Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

The Agricultural Leader At Work


DURING these several years when the departments of Recreation, Home Welfare, and Sanitation were being inaugurated and developed in Macedonia, the Agricultural section, on which they all were essentially based, was by no means standing still. This phase of the work had, as a matter of fact, made tremendous forward strides. And while there was little change in the actual form of the program, it had undergone a constant series of refinements.

The number of villages involved in our Macedonian demonstration gradually increased in the beginning to fifty-four and then, bit by bit, the program settled down to forty-eight villages, a level which we maintained thereafter almost constantly. Even this number was greater, no doubt, than was absolutely necessary for purposes of demonstration.

In the beginning an attempt was made to have each of the agricultural workers cover nine villages, but this was soon changed to six as a working norm in order that the man might spend one working day in each of his centers.

Occasionally, as an experiment, a leader would be given more or sometimes less than this number of villages on which to expend himself. But inevitably we returned to the number of six as the most feasible arrangement for the locality, considering the nature of our itinerant program. An interesting discovery was made in this connection—the better the worker, the fewer villages he needed in order to occupy himself fully. In other words, the more efficient the man the more opportunities he made for himself for profitable endeavor. If it were not for the factor of per capita costs, a really good man could keep himself well occupied in a single village.

As we stated at the beginning of this chapter, there were numerous refinements in the agricultural program during the early years of its development; constant changes in emphasis from the supervisors at the top down to the last worker in the most outlying village. Our main purpose remained always the same—to demonstrate the value of carrying to the peasant who needed this information a few simple and well established facts relative to improved farming; and to demonstrate to the government an acceptable method of providing this service. But while doing all this, we needed to adjust our approach to changing conditions and, most important of all, we ourselves were constantly learning. It is important that we review the evolution which characterized our agricultural approach, and to describe as accurately as possible the day-by-day activities of the average agricultural leader.

When we first began sending agricultural leaders into rural Macedonia it was natural to emphasize the number of kilometers which a man walked in a week or a month or a year. And there was an understandable tendency to stress in our reports the importance of these and similar activities. The meetings were considered an end in themselves in those early days while later they came to be regarded, rightly, as only a means to an end.

Then, too, there had been considerable change in the type of work we attempted. At first there was an almost uniform emphasis on so-called service-type activities. Throughout Macedonia a whole countryside of cows were cured of assorted ailments. Chickens were inoculated for various ills. Goats and sheep were diagnosed and treated.

Now, necessary and important as these activities were as an entering wedge, we soon came to realize that there was no end to the service activities in which we could engage. Had we been content to have it so, our program could have done nothing more than that and we would have kept ourselves and our workers thoroughly occupied. Doubtless, also, we would have done much good. But we could not be satisfied always to be doing remedial work without digging down to the source of the trouble and curing that once and for all.

So it was that we got around, ultimately, to the primary job that was involved in our agricultural program—namely, that of working for permanent fundamental improvements in the farming practices of our respective communities; endeavoring by every possible means to raise the Macedonian farmer and his whole community to the highest possible economic level. In order to achieve such long-time objectives, such fundamental and lasting improvements, we would have to change certain of the traditional long-established practices of the Macedonian farmer.

We reached this decision not without a certain degree of trepidation. At the worst, it meant that certain aspects of our already-existing program would have to be discarded. At the best, it meant that we had to engage in a period of intensive research such as no one had ever before undertaken in that part of the world.

For in order to make changes in basic practices, we dared not guess. We had to know, beyond doubt and quibble, exactly what we were aiming at, and that our goal was workable and practical. The peasant knew himself usually what he was doing even if we did not; and there was frequently a sound basis for his methods which were the result of centuries of natural selection and survival. However he could with profit improve some of his traditional methods, shift to a better variety of the same crop, use better seed, raise more carefully selected animals of his chosen breed and grow the crops necessary to feed properly these selected animals.

As the various long-time objectives were clarified and defined, it became more and more apparent that we were on a sort of endless treadmill. We had to reforest the barren hills to save the soil to prepare for new pastures in order to improve the milk supply. In order really to increase the milk supply, we had to improve dairy stock. That meant we must embark on a program of teaching better methods of feeding, educate our farmers to the use of crops like vetch and soy beans and cow beets, which were new in Macedonia. In order to produce improved products for human consumption, we had actually to improve the people themselves so that they would have the strength and ambition to fight through.

As a part of our own improving knowledge we made an important discovery. We learned to respect the wisdom of the so-called illiterate peasant. For instance, in one of our demonstration areas an aggressive and energetic salesman for a great plow-making concern had done a land-office business. He had sold a vast number of plows—good, modern, scientific plows they were—to the hard-working peasants. And yet after a year or so the shiny new steel plows were stored away carefully, and the peasants were breaking up their soil once more with the old wooden plow which was little more than a forked stick, dragged scratchily through the soil by a cow or donkey or yoke of oxen.

Investigations soon proved that the peasants were quite right to change back to their primitive instrument. They knew more than the aggressive salesman, and they knew more through instinct and experience than some of us did. For the soil in the particular locality was so thin that the modern steel plow did far more harm than good by turning up too much of the subsoil.

That was a great lesson to us. The peasant might be high-pressured and bamboozled into buying the last word in up-to-date plows, but he wasn't stupid. He had too much native intelligence to ruin his land and himself by using it.

So we had in the peasant himself a yardstick for measuring the practicability of any fundamental changes we attempted to promote.

Naturally it did not take us long to discover that we had work of the most strenuous type. But it had its compensations, for once the "stubborn" farmer tried a new practice and found it good, the thing would go through the countryside like wildfire, and the other peasants would be clamoring loudly for the very instruction which they had shunned before; in fact, would proceed with the new practice without waiting for instruction.

