The following information on city living versus country living comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.
One of the most striking characteristics of each “depression period” is the tacit acknowledgment of city dwellers that “the farm is the safest place to live”; for though there is each year a migration from the country to the city and a counter movement to the suburbs and a less pronounced one to more agricultural environment, the movement becomes an exodus when business takes a slump and employees are thrown out of work.
So long as the income continues the employee is prone to quell what desires he may have for rural life and to tolerate the disadvantages of urban surroundings rather than to drop a certainty for an uncertainty; but when hard times arrive and his savings steadily melt away he begins to appreciate the advantages of a home which does not gobble up his hard-earned money but produces much of its up-keep, especially in the way of food for the family.
More than this, however! He realizes at the end of each year in the city that he has only 12 slips of paper to show for his perhaps chief expenditure—rent; that he and his family are “cliff dwellers” who probably do not know or want to know others housed under the same roof; that his children “have no place to go but out and no place to come but in”; in short, that he and they are eking out a narrowing, uneducative, imitative, more or less selfish and purposeless existence; and that his and their “expectation of life” is shortened by tainted air, restricted sunshine and lack of exercise, to say nothing of exposure to disease.
Contrasted with all these and other city existence characteristics are the permanence and productivity of land, whether only a small suburban lot or a whole farm; the self-reliance of the man himself and that developed in each member of his family; the responsibility and satisfaction of home ownership as against leasehold; the health and happiness typical not only of the life itself but of the wholesome association with genuine neighbors who reciprocate in kind and degree as few city dwellers know how to do; the probably longer and more enjoyable “expectation of life”; but, best of all, the basis and superstructure of true success—development and revelation of character and citizenship in himself, his wife, sons and daughters.
Which, think you, is the better citizen, the man who pays rent for a hall room, a hotel suite or a “flat,” or the one who owns a self-supporting rural home and therein rears a family of sons and daughters by the labors of his head and his hands and their assistance.
In a poignant sense city existence is non-productive; it deals with what has been produced elsewhere. Moreover it is dependent upon “income” to supply “outgo” and in the great majority of cases has nothing to show—not even character—for all the time and effort spent. Country life reverses this order; it not only produces “outgo” to supply “income” but when well ordered it provides “surplus.” Nay, further, it develops character in the man and each member of the family. Nothing so well illustrates this fact as Who’s Who in America, a survey of which will show that the majority of the men and women listed in its pages were reared in rural surroundings. Here they learned not only how to work and to concentrate but inculcated that perhaps hardest and ultimate lesson of all education, obedience, succinctly stated in Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
Of course, decision to renounce city existence for country life is not to be hastily made; however, for the health, the joy, the knowledge, the formation and development of character and the foundation of a liberal education there is no comparison. But what, do you inquire, is a “liberal education?” Let us listen to that great scientist, Thomas Huxley:
“That man has a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will and does with ease and pleasure all the work that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order, ready, like the steam engine, to turn to any kind of work, and spin the gossamer as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with the great and fundamental truths of nature and of the laws of her operations; one who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; who has learned to love all beauty, whether of nature or of art, to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself.”
Where, I ask, can a boy or a girl acquire and develop such qualifications so well as on a farm, well managed by loving parents who are enthusiastic business and domestic heads of the enterprise and who explain and insist upon obedience to the laws of nature as well as those of the land and who live in harmony with their neighbors?