Book Review: Ten Acres Enough: The Classic 1864 Guide to Independent Farming by Edmund Morris

This is a Dover Publications reprinting of the eighth edition of Ten Acres Enough: A Practical Experience, Showing How a Very Small Farm May be Made to Keep a Very Large Family. The eighth edition was originally published in 1867.
For a book of its vintage, this is a surprisingly fun read. Mr. Morris, with mild but palpable self-congratulation, tells how he realized his dream to live on (and off the earnings of) his own small farm, and how he managed to make it more profitable than his New York business had been. Matt got his hands on it before I did, and when he finished, he said “This book should be read by everybody who thinks we’re nuts.”
Research seems to have been key to all Morris’s successes: he located his farm in New Jersey after studying the fertility of the soil and the ease of transportation by rail to big city markets, he chose to capitalize on small fruits and peaches based on his calculations of their yield and wholesale prices, and he chose his cultivation practices based on his readings about the effects of manure and his observations of successful neighboring farms. As he puts it: “Besides using the contents of more than one barnyard upon it, I literally manured it with brains. My whole mind and energies were devoted to improving and attending to it.” [pg 131-132] In at least one case, however, his fortune was due to pure luck: the timing of his move. Two years after the sale of his city business and his move to the country, “. . . the tornado of 1857 toppled [his] former establishment into utter ruin.” [pg 13]
Many of his techniques seem very modern: he advocates composting, he utilized interplanting to maximize his per-acre yield, and he chose varieties based on their fruiting time to spread both labor and profit across the growing season.
Most surprising to us was his attitude toward his wife and daughters. When Edmund Morris published the first edition of this book, the Civil War was in its final phase. The 19th Amendment (Woman’s Suffrage) was not brought to Congress until 1878 and did not pass until 1919. My own mother can remember a time when a woman could not have a checking account without her husband’s written permission. In spite of the prevailing attitude towards women at the time, Morris sought his wife’s agreement and opinion on all important farm matters. “ . . . I was unwilling to take a single step in opposition either to her wishes or her judgment.” [pg 16] He also gave over the vegetable garden to the women of the family. They were in charge of preparing, planting, maintaining, harvesting, and selling surplus from the vegetable garden, and were given a ledger to track their sales. They made a success of it. “Whenever she needed a new dress for herself or any of the children, all she had to do was to go to the store, get it, and have it charged against her garden fund.” [pg 47]
Although there is no doubt that Morris profited from his move to the farm, as is evidenced by the columns of figures he relates, what pleases both us and Morris most is the sense of security that he got from the move. “The unspeakable satisfaction was felt of being out of business, out of debt, out of danger – not rich, but possessed of enough.” [pg 14] Matt says that the book is not really “a how-to, but it sure is a why-for.”
– Amanda
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One thought on “Book Review: Ten Acres Enough: The Classic 1864 Guide to Independent Farming by Edmund Morris

  1. Love your review, and love the book! Glad someone else in the world enjoyed it as much as I did. Maurice Kains is also a fun read in a similar style.

    Like

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