Tuesday, August 24, 2010

24 August 1956 “The invention of Ant Farms, The Demise of Real Farms, and Refrigerators Here and Abroad”

antfarm2 At a Fourth of July family picnic this year,1956, Milton Levine came up with the idea for the Ant Farm.antfarm

You can actually buy the reproduction of this ant farm today. I put it in the corner store under vintage child  HERE. I know I don’t have a child, but I might actually get one for my desk. Have any of you had an ant farm before?

farmersdaughter Now, for real farms. There is a very definite downward trend in number of actual farmers:

In 1940 18% of American labor force was farmers. By the end of the 1950’s that had dropped to 8%. However the size of the farm and the amount of irrigated acreage increased. 1940 it was Number of farms: 6,102,000; average acres: 175; irrigated acres: 17,942,968 while in 1959 Number of farms: 3,711,000; average acres: 303; irrigated acres: 33,829,000.

In 1933, American Historian Louis M. Hacker wrote an article the title of which has been much quoted: The Farmer is Doomed. He concluded that article with the following remark:

‘American commercial agriculture is doomed. No gifts of clairvoyance are required to foretell that the future of the American farmer is the characteristic one of all peasants for whom, in our present system of society, there is no hope.’

This bit from an article on agriculture I read from this year (1956) is interesting in its predictions:

CERTAINLY, the commercial family-farm group will continue to decrease. At the very moment when the Census Bureau was releasing its figures showing the depth of the drop as of 1954, the farm pundits strongly influential in federal policy were pointing out that the number of farmers in 1955 is far too great. And the bulging warehouses holding $7.5 billion in surplus farm products – in spite of the Eisenhower administration’s reduction of price levels at which it would buy these products – seemed to prove the point. It is estimated that the nation needs, instead of its present three and one-third million commercial farms, only two, or even one and one-half, million.

50sfarm However, then they did not know or even comprehend the immense amount of food grown outside the US and shipped in. Such a concept was not conceivable yet, and still they could see the ‘writing on the wall’ for the small farmer. The exodus from the farm to the city or the suburbs was on. The ‘future’ it was told was to those with college education and mental power over physical. It is interesting to note, I think, that today we see many people wanting a return to the simplicity of small local farms to try and undo what has been done by the large corporation farm and industry. Yet, I sometimes worry, that we have let the behemoth go too far on its lead and we cannot control it any longer. We are not longer in control and hopefully can look to little David and recall how he felled Goliath. We must remember this when we shop or even when we plant our flower beds, maybe opting for some tomatoes or lettuce in lieu of daisies.

Now, after we buy our garden fresh food, we need to keep it fresh. The Refrigerator, of course! In 1956 80% of American homes had refrigerators while in the UK it was only 8%!

We American’s must remember that rationing was still going on in the UK into the 1950’s. While we were dreaming or actually buying such mammoths as these56fridgeOr innovative solutions such as this56wallfridge or this56philco, Most likely the UK icebox was more than likely the small models from the 20’s and 30’s.1930sfridgefridgeoldAnd while we were learning to fill our fridges to the brimfull50sfridge Europe was happy to have enough food to fill the few shelves of their actual Ice Boxes. I wonder if these early days of Madison Avenue advertising were the beginning of our present day America of over-indulgence. Before the War we were not likely to ‘stuff our faces or our pantries’, but the fear of the war rationing and the sudden over abundance coupled with lovely ads in magazines and TV sponsors changed that.

Of course, those of you in 2010 know full well the result of this abundance and increased corporate world: The diabetic child with the shorter lifespan than those here in 1956. We must, I feel, learn moderation. We have allowed our American identity to be packaged and resold to us as we now see it, but it was not always this way. We were once frugal people who were in touch with the land and our families. Let us, again, not forget David and Goliath.davidngoliath

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