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Subsistence Homesteads: President Roosevelt's New Land and Population Policy

by Ralph Borsodi

School of Living, Suffern, New York

January 1934

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THREE things are needed in order to realize the possibilities of the movement:

First, definition. Among those working at one phase or another of the back-to-the-land movement there is the widest disagreement as to what constitutes a subsistence homestead. Is it only half an acre, or can it be as much as fifty acres? Should homesteading be confined to areas around places where industrial employment can be secured, or should it include farm colonization projects in which crops such as cotton furnish the cash income of the homesteader? A National Conference on Subsistence Homesteading is meeting in Dayton as this issue of Survey Graphic is in press and may furnish a definition.

Second, an organizing and educational institution covering the whole country. To provide the continuous education needs for a period of years, as well as to furnish the government with responsible local institution for supervising homestead groups which loans are made, the cooperation of established institutions, such as state agricultural and mechanical colleges, must be enlist in the movement.

Finally, there is the necessity for securing ample capital finance the homesteaders and the communities they establish. While thousands of families have or can secure the little capital needed to start homesteading individually, there are hundreds thousands well fitted for homesteading who are unable to consider it because of lack of finances. The $25 million government funds available at present is sufficient only for a comparatively small number of these families. Therefore as soon as the division is ready for the expansion of the work, Congress should appropriate ample funds for this purpose.

In what better way could government money be spent in an effort to help thousands of hard-working families rendered helpless by the depression and to bring about business recovery? Most of the money would actually be used to purchase lumber, cement, hardware, tools, tractors, agricultural implements and small machinery of many kinds and would therefore increase employment in the very industries now operating at the low levels. I therefore suggest that Congress consider carefully the possibility of appropriating at least a billion dollars for this purpose in 1934. By this means the business of putting the new land and population policy into effect would be promptly got under way.

In October 1932, Survey Graphic published a special number on Obsolete Cities. There it was said, "Half of us live in or within twenty-five miles of ninety-five metropolitan cities. And we live badly. They are obsolete." What is the answer? Subsistence homesteads offer one solution to this great modern dilemma.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003