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On “Three Acres and Liberty”

February 6, 2009

Vegetable Garden, originally uploaded by

Recently, I (J.) stubbled upon a book on the internet called Three Acres and Liberty. Published in 1907 and long out of print, this book explores a myriad of topics, from how to farm and make a living and current agricultural conditions (of the day),to purchasing land and the equipment needed to work it, to agricultural education and the cultivation of vacant city lots.

“We are not tied to a desk or a bench” the author writes; “we stay there only because we think we are tied”. As much social commentary as it is a how-to book, Three Acres and Liberty is often quite lyrical in style, with a comfortable meter. This is, from a literary point of view, something that I found interesting for an analytical agricultural document; almost reminiscent of a more formal time in the history of the written word.

The author, Bolton Hall, makes the case for varied methods of agriculture to sustain our (or perhaps their) American way of life, and does so by using examples of sustainable communities from across the globe. At the same time, he warns against what were called “Bonanza” farms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the farming practices that would become the megalithic corporate farms later in the 20th century. Caution is also made to unsustainable cities of mammoth proportions, and why the need to be agriculturally (more) self-sufficient, or risk collapsing under their own weight.

Hall does not, however, demonize anyone for wanting to turn a buck, nor does he say that cities are all-consuming evil wastlands. On the contrary. By use of anecdotes and figures of the day, he demonstrates how better farming practices can benefit the health of the soil and the bounty of the farmers pocketbook. As well, Hall observes schools in large cities where children are taught to garden in an area “no larger than a hearth rug“, and states that people can learn “what is needed for a city man or woman to support a family on the proceeds of a little bit of land“.

I’m typically not one for social commentary in a public forum. However, our current agricultural attitude is not, I believe, headed in the right direction. In short, for the health of our families and the sustainability of our future, we do need to change the way we are fed.

Perhaps solutions to many of the problems with which we are now faced might be better served with a look at books such as this. Perhaps to learn the way to a more sustainable future, we ought to take a look at our past, and learn from those who still use practical farming methods to feed their families while these skills still exist.

To view the entire book click here.

Please feel free to chime in!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2009 9:09 am

    I’ll have to check this out, sounds interesting. I agree, we need to get people to be more invovled in their food through knowing the farmers or growing in themselves. Children esepecially have a lot to learn in this are, it was something our grandparents didn’t have to be taught, it was like learning to speak, it just happened. Few of us in our generation grew up in families that grew all their own food and in the next generation it will be fewer still. It’s kind of like losing the language of your heritage, you lose some soul along with it.

  2. February 6, 2009 7:19 pm

    I’ve heard of similar books Five Acres and Independence & Ten Acres Enough. This is the first I’ve heard of the Three Acres and Liberty book. I’ll have to check it out!

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