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Farmers' Institutes.

The Secretary of the American Association of Farmers' Institute Managers, Mr. Frederick W. Taylor, who has been identified with the prominent horticultural business of the West for many years, writes as follows:

Within recent years the idea has gone abroad that education may be taken to a larger constituency than it is possible to reach by the schools of higher grade through the ordinary channels. This idea has received the name of University extension (q. v.), and in one form or another the work has been attempted along various lines with varying results.

The University Extension idea contemplates the facilitating the study by the people of certain higher branches by means of lectures, which are usually given by university professors in the same way as are their class-room lectures. Meetings of the local centres, as they are sometimes called, are held as frequently as possible, perhaps weekly, and a regular amount of home preparation is expected of those in attendance. In many cases this work has been very successful, making possible the acquirement of systematic training by [312] those who might otherwise never have been able to make any addition to the perhaps slight education which they acquired in the public schools.

But there has been developed, more or less directly from University Extension, a work among farmers and others engaged in rural occupations which has outstripped, in far-reaching effects and in point of numbers touched, all the other forms of extension work. This has taken to itself the name of “Farmers' Institutes,” and has made itself felt all over the United States. Nearly every State in the Union now has some sort of an arrangement under which Farmers' Institutes are held.

A study of the manner of growth in a single State may serve to indicate pretty clearly what has been the experience in almost every State in which the institutes have gained a strong foothold.

Some of the progressive farmers in certain communities gathered together a number of their neighbors, about a dozen years ago, with the thought that an interchange of ideas might be beneficial, and that if some of those who had been successful in certain lines, as in stockgrowing, for instance, could be persuaded to describe their methods, their brethren might adopt such as seemed fitted to their special needs, thus making possible more satisfactory results in that particular branch of agriculture. After a few such gatherings, speakers of training and reputation were sought for, who could command the confidence of their hearers and attract to the meetings the most intelligent and successful farmers. It seemed natural to turn to the State university for trained men to fill this place on the programme.

Soon, however, the calls became so frequent that a loss of time and money resulted from the fact that the points asking assistance were located in widely separated and distant parts of the State. Then arose the necessity of intrusting the arrangements for sending out speakers to one person, who should make the appointments in series, so that a speaker going to a distant part of the State might reach several points in the course of one trip. There was developed a bureau for conducting the work of the institutes, to which was referred all correspondence on that subject. The university, soon finding itself unable to supply all the speakers required, would call on the various State societies to supply speakers on subjects coming within the scope of their work.

This is the actual record of the growth of institute work in one State, and it is only a type of what is going on in nearly all the States.

After the various organizations and societies in a State for promoting the spread of education through this means have united their forces, it has usually been only a short time until the expansion has been so great as to make it necessary to ask the legislature for a direct appropriation for the Farmers' Institutes, and then the work may be said to be really established. As a rule, the results actually accomplished require only to be brought clearly before the lawmakers to secure the needed funds.

One of the first States to reach such a financial basis as made the doing of good work possible was Wisconsin, and that State may be taken as a type of one form of institute management. There the money appropriated by the State is put into the hands of the State university, and is expended under the direction of that institution.

A superintendent is employed, who conducts all the correspondence, appoints dates, employs speakers, and in general exercises supervision. Localities desiring meetings must make their arrangements with him, agreeing to supply a hall for the gathering and to attend to advertising. A conductor is assigned to each meeting, who takes entire charge, seeing that the programme is presented as advertised and that interest in the proceedings is kept up. Three or four speakers are usually sent to each institute, local talent being called upon to complete the programme. Full discussion is not only permitted, but encouraged, the questions and their answers often consuming half the time or even more.

Practical demonstrations are given of improved methods wherever possible. For instance, a machine for showing the butter content of milk is used in the presence of the audience, and its value explained and demonstrated by means of [313] samples of milk brought in, upon request, by farmers of the vicinity. The necessity of knowing exactly what is the value of each individual in the dairy herd is thus clearly shown. Charts are exhibited and used as the basis of talks showing the correct types of the different breeds of animals. Under this system a number of institutes are kept going in various parts of the State during the greater part of the winter season.

In Minnesota a different method prevails. The institutes are, practically, schools, the superintendent and his corps of assistants going in one body, and remaining at each institute during the entire session. Under this arrangement a smaller number of institutes can be held with a given amount of assistance, but the work is undoubtedly more thorough.

The work in all the States may be said to be based on one or the other of these two plans, or on some modification of them.

