Education of a Farmer


By dhowell - Posted on 30 November 2013

Dad's time pre-dated formal, structured educational programs to prepare farmers for their life's work. A boy who wanted to stay on the farm most often grew up on one. There he learned from his family members as well as others with whom he associated. Dad was such a boy and his parents were successful at farming as well as patient, good teachers.

State Agricultural Colleges began throughout the country with the passage of the Morril Act in 1864 which provided subsidies to get them started. In Michigan a new college and farm campus was started near Lansing, known as Michigan State Agricultural College. Its special purposes included training in farm methods and management, preparatory courses for veterinarians, vocational agricultural teachers, home economics teachers, as well as short courses (held during winter months) for farmers in specialized areas (shop training in wood and metal working, animal and plant husbandry, to name a few). Bulletins from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were fed through these colleges to inform and educate about good farm practices and innovations.

Uncle Walter attended such a course in 1911 and Dad spent the winter of 1913 there in a course in Farm Mechanics, practical work in woodworking and metal working skills which might be useful to a farmer. Floyd later attended, specializing in poultry as I remember it.

Clayton standing 6th from left

Dad took advantage of many other ways to gain knowledge about improvements in farming. He subscribed to magazines such as Successful Farming, Country Gentlemen, and The Michigan Farmer. He continued to learn from the U.S. Ag. Bulletins on a wide variety of subjects as they came along. He belonged to the National Grange organization. Local, County, and State Fairs offered competition to exhibit the best in what was then largely an agricultural show. The better (more productive/profitable) breeds of farm animals, plant types, and farming practices could come to his attention and be tried out on the farm. For example, when he found that the champion butterfat producing cow was a Holstein, we began adding them to our herd. He gave Stanley his first dairy animal and her name was Fannie Sieges, so named when she was registered in the Holstein-Friesian system. Her heifer calves from that registered line were added to our herd as time went on.

Added information about what worked on farms was available in less formal ways. Dad's "visits" to town on Saturday night might uncover what a neighbor was doing. Our annual visits with relatives in Charlotte and Toledo also were an opportunity to exchange ideas and discover helpful practices. The quiet hours spent working in gangs during threshing and silo filling provided added exchanges which might provide new ideas or evidence of bad experience.

It took a willing and energetic person to use all the means at hand to learn about good farming, and Dad was such a person.