Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

The Agricultural Leader At Work


In the next chapter we shall see what scope these improvements embraced, and how we measured our achievements in better farm incomes. It suffices for the moment to say that we were successful beyond our most extravagant first hopes.

Yes, as time went on, we grew wiser. We had needed to move out of the service-type activities toward those efforts which would at length be integrated and engrafted as permanent aspects of Macedonian peasant life. We had conceived long-time projects, and self-perpetuating programs of village agricultural improvement.

Happily the technique for accomplishing this was discovered in the very work we had been doing. The agricultural leaders had been holding those great successions of meetings with the farmers. Then, bit by bit, availing themselves of the key men, the more aggressive and intelligent of those farmers, they were in a position to establish village committees. At first they had dealt with these key men as progressive individuals calling them "cooperating farmers," who became eligible when they showed a readiness to cooperate with us in helping themselves. But this idea grew eventually into village agricultural committees; and to give prestige and standing to these committees, Moussouros arranged to have the members appointed officially to their positions by the government district offices of agriculture.

When we had ventured this far, we knew for a fact that we had really achieved something worth-while. For these committees, composed of practicing farmers thoroughly acquainted with all local conditions, began from the very first to turn in an astonishing performance. They worked out the details of the local programs, "talked them up," posted them prominently in the villages, led the field in introducing on their own farms the improved practices which they advocated, and kept the flame of enthusiasm always at white heat.

Armed with a more intimate knowledge of regional conditions than even our trained agriculturalist could attain, they could actually dictate the subject matter of the lessons which the worker taught.

Through the efforts, in part, of these local committees, we were enabled to secure from the district agricultural offices the use of experimental plots of ground. Of course our mission in Macedonia was not to experiment. We were there primarily to carry to the peasants the everyday values of experiments carried on successfully elsewhere, providing they were practical and suitable to the conditions of the area.

At the same time it would have been folly to assume that a certain species of grain, let us say, would nourish in one village just because it had been outstanding in another. For this reason certain simple experiments of a thoroughly practical and pertinent nature were constantly being carried out on plots assigned to us by government agricultural offices and at their expense. In 1936, for example, there were twenty-one such experimental plots, and the projects included, among others, the following studies: the use of different commercial fertilizers on wheat, the practice of growing cultivated wheat, crop rotation with green manuring, deep plowing, and trials of various varieties of legumes.

And now let us see what one of these agricultural leaders actually does in the course of his working day; what the normal routine is of one of these men who lives side by side with the people he seeks to uplift. The best way to become informed on this point is to follow through with one of these men on a typically busy day in the field.

He rises with the dawn and, fortified only with a cup of hot Turkish coffee purchased in the near by Kafenion, he walks two miles across the hills to the adjoining village. He proceeds at once to the home of one of the leading members of his agricultural committee who is expecting him on this day. Together they round up the other six members of the committee for that village. They gather round a table at the coffee house and over endless cups of Turkish coffee at a penny a cup they discuss the status of the long-time agricultural objectives. These have been decided upon at previous meetings as the goal, and therefore the program, for this village. They include the following improved practices:

Agricultural improvement objectives of the village of Platanakia, Porroia District. From the report of Basil Moussouros, October, 1935.

1. Improve the livestock industry of the village by:
a. Introducing and promoting the use of a community purebred bull.
b. Increasing the growing of legumes, particularly vetch. c. Introducing stock-beets.

2. Increase egg production by:
a. Constructing small but improved poultry houses out of local materials.
b. Exchanging all mongrel male birds for pure-blooded males to be provided by Near East Foundation.

3. Promoting home vegetable gardens.

4. Increase fruit production, particularly apples and pears, by:
a. Grafting wild trees with edible varieties.
b. Planting fruit trees in the home gardens.

5. Revive the silk industry of the village by:
a. Planting more mulberry trees.
b. Using silk-worm "seed" of an approved breed.

