the food industry contributes liberally.
If enough families were to make theirhomes economically productive, the textile and clothing industries, with their lowwages, seasonal unemployment, cheap and shoddy products, would shrink to the productionof those fabrics and those garments which it is impractical for the average familyto produce for itself.
If enough families were to make theirhomes economically productive, undesirable and non-essential factories of all sortswould disappear and only those which would be desirable and essential because theywould be making tools and machines, electric light bulbs, iron and copper pipe, wireof all kinds, and the myriad of things which can best be made in factories, wouldremain to furnish employment to those benighted human beings who prefer to work infactories.
Domestic production, if enough peopleturned to it, would not only annihilate the undesirable and nonessential factoryby depriving it of a market for its products. It would do more. It would releasemen and women from their present thralldom to the factory and make them masters ofmachines instead of servants to them; it would end the power of exploiting them whichruthless, acquisitive, and predatory men now possess; it would free them for theconquest of comfort, beauty and understanding.