During the several years that we are here quickly reviewing, there had been a turnover in our agricultural staff and an important change in the type of worker employed. When we began the program we had taken such workers as we could find, trained them as well as possible, and used them where we could. Since by far the greater number of trained agriculturalists in Greece vied for steady government positions, it had been a real, if not impossible, struggle to convince college-trained men that they could serve themselves and their country as well in the villages as in a snug sinecure of a government office job or in some agricultural station. We were anxious to emphasize the philosophy that the peasants were entitled to the best of trained leadership, that their problems were truly challenging and that village work was a dignified, respected calling for any college-trained man.

It was a milestone, indeed, when we finally began with Nicholas Orphanides to get college men interested in working with us in the field. This development did not of itself lessen in any great degree the problem of in-service training. These men, filled with theoretical learning, had to acquire the all important techniques of using the native's own pragmatic knowledge, and they had to learn teaching methods which would benefit the peasantry without patronizing them or antagonizing them in any other way. Nicholas Orphanides not only established a trend but he himself set a high standard of achievement.

In addition to good field workers this program called for supervision of the highest caliber, and we were always fortunate in this respect. It will be recalled that the first Agricultural Supervisor was Clayton Whipple of New York State. Whipple developed a good part of our early technique, assisted materially in the beginnings of the agricultural program until it was well established, and then was called to a career of brilliant performance and magnificent achievement in Bulgaria.

When Whipple left us, Wayne W. Adams of New Mexico became the Agricultural Supervisor. An eminently practical agriculturalist, he picked up where Whipple left off, adjusted himself to the people with whom he had to work, and carried on in an inspired and devoted fashion. He left for America in 1934, and because of enforced economies due to the depression, the organization was unable to return him to us. But by this time Basil Moussouros emerged from his shell. And this was fully in keeping with our policy of replacing gradually American supervision with trained local leadership. Frequently, however, it took a depression economy or a marriage to make us hue to the line of our own established principles.

In the beginning of his work with us Moussouros served, as a sort of technical assistant in Agriculture, explaining to the field workers in language which they could understand the ideas and policies we wanted to promote. By the time Adams arrived he had begun to fulfill the actual title of his position which was that of Assistant Supervisor of Agricultural Education. The two young men worked closer and closer together until they were running their part of the program as one man. It was in this period that the agricultural department made its greatest progress.

In the early years of our relationship there were times when Moussouros gave me serious concern. For one thing, he was an individual with a powerful personality, but it sometimes seemed to me that he lacked a little of the mature balance which he needed to develop his talent to the fullest. Moreover, he returned to Greece rather critical of many of our American ideas and customs. During his one year of residence in the States as a post-graduate student, he never became fully acclimated to our foods, our manners, our customs; certainly he never became over-Americanized as do so many foreign students who spend four years of undergraduate study in one of our great universities. But he had studied hard, perhaps too hard, and he had made a fine scholastic record.

With the passing of the years Moussouros mellowed. Perhaps it was partly the lovely young woman he eventually married, or the three sturdy sons they had, or possibly his own fine family background coming to the surface. Whatever the cause, he began gradually to sift out the best from his American training and experience and to combine this with the finest of the Greek concepts. And the combination resulted in a truly remarkable philosophy of education and of life.

When finally Moussouros assumed full authority over the agricultural program, the splendid start which he had made during Adams' regime came to fruition. He acquired that balance and confidence which I had hoped for; in addition, he had a fertile mind to match Whipple's, and a sense of direct practicality which was equal to Adams'.

Armed with these virtues, endowed with much native intelligence and a heartfelt devotion to the peasantry of his country and the ambitions which we had for them, he proceeded to do a job which can be termed nothing less than brilliant.

For a long time Moussouros' position was in a state of continuous uncertainty because of the temporary assignments he was given by the Ministry in Athens. He was granted reluctantly a succession of leaves, and each was harder to arrange than the last.

At length the problem was solved. The Ministry of Agriculture finally released him to us for an indefinite period, guaranteeing at the same time his civil service status in the Ministry itself. Moussouros thus gained as solid a sense of security as a man can have, and we ensured for ourselves a worker who knew us, knew what we wanted to do, and who had an intimate knowledge of the problems which lay before us. Furthermore, as an official member of the Ministry, he could speak with authority and he gave to our agricultural work that governmental relationship that we always attempted to retain.

Nor is this the end of Moussouros' story, for when he finally left us it was to return to Athens as National Director of Agricultural Education, a position of vast importance. And before I left Greece, Moussouros had drafted legislation which had for its purpose the grafting of welfare programs into the law of the land. Some parts were actually achieved when the outbreak of the war put a stop to all further progress.

It is time now to consider in detail some of the other normal functionings of the Agricultural Department. In the beginning, admitting our ignorance in many directions, we had concentrated on making surveys so that our efforts would be well-grounded in fact.

There were many of these surveys. There were, indeed, hundreds of them. Their subjects were an endless and fascinating variety of topics, ranging from the most basic of farm practices among the Macedonian peasantry to the most advanced techniques which they had developed. In imposing upon ourselves this great task of self-education, we realized at the outset that it was of paramount importance to know how the farmers did their work, and exactly why they did it the way they did.

And when Adams and Moussouros were ready to move out into the field in a really aggressive way, it was on the basis of these many surveys that we made our advance. The beginnings were cautious, well-considered. Our first projects were simple ones of immediate practicality largely of the direct-service type as we have already mentioned. Gradually, we came to more complex problems, and our workers concentrated on helping the peasants raise better animals, grow improved crops, produce more milk, and thus gain for themselves and their families slightly higher incomes and better living conditions.

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