Ed Robinson, author of the "Have-More Plan" shares why his family made the move to the country — and talks about all the joy it's brought his family.
The Robinsons on their homestead in the 1940s. Ed and Carolyn Robinson wrote the comprehensive homesteading guide called the Have More Plan which is still in print.
Photo by Ed Robinson
My wife, Carolyn, our son Jackie, and I haven't any land to sell — we aren't promoting anybody's products. We just want to tell you some things we learned about how to have more fun, more health and more security than 99 percent of the people in this world ever had before.
Back in 1942, we Robinsons lived in a big apartment house in New York. Far from having all the conveniences and easy living you are supposed to leave in a big city, we discovered we had very little.
In the first place, we always felt restricted. Living in the city wasn't easy, it was difficult. And every time we turned around it seemed to cost us money.
For example, just to let the baby walk or play outdoors cost us money and trouble. First, we had to dress the baby nice (because we were going to the park), then get together blankets, diapers, his toys, etc., carry all this and the baby out to the elevator, wait until the elevator came for us, then outside we would have to walk two blocks and wait for a bus, then ride about 15 blocks and get off the bus, carry everything into the park, and find a spot where we could sit down.
One terribly hot Sunday afternoon we had gone all through this procedure and finally found a spot that wasn't crowded, spread a blanket to sit on, unpacked the baby's toys, diapers, etc. and settled down for a few minutes' peace. Just then a policeman came up to us. "Look, you can't stay here," he said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"How long d'ya think the grass would last if everybody was allowed to set and walk all over it?"
I suddenly remembered as a boy how wonderful it had been to lie in the grass in back of our house in the little New England town in which I was brought up.
We got up to leave. I said to Carolyn, my wife, "Look, let's get out of here!"
"It'll be awful hot back at the apartment," she said. "And Jackie hasn't had any sun for a long time."
"What I mean is let's get out of this dirty, noisy city — let's go live in the country . . ."
That is how we began to think seriously about living in the country. I say think about it because we thought about it for a long time before we did it. First, we couldn't see how we could afford living in the country. Then we began to wonder if we couldn't have a garden and maybe some chickens and by raising some of our food have more money so we could afford it.
The trouble was that a couple of our city friends who had farms always said the vegetables they raised cost about three times what they sold for in the store.
In fact, one man we knew about who had a fine modern dairy used to set before his guests two bottles. One was milk, the other champagne. "Take your choice," he'd say. "They cost me the same."
After we thought about this we realized these men were trying to run a commercial farm by remote control. Usually they went to their farms weekends, only because it was so far away, and a hired man ran the farm for them. We wanted to keep a city job for cash income. We also wanted to stay near enough to the city to keep its advantages. We wanted to add the security and fullness of living that seemed more likely to come if we owned our home and some land, not much land necessarily, but good land and at least enough of it to raise most of our food.
There was nothing new about this idea. We were aware that Henry Ford and many others had been advocating just this for years. We knew that hundreds of thousands of American families were already doing what we proposed to do.
We faced the fact that we knew absolutely nothing about raising any part of what our family needed to live. In fact, our utter and absolute dependency on my job was appalling. If I should lose my job, even temporarily, we would have no money to pay our rent, the landlord would put us out, no money to buy groceries or pay the butcher and we wouldn't eat.
If there were another depression and I was to lose my job like millions in the last depression then there wouldn't be a thing to do but stand in line and beg the government for "surplus commodities," such as rent money and relief clothing until things got better again — which might be years!
Living in the city, we couldn't save much because almost everything we did cost money. Our biggest item was food. Suppose, we thought, we could raise a big part of our food. We knew nothing about farming, but we began to look at things we ate and started to study how we could grow them ourselves. For a long time before we actually did move into the country we studied how to raise things. In all, we read a couple of hundred books and pamphlets on this. We found that most material was out-of-date and most of the newer books were designed for commercial farming specialists. For example, we found a dozen huge books on commercial dairy cattle, but no simple, up-to-date little book telling us how to produce milk efficiently for our family and whether it was really economical to do so.
Then again there were lots of people telling you how to choose a farm of say 50 to 200 acres, but a dearth of information on telling us how little land we actually needed to raise food for one family.
Yet, we gradually accumulated a good many excellent books and pamphlets. When we had a fair idea of what we wanted to do we moved to our small place in Connecticut, about an hour from my job in New York, to try out our ideas.
This plan is the story of our place, of my family and me. It's the true story of how we have built our homestead. I hope you will be able to get some new ideas from it.
We call our plan the "Have-More" Plan because that is the way it worked for us. Our plan shows how you can have a lovely home of your own on a piece of land that will furnish your family with food, recreation and health. Yes, and extra income, too.
