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THE TECHNICAL WORLD MAGAZINE
VOL. XV JUNE. 1911 NO. 4
FROM FARM TO TABLE —THE
ROAD OF A HUNDRED PROFITS
AGNES C. LAUT
There is a national pickpocket who snatches 75 per cent, of the farmer's profit and 80 per cent of the city man's income. He exacts a toll both going and coming, and his operations furnish one cogent reason why men are driven from farm to factory and country to counting house, and why the country man cannot make and the town man cannot save. This article suggests a remedy for the national pest.
A MAN and his wife had given up f\ farming in one of the best / % fruit regions of New York State for what they thought a JL JL more lucrative position in town. As they were taking the train away, children came selling grapes around the station at 2 cents a box.
"Don't let us open the suit case! We can buy these grapes just as well in New York," demurred the man.
"But the express charges," suggested his wife.
"Won't be more than a cent a box for those! I should know! I've shipped enough of them."
But on arrival in the city, what was the man's amazement to find he could not buy that 2-cent box of grapes under 40 cents.
Forty cents! The ex-fruit farmer rubbed his eyes. That was an advance of 2,000 per cent, on the price the buyers used to pay him. How in the world was the price made up? Express was only 1 cent. That brought the cost to 3 cents as the box reached New York. Allow 1 cent more for risk and handling: 4 cents. Now 20 to 40 per cent, advance is a high profit for a wholesaler; at most, so far only 6 cents. Add the retailer's profit
of another 20 to 40 per cent. At most, the grapes should not be marked to exceed 10 cents. What unseen hand had juggled prices up to 40 cents—75 per cent, too high for the man who eats; 2,000 per cent, too low for the man who grows?
The city man had not added 1 cent to the value of the grapes. He had not paid for the labor and the forethought and the care and the first outlay of growing them. All that had to come out of the 2 cents paid the grower. Give the wholesaler and retailer each a profit of 100 per cent. That would bring the grapes to only 16 cents, not 40. Was it a skin game both going and coming? Did it skin the man who produced the food; and then skin the man who consumed the food?
And who got the big increment? That was the question. If the grapes had paid the grower a flat 10 cents, he could have made his fortune on the farm and put away 80 per cent, profit on investment. All these farm-improvement evangelists —railroad men, chambers of commerce, pink - gloved professors — could stop shouting themselves black in the face preaching "back-to-the-land." If farmers could put away 80 per cent, profit a year,
chains and wild horses and regiments of rifles could not keep them off the land. If the farmers were putting away 80 per cent, of the first cost of their land a year, there would be such a rush from factory back to farm as would outsprint speed laws. If farmers could earn even 50 per cent, on capital invested, there would not be a banker in the United States, from Hetty Greene to Pierpont Morgan, who would not turn farmer quicker than a motor car turns turtle. And after all, aren't the farmers the bank of the nation? And what per cent, do they make on their investment? This man knew when he had to let grapes rot, or sell for 2 cents, he was not making 1 per cent, on his investment. He was not breaking even. He had to quit.
Why, he could have afforded to pay the freight, to pay the New York end of the handling, to pay a man to look after the sales, and still have put away 50 per cent, profit on his grapes. Then, he wanted to knock his head against something; for wasn't that exactly what he had been doing, though he did not know it? Faying for the freight—that is, his
price had been knocked down, so buyers could pay for the freight out of what should have been his profits, leaving their own profits intact. Paying for the New York end of the handling—that is, knocking his prices so low it left them margin to pay that handling. Paying the risk whether there was loss or not. Paying the wages of the salesman out of what should have been the farmer's margin. Paying the New York extortionate ground-floor rents-—the big grocery, where the ex-farmer made his first inquiry, was on Broadway and paid a rental of $12,000 a year. And then over and beyond these preliminary charges against the grapes, paying a clear dividend of about 500 per cent, each to commission man, wholesaler, retailer.
No wonder the wealth of the nation centered in the cities! No wonder the boys and girls broke away from the farm to pursue that wealth! This sort of game made the farmer's nine-billion-a-year crop a sort of sluice box for depositing gold in city vaults. When the farmer, however, wanted a loan, he had to come on his knees to those bank vaults for it.
They might yell "stop—stop" till they were hoarse, that farmimprovement crowd, at the exodus from country to city. If they really wanted to turn back the human flood, they would have to turn back some portion of the big money sluicing into those city vaults. Long as the gold flowed to town, so would the boys and girls; though you might preach your head off at the folly.
But, perhaps the grapes were an exception owing to their perishable nature. Your ex-farmcr continued his firsthand investigations of the things he used to grow for the city man to eat. The more he investigated the hotter he grew. This is the record his accounts showed at the end of a month:
Potatoes, price paid the farmer 35c; cost to the city man $1.50; advance 300 per cent., of which only 30 per cent, went for freight and handling in the case he investigated.
Asparagus, price paid the farmer 8c; cost to the city man
30c to 40c; a neat little advance of 400 per cent.
Milk, price paid the farmer 4c; cost to the city man 8c; advance 100 per cent.
Pork, price paid the farmer 4c to 6c; cost to the city man 20c to 30c; advance 500 per cent.
Wood, $3 a cord ; city price $8; cost of cutting $2; advance 100 per cent.
Strawberries, 10c a quart or 2c for a quarter dish; cost in city hotels 25c a dish or $1 a quart—an advance of 1,000 per cent. No wonder there were milliondollar eating-places and twelve-milliondollar hotels.
Eggs, country price 20c to 48c a dozen, or 2c to 4c an egg; cost in hotels 30c for two or 15c an egg; advance 400 to 800 per cent.
Apples, price paid grower $2 for a 10-dozen box, best grade, or 20c a dozen; cost to city man $1 to $1.50 a dozen; advance 500 to 700 per cent.
Oats, price paid farmer lc a pound; cost of oatmeal 7c to 10c; advance 700 to 1,000 per cent. Cabbage, price paid farmer $1 per 50 cabbages, or 2c each; cost to city man 10c each; advance 500 per cent.
Tomatoes, $2 for 24-pound crate, or 8c per pound; cost in town 25c per pound; advance 300 per cent.
Beef, per steer $50 to $60 to the farmer; cost to city man figured out on the basis of prices paid in the Senate Restaurant $2,000; advance 3,000 per cent.
Wheat, $1 per 60 pounds: breakfast cereal 15c a pound, or $9 per 60 pounds.
Bread, 8c to 10c per pound; advance 800 to 2,000 per cent.