6. Raise more pigs of the Large Black breed.

There is much to talk over, many angles to consider. How much shall be attempted for this year? What meetings should be held in relation to each of these objectives? Who should be secured to talk to the villagers about each important subject in this program of improvement? Just what practices will each individual member of the committee undertake to introduce on his few stremmas of land as an example to the whole village? The morning session is prolonged through the third round of coffees and the fourth.

When matters finally are settled for the immediate future, they go to have a look at the community bull which is housed in a stable near by. The year before our agricultural leader had induced the village to purchase this fine pure-bred animal as a cooperative venture. Each farmer had contributed a few okes of wheat and the whole lot thus accumulated had been sold for the sum of three thousand drachmas. The agriculturist had prevailed upon his own organization to supplement this amount with another two thousand drachmas and then he had bargained with the good-natured director of the government livestock station at Serres to shave the price considerably on the bull he selected. As a result, he secured the animal for five thousand drachmas which was considerably less than its real value.

This would be the first year of offspring from the purebred bull mated with the native scrub cows of that village. As a part of the agricultural program sponsored by the local committee there would be a livestock show with the young calves exhibited side by side with their mothers. In another village where the agriculturalist had already conducted one or two of these shows, a calf of six or eight months would be almost as large as its mother. As these animal shows developed, rough and ready peasants who never before gave any thought to the appearance, much less the comfort, of their farm animals would be found carefully brushing and combing out the hair of their cattle in the hope of winning an award.

After visiting the stable the group disbands, but our leader is invited to the home of one of his men for the mid-day meal. The farmer has a reason for his invitation in addition to his Macedonian hospitality. He wants some advice as to why his dual purpose draft-milk cow has suddenly developed a sore udder and, more particularly, what to do for it. It is a common difficulty and our leader is able to prescribe a satisfactory remedy.

After attending to the cow and eating his lunch, the agricultural worker proceeds to one of the other cooperative farmers who has requested his help. This man is attempting to keep complete and accurate records of livestock, crops, income, and expenditures for the year. He would rather work a day in the field than to spend a couple of hours over these difficult accounts, and since the agriculturalist talked him into undertaking this project in the first place, naturally it is to him that the farmer turns now that he's got himself into an arithmetical tangle.

From here he must report to the school where he is scheduled to teach a nature study lesson at three o'clock. "Nature Science Stories for Children" we called them, and once a week the agriculturalist appeared on the program by written order of the director of education for Macedonia and the invitation of the local teacher.

It should be explained that after some little experience we discovered that children who know rural life in a primitive country think of nature only in terms of their own drab, poverty-stricken lives. The parts of a flower, the different classes of plant and animal life—in other words traditional nature study as frequently taught—had little lure for such children; nor did they yearn particularly to study about fertilizing tobacco or growing cotton after working long hours in the hot sun to hoe the plants. So we tried to think of ways to focus attention on some of the fascinating phenomena of nature that exists all about even in a primitive land, exciting little experiments with chemicals, a few of the simple tricks of physics. Several of our men became adept at this sort of teaching which is really an art that can be practiced to great advantage in retarded sections of the rural world.

Late in the afternoon our busy field man meets with his out-of-school youth. There is an aggressive chapter of the Future Farmers of Greece in this place. The young men have a lot of serious questions, loads of red hot suggestions of projects they would like to undertake. The instructor gives them a lesson in grafting; in fact this is the concluding session of a series of lessons on this subject. They are planning to attempt a project of grafting with edible fruit a large number of wild apple trees that are growing on the near by mountainside. Before the meeting breaks up, they discuss a little play they would like to put on. A few of the boys stay on to read one of the new books that has been added to their little library.

There is still the evening ahead, and a meeting to be conducted with the adult farmers of the village. The leader goes to the coffee house to pick up something to eat, to think a little, and perhaps to rest a bit before the farmers begin coming in for the meeting.

Eventually they come filing in, overflowing the low ceilinged, dirt-floored, smoke-filled room. He deals with a specific problem—how to construct a small but practical poultry house out of local materials. He answers many questions, offers to be on hand to help those who request it, and ends by listing those men who agree to translate the discussion of the evening into new poultry houses of their own. In doing this, he applies the rule so repeatedly laid down by the Adams-Moussouros team, "Make sure that every meeting conducted leads in the end to definite action."