You, too, can have a good home and an acre or more of land within a few miles of where you work. Your place will pay for itself as you go along — you will eventually own it free and clear. Think what that means, no more rent to pay!
You'll have far smaller weekly grocery, meat and milk bills. With the small scale, modern, labor-saving methods we'll show you, you can raise up to 75 percent of all your family's food, perhaps doing it all in spare time, and find real pleasure in doing it.
You and your family can become truly self-reliant. You will be able to keep your own home in shape, even improve your house and land. You can be healthier and happier. You can be sure that the food you eat is rich in vitamins and minerals. You need never worry very much about losing your job. You can retire years sooner if you want to, and if you'll put away enough to be assured of just a small regular income.
Best of all, you can do as much or as little of our "Have-More" Plan as you like. You can fit it to your own pocketbook and spare time. If you are in earnest it makes no difference whether you start with just a few dollars or 5,000 dollars.
You can easily work out the "Have-More" Plan in spare time. If you work long hours and don't have a chance to do the whole plan at present, you can do part of it in as little as 15 or 30 minutes a day. Even so you can have all the health, happiness, and security of this kind of living. You can have a fine garden, beautiful flowers, get your fruit trees and berries, asparagus and rhubarb started, and perhaps have a few chickens.
This way of living is especially good for children. You can get your place all paid for and have that wonderful sense of security and independence knowing that you and your family have your place to fall back on — knowing that you could get by with very little cash income if you ever had to.
If you work short hours, you can get all the more benefit out of the Plan. Perhaps in your work you have several days a week free or maybe several weeks or months a year free. Perhaps there's an extra member in your household who'd like to help. If you have a place like ours, you can make your spare time worth money by developing a paying hobby right on your own place.
If you have already retired, you can see that this Plan is a most practical way to stretch your retirement income and help keep yourself in better health. If you are going to receive Social Security benefits, or just a small pension, annuity, or small income of any sort, you can look forward to many years of happiness and security.
This Plan in no sense attempts to turn you into a commercial farmer. There is all the difference in the world between farming for profit and raising only your own family's food. A farmer is a businessman whose factory is his land. Probably — if he is really successful — he has become a specialist in producing one crop, such as milk, poultry or fruit. He has spent years learning to become expert enough not only to produce quantity but also to sell wholesale at a high enough price to pay overhead, his labor, machinery costs, etc. You, on the other hand, produce only what your family needs. You save yourself retail prices. You have no labor costs, practically no overhead, no distribution or selling costs. You sell only your surplus and can easily find a ready retail market among neighbors or friends where you work.
You will be tempted — especially during a food shortage to produce, for example, more chicken than your family can eat — and sell the surplus at a profit. This you can do — but only if you have enough spare time so that you will not have to sacrifice growing some other foods for your family's own use.
The very fact that our "Have-More" Plan calls for raising a variety of vegetables, fruit, poultry, meat and dairy products means a diversification of work, a lot of different things to do, so that none of them becomes tiresome. Planning to have a garden, a cow or milk goats, laying hens and broilers, rabbits, bees — and maybe other livestock — sounds as though you had as much to take care of as many farmers who are notoriously overworked. But you have only sufficient garden, fruit, and livestock to supply your family's food.
A farmer, to have been deferred in the draft, meant that he was farming on a full-time basis and was producing a certain amount, according to government rulings. For example if he himself were responsible for five milk cows, 60 hogs, 150 hens, and a 6-acre garden, he would be considered sufficiently productive to be deferred. On the same basis, if you were supplying 75 percent of your family's food — that is, you had one-third of an acre for a garden, two milk goats, a dozen hens. 100 broilers, two pigs, enough fruit trees and berries, you would have about one-sixteenth of what a farmer needed to win deferment.
I point this out so you will see that it is entirely possible for you to raise your family's food in your spare time if you go at it efficiently. A garden, hens, broilers, cow or milk goats, bees, etc. sound like an awful lot. Actually, only the variety is impressive — not the quantity.
Another thing, even though you have only enough poultry to supply your family, you should use the most up-to-date, easiest way to take care of it. Then again, you will find this plan broken up by projects so that you add one project at a time and get that working perfectly before undertaking another.
Every so often somebody asks, "How much of the plan should I undertake?"
You yourself will have to decide this. The most difficult job is to get your house, barn, fencing and land ready for efficient operation. But once your place is set to go, the actual chore time doesn't take long. A small flock of hens takes about seven minutes care a day . . . a garden, the biggest and most difficult home food raising project, may take 150 hours a year or so.
