“There has ever been a genuine love and appreciation inborn in the very tissue of my flesh and bone. To me the call of the farm has been in clear and distinct tone. In heeding the dictates of my conscious, and this call, I cast my lot on the farm.”
So begins the essay by Marshall Wilson Koontz. At the time of the writing in 1912, Koontz was a seventh grader at Davie Academy. Koontz did indeed answer the call of the farm, farming until his death in 1961, and raising a family of eight children in Davie County, N.C., on the farm.
His essay offers a glimpse into the debate already forming in the early part of the last century regarding the choice between life on the farm and life in a career away from agricultural pursuits.
WRAL-TV's Dan Wilkinson, who reports on agriculture, passed the essay on to the Southeast Farm Press from Mrs. Glenda E. Mosny of Durham, N.C., a daughter of Marshall Wilson Koontz.
For Koontz, the choice was one made not on sentiment alone. In a cursive hand best described as practical calligraphy, he lays out in eloquent fashion the reasons for his choice.
“There are greater possibilities for my development into a strong, healthy and robust man with an iron will and backbone of steel which will make me a man among men and an influence in the land on the farm than anywhere else,” Koontz wrote in 1912.
In making his case, Koontz wrote that the farm and rural districts have produced “the greatest and most valuable men.
“We find that our Savior, Christ was born and reared a peasant (or farm boy),” Koontz wrote, noting that George Washington, Henry Clay, “greatest peacemaker of the nineteenth century,” and Abraham Lincoln were raised on the farm. “So I too believe that my farm work will likewise not only make me strong and healthy physically, but will give me a strong mind as well.”
Koontz quoted from Washington Irving that farming “leads a man forth among scenes of natural grandeur and beauty; it leaves him to the working of his own mind, opinionated upon by the purest and most elevating of external influences. Such a man may be simple and rough from nature's toil, but he cannot be vulgar.”
In spite of the growth of cities in 1912, the nation was still rural. “Agriculture is still the main business of the people,” Koontz wrote. “The nation's prosperity depends more than ever before upon the bumper crops. The nation's character and thought is still dependent on the conscientious attitude of the farmer.
“In view of the above conditions, I see that in order for this boyish dream to be made a reality it is absolutely necessary for me to stick to the farm,” Koontz wrote. “This applies not only to my case, but to all real boys who are thinking of their future in terms of success and satisfaction.”
To bolster his case, Koontz returns to writing about his home life. Despite a limited number of books, he says, “when I want a different one I secure it from the library and our school.” His father took several newspapers and farm papers, among them the Davie Record, the Charlotte Observer and the Salisbury Watchman.
At school, he loved Fridays because of the “Ye old time spelling” and “Ye old time debates.”
“We discuss not only questions of national importance, but questions that we have learned from agriculture study that concern us on the farm,” Koontz wrote. “I aim to finish this school next year then take a preparatory course in a good farm life school and finish my course in Agriculture at A&M College in Raleigh.”
Outside of the classroom, he attended Sunday school each Sunday with his father and mother. “I have been reared to work and my father has spared no pain in teaching me the fundamentals of farming as he knows it,” Koontz writes. “To further increase my interest, and make me a partner on the farm, he gives me an acre of corn and an acre of cotton each year, the proceeds of which go deep down in my (gloves).” He wrote of having a mule and competing with boys to raise the most corn or the biggest hog.
“Don't think for one minute that a farm boy is without stimulus and many interesting conditions,” Koontz wrote. “The farmer is using the automobile to great advantage in marketing his crops and as a source of pleasure as a fellow living in the city. The once long and weary miles to town have become regarded as a drive of a few minutes.” Mentioning the good condition of the roads and R.F.D. delivery, “I dare say that we farmers are not five hours behind hearing the happenings of London, Berlin, and New York after they occur.
“With these luxuries together with modern farm implements, mowers, binders, shredders, steam and gasoline, plows and with helpful inventions and experience made by our educated and trained farmers, all of which show how to do the greatest amount of work with the least amount of strength and receive the largest yields from a smaller number of acres, it is no small wonder that I and other similar boys should remain on the farm,” Koontz wrote.
“Boys, we are on the brink of the golden age of agriculture,” Koontz proclaimed. “With butter selling at 60 cent a pound, as in our large cities, eggs at 40 cents a dozen, corn $1.25 a bushel, tobacco at 30 cents a pound, cotton at 20 cents a pound; why shouldn't we lay up a nice snug sum for a rainy day?
Before closing his essay with a poem, Koontz reiterates, “the farm stands for everything that is attractive, wholesome and profitable. Farm life can never be made dull unless one willingly severs himself from the many advantages that are freely offered.
“In view of these conditions and facts, I think it not only my duty, but also the duty of every farm boy to stick to the farm with such a tendency that not even a German siege gun could shake his resolve,” Koontz wrote.
“Oh for the farm with the lilacs in bloom…where work becomes pleasure and living a joy,” Koontz quotes from a poem that ends the essay.