And when the last question has been answered, the last peasant listed for a new hen house, and the last person has said goodnight, the agricultural leader stands for a moment in the now empty coffee house. He looks at the program of long-time objectives posted on the wall. He shakes his head slowly from side to side. It has been a long hard day. It's a lot of work—a lot of uphill work—but when he comes to the end of it, Greece will be a better place in which to live, and the world will have benefited somewhat from the hard work he has performed.

In addition to the difficulties inherent in his complex program of agricultural reconstruction there were tremendous hardships for these men in the way of day-to-day living. Working one day a week in each of his six villages, it was necessary for a man to maintain a bed in at least two or three of the villages in addition to his central living quarters; otherwise, the amount of travel became impossible. In this part of Macedonia, in the small places, there were no inns at all, no provision whatsoever for the transient nor the casual visitor. Our workers were lucky indeed when they found a tiny room over the stable in some peasant's home. They were luckier still if the insect inhabitants of the room allowed them to get anything resembling a night's sleep, for during the spring, summer, and fall, bedbugs, lice, fleas, and mosquitoes make humans miserable in Macedonia.

And in the winter, it is cold. In a survey once conducted concerning the living conditions of our workers, we learned that getting bedclothes enough to keep warm at night was one of their major worries. For in those instances where the worker had a room in a peasant's home, he got a primitive bed and that's about all. Many of them spent days on end in their working clothes, using their overcoat as a blanket at night and going to sleep to the tune of their chattering teeth.

Lighting was another problem. Some of them, in order to have light with which to prepare their lessons and to study, bought kerosene lamps. Others used flashlights, or tried to study in the coffee houses. A few of them, I'm afraid, gave up studying at times as a bad job.

As we learned of the enormous difficulties which faced these workers of ours—and we had accurate surveys and our own observation to gauge the sincerity of their personal reports—we did what we could to relieve the strain on them. We gave them living allowances so that they would be able to rent a maximum of three of the best available rooms, although the best oftentimes was none too good. We also furnished them with blankets, and a box with lock and key in which to keep their dume in these outlying quarters.

Then there was the problem of food. Almost none of these tiny villages where they worked had restaurants. The nearest thing to that was the coffee house, which, as had been explained earlier, was a combination tavern, saloon, and community club house. The proprietors were not equipped or prepared to serve decent meals, and when they had anything better than coffee, ouzo, and Turkish sweets to offer, it was, more times than not, so badly cooked and served under such filthy conditions that a man had to be hungry indeed to enjoy it.

Of course, the agricultural worker who was married fared rather better but it is clear that for the single men, such a life was no picnic, and for the married ones, it was only slightly less hard.

Moreover, traveling from village to village was in itself a considerable problem. Automobiles were out of the question, what with the lack of adequate roads, and the exorbitant price of gasoline. For their traveling the workers relied on horses or donkeys, and even more on shank's mares.

In the beginning, we allowed them liberal travel expenses, but upon discovering that this was sometimes being put to other uses, we were forced to reduce the allowance, place it on a standard basis, and then let the workers arrange for their transportation in whatever manner they considered best. Where connections were possible by railroad they could avail themselves of this facility at greatly reduced rates through a very generous arrangement with the Greek government.

Yes, they worked hard, and they lived hard. They got what was good pay at the prevailing rates in Macedonia; from 2,500 to 4,500 drachmas a month, or the equivalent of about $25 to $45. They received, moreover, certain allowances in addition to their salaries for their extra lodgings, and a small stipend for travel.

But obviously these men, largely college-trained, all of them able leaders, would not have been content with this remuneration alone. Not for so many drachmas a month, earned with such discomfort and hardship.

No, they had a greater compensation than that for all of these difficulties. They had a higher outlook and a sense of imperishable human values which pressed them on through thick and thin. It was a sense of personal pride and satisfaction in their high achievements that really led them on.

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