I suspect Edmund Morris never expected his little volume published in 1864 to remain in print and popular 150 years later.
On one read, it a delightful autobiographical account of how one family moved to the country and became financially secure. On the other, it is a well reasoned and explained approach to managing a small farm with diverse production whilst creating a healthy lifestyle, in an era before the use of chemicals.
I see echoes of Morris’ approach to farming his ten acres in modern permaculture, regenerative agriculture and the homesteading movement. Indeed that is perhaps what makes it such an important work. Morris has inspired countless farmers over the years, who have found his account inspirational, and I see echoes of his work everywhere.
Morris opens the book by sharing with readers the reason he chose to leave city life, and also hints at the research he undertook prior to selling his business and purchasing ten acres in New York State. His wife and large family feature large in this account, especially their influence in the purchase of a milking cow, managing the vegetable garden and preservation of foods.
Morris carefully catalogues his expenses and income, including his initial outlay and capital expenditure. The location of the farm is important, as it needed to be near to a large city for a market for his produce. Morris’ farm, between Philadelphia and New York City also took advantage of the new railway, which meant he was able to deliver his fresh produce to consumers in under 24 hours.
What I found fascinating was how Morris was able to generate so much production on his small plot, with the land carefully tilled and vertically managed. His main production was an apricot orchid, but he also produced tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries and also ran a cow for fresh milk, some pigs and hens. Morris’ astute observation allowed him to recognise the importance of birds in management of weevils and other insect pests against the small losses to his orchids and other crops.
Here now were six acres of ground pretty well crowded up, at least on paper. But the strawberries would never grow higher than six inches, the raspberries would be kept down to three or four feet while the peaches would overtop all. Each would be certain to keep out of the other’s way. Then look at the succession. The strawberries would be in market first, the raspberries would follow, and then fthe peaches, for of the latter I had planted the earliest sorts, so that, unlike a farm devoted wholly to the raising of grain, which comes into market only once a year, I should have one cash-producing crop succeeding to another during most of the summer.
Morris and his large family obviously relished in the change of lifestyle to farming. However between the lines, his success is down to a lot of hard work. I am amazed at the physical labour required to create the profitable business of his farm, but that is through a 21st century lens full of labour saving innovations.
If you find the phraseology dated and difficult to follow, there are updated editions that have been edited to assist the reader in understanding the intent of the original work. I found the original text easy to follow, if a little quaint, but I think that adds to the charm of what is such a wonderful little book.
Morris’ work is especially relevant today as the movement back to chemical free farming methods continues to grow. It seems to me that we will not be learning new lessons in this process, rather we will be relearning old lessons. Morris gives a us a great resource for us to draw on. I can’t recommend it enough.