Quotes & Quips — February 5, 2009

Posted by Rural Missourian on Feb 5th, 2009

These quotes deal with the economic history of Missouri. At one time it was the mule capital of the world and the developer and source for the world famous “Missouri Mule,” a large, dependable, docile, hardworking mule that could handle the equipment necessary to work the rich, deep soils of Missouri and those of surrounding states. At one time the small family farm flourished here in Missouri and it was due almost entirely to the many advantages of the draft mule. Other than the Bootheel of southeast Missouri, the wooded, hilly farmlands of Missouri are not conducive to mono crop agriculture or large corporate farms . . . thank God . . . but to the small family farm, which I believe to be the biblical model for sustainable stewardship and generational prosperity.  I believe employing living assets to work the land that can be sustained without having to go into life long debt is the biblical model for sustainable agriculture.  What do you think?   Feel free to join in discussing where we are today and where you think we need to go.

Hired farm workers were an integral part of commercial and most family farms early in the 20th century. As employment opportunities increased with industrial development in cities, farmers found a decreasing supply of farm “hands” in their communities. This situation, combined with the mobilization of armed forces for World War I, left farmers short handed. Yet, at the same time, they were urged to increase food production. The result stimulated larger hitches (more animals per driver) and a response by machinery companies who manufactured larger machines. To pull this machinery, larger sized mules and horses were needed.

(Melvin Bradley, The Missouri Mule: His Origin and Times)

In Missouri by the end of World War II the tractor began to rapidly replace the draft animal and, ultimately, the small family farm, which augmented itself handsomely every year by breeding and raising draft mules (and horses). With the nation’s manufacturing working at full capacity in supplying the war, when it ended it had to be quickly converted to peace time manufacturing to keep the post Depression momentum going. This grew into the enormous agribusiness system of today, which, sadly, has turned farmers into consumer slaves of bigger and more complex technology, all geared around the corporate control of our nation’s farmland. The economic behemoth of corporate agribusiness was entirely built through credit (debt-based) driven economics, which is now in major decline, as the debt load has finally caught up with reality. As we are no longer a manufacturing economy, and as only a very small percentage of the populace work the land anymore, where does this leave a nation going into a depression that will far surpass the one of the 1930’s? The credit driven, corporate agrarianism of today is simply not sustainable, for it works against the God ordained scale of creation where the land is to be carefully stewarded at the local level of family and community.

The part that mule production played in the farm economy of Missouri is truly amazing. In Missouri there are a third of a million mules and they currently pass as coin. The country banker looks upon them about as he would as cash and places them first in the collateral column.

(April 23, 1913 edition of the Breeder’s Gazette)

The chief reason the mule was considered as good as coin (back when it was made of gold or silver) was because it was a form of true wealth, a tangible means of production that not only produced labor but also manure, which the farmer could put back into his land to help sustain it. Likewise, mules consumed fuel the farmer could raise himself, thus he was able to provide a good portion of his farming needs from what he produced himself off his own land, which included breeding his working mules from mare stock that earned their keep doing light farm work and jack stock that took very little to keep healthy. The small family farm back in the days of draft animal power was in many ways truly self sustaining.

Thousands of two- and three-year mules were loaned by dealers and owners to persons who could not afford to buy them for a summer’s work. The borrower “broke” the mules to work and returned them that fall after harvest. If the mules had been well cared for, they were worth considerably more to the owner than when the deal was struck. Thus, both parties usually benefited from this time honored practice and many farmers and dealers maintained this arrangement for years.

(Melvin Bradley, The Missouri Mule: His Origin and Times)

Here you have a biblically charitable form of loaning that did not enslave the borrower (Pro. 22:7). The farmer who for whatever reasons could not afford a team to work his land could borrow a young team and by adding his labor and know how to it both work his farm for a season and increase the value of the team. He gets his crop in and the mule owner receives back a more valuable asset, a win-win situation. There were no usurious agreements made that guaranteed a return to the mule owner, no matter what. The mule owner had to trust the farmer’s skill and quality of care and the farmer had to trust that the team was comprised of quality mules that had no hidden problems. They both shared in the gain and the losses. This could never happen with a tractor that begins to lose value the second it is used.

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