If the sessions described, usually of two or three days duration, represented all of the institute work, there might be good ground for the criticism that the service is insufficient, in that in so short a time little of lasting benefit could be accomplished. But the result of a start in institute work at any point is almost invariably the organization of a local body for holding more or less frequent meetings for regular discussions. Thus there is a constant exchange of ideas going on between the most progressive persons engaged in agricultural and horticultural pursuits.

A single illustration may indicate the good that may come from such meetings as this movement brings about.

In a certain county in one of the Western States there had been long search after some forage plant which should prove thoroughly adapted to the needs of the locality. The country was new, and the grasses which were common in other parts of the State did not seem to succeed there, while the fencing in of the wild pasturage caused the indigenous grasses to disappear rapidly. Some of the most progressive farmers organized an institute, and knowing of a man who had been successful in the growth of a certain species which was not generally supposed to be adapted to the conditions prevailing there, asked him to tell how he had succeeded in getting it to grow and flourish. The man was German, writing and speaking English indifferently, but he finally consented to do his best to explain his methods, some of which were unusual, the result of his own experience and painstaking investigation. Much interest was manifested in the subject, and a perfect volley of questions asked and answered, relating to every detail as to the preparation of the soil, sowing the seed, care of the crop for the first and subsequent years, and other similar practical matters. A year later, at the next annual meeting of the institute, careful inquiry brought out the fact that at least 1,000 acres of this particular forage plant had been sown, with almost uniform success, as a result of the information gained from this single discussion.

When the desirability of enlarging the work has become apparent, no force has been so ready to co-operate in doing so as the railroads, which have, in most States, supplied transportation for speakers.

There is no occupation in which sharp competition and improved methods have made it so necessary to keep abreast or even ahead of the times as farming. When it is discovered that certain sections are specially adapted to dairying, grazing, the growth of certain grain or fruit crops, or any other specialty, the sooner accurate and improved practical methods are introduced the sooner will wealth flow towards that community. The present condition of the dairy interest in the State of Wisconsin may be pointed out as well illustrating this proposition. No State in the Union to-day has a higher standing as to the product of its dairies. As regards the volume of the industry, it is only necessary to state that a single county has nearly 200 creameries in successful operation, the important fact, as regards the subject, being that no small amount of the credit for the condition mentioned is frankly admitted by those most able to judge to be due to the educational work of the Farmers' Institutes.

In disseminating accurate information regarding the growth of the sugar beet, as in many other directions, there is work [314] enough to keep a corps of speakers actively engaged in every State in the Union which is at all adapted to that or any other of the industries that are to take place among the practical and wealthmaking efforts of agriculture. And besides the new industries to be introduced, there are always the improved methods with which the successful farmer must constantly familiarize himself.

The largest amount given by any one State for Farmers' Institutes is appropriated by Wisconsin, the sum being $15,000. Other States give liberally, notably Minnesota, New York, and Ohio, while various sums are given by Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, and a few others. More or less organized work has also been done in Missouri, Arizona, California, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, and, indeed, could the facts all be got together, in almost every State in the Union. The provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have done some of the best work on the continent, both in volume and in quality.

In a number of States the funds are not appropriated in a lump sum, but each county may, by vote, levy a tax for the purpose of raising a sufficient sum to carry on one or more institutes, a portion of the amount going towards the payment of the local expenses, and the rest going to the central organization, sometimes under the control of the State Board of Agriculture, for the payment of the speakers and other necessary expenses connected with the general work of the State.

So far as known the Farmers' Institutes have been kept, in every State, entirely out of politics. One of the fundamental principles always insisted upon is that no question of religion or politics must be permitted to be discussed on any consideration.

In Europe something is done along the same lines by means of lectures delivered by men sent out by the governments.

In Russia, through some of the imperial societies, considerable progress has been made in the way of bringing this sort of instruction directly to the people. In St. Petersburg is maintained a great agricultural museum, in which lectures are given during the winter season; and at other times regular courses of lectures, on the various economic subjects relating to the farm, are given on the estates, in order that the working people themselves may be reached and taught.

His Excellency N. A. Hamakoff, Director of the Department of Agriculture in Russia, expressed himself as particularly interested in that line of work, and the interest in the dissemination of such knowledge in other European countries is well known by those who have made any study of the question. Count Leo Tolstoi, in the course of a conversation on the economic questions of the day as related to rural life, showed the deepest interest in this particular method of spreading knowledge among the masses, and said that he thought it an eminently practical way of giving such training as is sorely required to those needing it.

The great interest that is everywhere manifested in the improvement of methods in agricultural work, not only in the United States, but in Europe, should surely indicate what is necessary to be done if we are to retain our position at the head of agricultural countries. To assist in maintaining that place is the mission of the Farmers' Institute movement.

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