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A Living From the Land

Reviewed by Sondra Wollbrinck

I’ve been reading some older books, published before 1940, among them William Duryee’s A Living From the Land, published in 1934. It seems as if he was seeing through a looking glass and watching events in 2011. It amazes me that we are reliving the same financial downturn and emotional upheaval as the 1930s.

Mr. Duryee states in the preface, “This book is prepared primarily for the family that is inexperienced in country living and in soil culture. Such a family should know the nature of the soil on which it lives, how to make it serve the family’s needs and purposes, what to do, and what to avoid in order that success may be attained and failure averted.”

I think we all would like to avoid failure! He has many ideas from which we can all benefit.
“Unquestionably, the open county is now making the greatest appeal as a place of residence that it has made at any time in the history of the nation.” Really? Can you believe he wrote this over 75 years ago? With information about preferable house plans if you’re starting from scratch to getting established in the country, the first two chapters are very helpful in getting you started on your family farm.

“We are here primarily concerned, not with those who desire to enter upon farming on a large scale, but with the family which would like to live in the country, secure a partial living from the land surrounding the home, and still have the opportunity of gaining a livelihood from some industrial or commercial activity located in a nearby city or town.” These are the kind of books we need to be reading, the ones that are looking to instruct us on how to be successful in our self-sufficiency. Politicians and agencies all around us say that they can take care of us, that they know what’s best for us and our children, but seriously … do you really want “them” making your decisions for you?

For example, in his chapter called “Financing and Protecting Your Investment” he has a list of do’s and don’ts that are most insightful. Number one on the do list is: Keep capital investment as low as possible. Number one on the don’ts list: Don’t become heavily involved with fixed financial obligations at onset. His lists have many more nuggets of wisdom.

Some information is obsolete, but only in the respect that electric and phone services are readily available just about everywhere, and the monetary amounts are of course much less than today’s cost of materials. Everything else he writes about seems to be with our time in mind.

There are floor plans for houses and diagrams for sewer systems that are very useful. You can use cold storage in your basement to store seasonal vegetables. There is an overview of soil and ways to improve your soil. For example, his suggestion to use legumes as soil improvers: “In reading of the studies of soil fertility that were made by George Washington at Mount Vernon, we learn of the improvement that he made in the relatively poor soils of that area by growing plants of the legume family.”

He gives important help on starting a family garden. There is a very nice “Planting Table for Vegetables” and a chart for the “Amount of Seed to Purchase for a Family of Six.” There is also a section on planning and operating a home garden. Duryee almost holds your hand as he walks you through the basics of gardening and insect control, so even the beginner can be successful. His #1 Do—grow vegetables for health, recreation and economy; his #1 Don’t—don’t plant a garden in a hit or miss fashion if maximum food return is expected. He dedicates a whole chapter on fruit trees and bees which includes a planting guide.

In another section, Duyree explains how having poultry can be a source of extra income. Mr. Duyree gives a great diagram of a shed-roof laying house for large poultry production, with a suggestion that you get blueprints from your county agricultural agents or state agricultural colleges. There are many different types of poultry, and some are better egg layers than others. He gives a nice breakdown of hens so you can make an informed decision. If you apply this on a large scale, you will certainly need to follow “A Poultryman’s Daily Time Table.” A smaller flock, for personal use, is less intensive but will not bring an income.

Another one of his suggestions is that “living in the country should make possible an adequate and safe milk supply for the family.” You can do this by finding a neighbor with a cow, or you can maintain a cow or two on your own if you have an area large enough to provide some pasture and a building for stabling. He gives a detailed list of the supplies and knowledge needed to run your own small dairy. He says that milk goats can be a source of milk for those not needing the quantity of milk a cow produces or who don’t have adequate space for a cow. “[Goats]are much more prolific, however, permitting more rapid additions and offering greater revenue from the sales of young animals, wherever there is a market for them.” (In my opinion, goats get a bad rap. In the past I’ve had dairy goats, and they are much cleaner and easier to handle than a cow. Goats eat less and can handle less desirable pasture than a cow.)

Duryee states that “the distribution of farm products on an efficient basis is one of the most difficult problems in agriculture.” He touches on the advantages and problems of marketing your farm products and gives plans for a roadside market. (I do have to give a bit of advice—please check your local laws and regulations before selling your products. Don’t take a chance on being fined or prosecuted because you didn’t follow zoning or permit laws.)

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this book. William Duryee has put together some timeless information. However, you’ll have to remember this book was written in 1934, so the monetary elements will need to be refigured. You can get a print copy version of the book here. For those of you with eReaders, you can download a free version from Project Gutenberg here.

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