Many people moving from the city to the country hesitate to add livestock to their places — because they don't want to be tied down. Livestock, however, can supply 40 percent of your family's food. Our livestock doesn't tie us down — our neighbors will do chores for us and, of course, we do chores at our neighbors' when they want to go away.
What has amazed us, was how relatively easy and practical it has become in the America of today for the average family with modest income to work out this plan of country living and city job.
No doubt many city families who have considered getting a place "out in the country" where they could live and raise some of their own food, have not done so because they thought it would take too much time and trouble to get back and forth, it would be all hard work and no play, it wouldn't be practical, it would cost more to grow food than to buy it, their chickens would die, the garden wouldn't grow, the bugs and birds would get all the fruit and berries, it would cost too much to get started anyway, etc.
Well, the real reason we have written this plan is to tell other people that these objections just aren't so. The average family can, today, make the country-living/city-job idea work and they can make it pay.
Some of the reasons why they can make it work today, where they might not have been able to even 10 or 20 years ago, are these:
1. There has been a tremendous amount of highway building during the past 25 years. Automobiles and busses — plus train service where needed — make it entirely practical for most people to live a considerable distance from their jobs. These same highways and cars have taken the loneliness out of country living, too.
2. Modern appliances and methods have eliminated much of the really hard work in keeping house and raising food for the family. The pressure cooker and the home freezer, for example, have made preserving far easier than it used to be. The short work week (30-48 hours) leaves plenty of spare time for work at home plus plenty of spare time for play. To add work at home on top of a six day, 70 hour week was one thing. To do the same work at home on top of a five day, 40 hour week is an entirely different thing. What was work actually becomes fun.
3. It is easy to learn to raise plants and livestock successfully today. Methods are simpler, more scientific. Seeds and plants are better, surer to grow, more productive. Fertilizers are better. Livestock breeds are better — they produce more per hen, per goat or per pig. Feeds you buy are better, more scientifically prepared. Disease and pest control is far more sure and specific. For example, what the famous sulfa drugs are doing for sick people, they are also doing for sick chickens.
4. Low-cost, long-term federal and private financing now bring the possibility of home and land ownership within the means of people who couldn't have even dreamed of it not so many years ago. Mass production of appliances, furnishings, tools, even houses has brought the cost of getting started down to a low figure. Both of these points well be even more true in the post-war years. Home freezing equipment, for instance, which, before the war, was priced in hundreds of dollars, will be priced in tens of dollars.
Everything we tell you about in our plan has been tried out either by us or by people we trust. We believe we can make it all work just as well as we've said it would. Of course, nobody can guarantee what results other people in other places will get. But I've made a sincere effort to give you honest and frank answers in the plainest language I know how to use.
And I hardly need to remind you that various parts of the country have differing climate and soil conditions. We are telling what we've been doing here in Connecticut (a fine state, by the way) and you will realize what allowances you must make for your own local conditions.
You don't have to spend as much on buildings as we did. We happen to think this a good investment, but are also first to admit that you can get along fine with less expensive buildings.
Building a small barn for your livestock, buying a couple of acres of land instead of simply a lot big enough to set a house on, or shelling out 15 dollars for a canner is different from the same amount of money spent on a trip to Florida or an expensive dinner and theater party. Money invested in productive capital will bring you a great deal for a good long time to come.
We believe that many farm families, too, are going to raise more of their own food. They will forego some of their extreme specialization to develop a more rounded self-sufficiency.
If homesteading, as we mean it here, really does become a trend in the post-war years, it can itself create vast business and employment opportunities. It can furnish a pattern, an idea, an objective for the city, highway and industrial planning we hear so much about these days. It can contribute greatly to continuing security for all.
A friend once said to me, "Ed, why do you bother with other people? Why don't you settle down and just enjoy your own job and your "Have-More" homestead? Why try to spread it all over the country?"
I may sound silly trying to tell you why. But I feel, somehow, that in the years to come the U. S. is going to need all the help it can get toward happiness and peace and security. We aren't always going to have a boom going on. I've got a boy and I want to see him grow up in a good country, and if 10 or 20 million American families can get set as well as we Robinsons are, I don't think anything can hurt this nation.
Do you see what I mean? That's why I've worked so hard putting this plan together. That's why I was so careful to be truthful and sensible in everything we put in it.
Anyway, Carolyn and I think this is a darn good idea and we hope you think it is a good idea — so good you'll want to get some of your friends to buy a copy of this book, too.
Even at 3-1/2, our son Jackie likes to "help." Actually, as yet, he isn't much help, but we try to encourage him. We want him to learn to do things — older children can be a real help on a homestead. And, more important, country living furnishes excellent opportunities for children to develop intelligent and responsible personalities.
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