Business and Labor

Rules for Living From an Old Massachusetts Farmer

Jared David Busby was a 78-year-old Massachusetts farmer who had the solution to ending the Great Depression: Work.

So he told his granddaughter, along with other practical suggestions, such as ‘keep a pickle barrel’ and ‘go to bed before midnight.’

New England farmhouse

New England farmhouse, a familiar sight to the old Massachusetts farmer.

Charlotte Busby interviewed her grandfather on Feb. 24, 1939, for the Federal Writers Project. He was 78 years old, born in the Berkshires. He had lived in Warren, Mass., for more than 40 years.

They sat in his kitchen as he made tea. She told him to dunk his doughnut if he wanted to.

“Catch me dunking, or using a bowl instead of a cup, if you can,” he said. “I dare you to catch me. I’ve got on my company manners.”

The Old  Massachusetts Farmer

Charlotte Busby described her grandfather as a notable figure in the business and political life of the town. Many called him ‘Jerry.’ The old Massachusetts farmer was likable, witty, a philosopher with little formal education, but a vigorous mentality, she wrote.

“Though very dear, he seems to know what is going on, is much interested in public questions and is well read. He spends considerable time at his small radio, despite its poor quality and static. Jerry subscribes to four newspapers and reads magazines also.”

His whimsical expression reminded her of Mark Twain.

“He lives alone and enjoys himself,” she wrote. “His health is usually good, his eyes are bright, his white hair thick and flowing. Though Jerry’s shoulders are stooped, his arms show strong muscles and his shapely hands apply themselves to many tasks.”

Hard Work

The old Massachusetts farmer told his granddaughter work, hard work, was the solution to the Depression:

“Everyone should work, in the first place, and work hard,” he said.

He complained about too much play, too much gambling and speculation. “The panic was caused by the people depending on the country,” he said. “It should be vice versa. The country should depend upon the people.”

And then the old Massachusetts farmer got very specific about what to plant, what to keep in the cellar, what to give children and when to go to bed.

Jerry thought every family should try to own their own home and a little land. Farmers should plant a garden and raise enough vegetables to last through the winter.

“A wife should can everything possible,” he said. “There should be a salt pork barrel and a pickle barrel. If possible, have two cows, and hens enough to have one’s own eggs. Feed the hens some grain and, mostly, table scraps.”

A Good, Fat Pig

“Always raise a good, fat pig to be killed at Christmas time,” the old Massachusetts farmer said. “A good heifer calf can be raised cheaply, with some work. The bull calves can be fattened, and eaten when cold weather sets in.”

He further advised planting apple, pear and peach trees.

Have a strawberry and raspberry patch, and if possible, an asparagus bed. Be sure to get a good job and keep it. If machinery replaces men, men must walk barefooted looking for something else.

You know I think I’m a socialist.

“Be on time and work early and late,” he said. “This money will pay taxes, insurance and repairs, buy regular food not otherwise provided for, and clothes. Don’t make use of installment plans in buying anything. Have the cellar full of fruit and vegetables, such as potatoes, cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsnips. Have plenty of stews; buy a few pounds of good meat and cook up a quantity of vegetables.

“Buy or cut fuel for the winter in the summer and have it ready before it is needed. Dress children simply and warmly and have them in the care of a doctor and dentist, at regular periods.”

A Boat, A Dog, A Gun

Girls, he said, should learn to cook and sew. Boys should learn to cut wood, take care of a garden, milk a cow and hunt and fish.

“Give the boy a boat and a dog and a gun, if he acts sensible,” he said. “Teach him to use carpenter’s tools. Give a girl a sewing machine.”

Jerry believed girls need a college education as much as boys so both could become wage earners.

“Have parties at home. Don’t buy an automobile unless it is necessary, or you can afford the luxury of owning one. Rise early and go to bed before midnight. The best sleep is before midnight.”

With thanks to the Library of Congress WPA Life Histories from MassachusettsThis story about the old Massachusetts farmer was updated in 2021.

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