A Place on Earth


A Place on Earth
A Critical Appraisal of Subsistence Homesteads

Source of Digital Item

National Agricultural Library

See Exhibit:

Subsistence Homesteads


The nine subsistence-homesteads projects included here were first established by the Subsistence Homesteads Division of the Department of the Interior under the provisions of Section 208 of the National Industrial Recovery Act. Administration of these projects was transferred to the Resettlement Administration in 1935 and was finally lodged within the Department of Agriculture in 1937 as one of the many functions of the Farm Security Administration.

This report has three main parts. Part I gives a historical account of the movements and forces that resulted in a federally sponsored subsistence- homesteads program, and contains information concerning the events and developments that have influenced the program on the national level. Part II gets down to specific cases. Each chapter tells the story of a particular project -how it began, what it was intended to be, and how it has worked out. Part III attempts to summarize, so far as possible, the lessons about subsistence homesteads that were learned in the course of gathering information for part II.

The study was requested by the Farm Security Administration in 1939. The original purpose was to procure information that would be valuable in the administration of subsistence-homesteads projects. Stated briefly, the Farm Security Administration wanted to know what things had worked, what things had not worked, and, if possible, what social, psychological, and economic factors were responsible for certain developments in the projects that were not easily or superficially explainable.

This report deals specifically with only nine out of a great many subsistence-homesteads communities that were established under Federal sponsorship during the first years after 1933. The Farm Security Administration, when it was established in 1937, inherited a variety of undertakings -various not only in kind, but also in respect to original sponsorship and administrative history. The Division of Subsistence Homesteads initiated 33 projects that were eventually completed, some under its own auspices, and some under those of the Resettlement Administration after that administration inherited the functions of the earlier agency. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration set up 34 somewhat similar projects which were eventually turned over to the Resettlement Administration. Later, nearly 100 projects, most of them full-time farming projects and to be distinguished sharply from the subsistence-homesteads communities, were set up by the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration.

To study all of the subsistence homesteads projects in detail was impracticable. A selection had to be made. This was difficult because the circumstances under which the different projects had developed varied so greatly that no one of them was enough like another to make them completely comparable. It was decided, therefore, to choose for study those projects that, so far as possible, represented major types of surrounding conditions, original purposes, and development over a course of years. It was also decided to take into account various regional, rural-and-urban, and other localized cultural characteristics that might influence subsistence practices and community living. As a result, a degree of geographical distribution was attempted in the sampling that would partially correspond to certain of the known cultural factors that appeared to be involved.

Specifically, the study included some projects that seemed to be successful, and others that looked like failures. Some were set in distinctly rural areas, far from any city, and others bordered on or formed a part of large metropolitan communities. Not a few of the projects selected were established upon a relatively solid economic base; but those originally intended to rescue stranded populations in areas of diminishing or acutely uncertain economic resources were not neglected. Some projects were chosen as representative of those in which part-time farming and subsistence activities had received considerable emphasis, whereas others were samples of those that seemed, contrary to the intentions of the founders, to have become primarily housing projects.

Only those projects established long enough to have acquired the roots of stability were selected. Thus, all 9 projects chosen were among the 33 first established by the Subsistence Homesteads Division of the Department of the Interior. But even 6 or 7 years is a very short time in the life of a community. The projects are still young —much too young for a final judgment.


U. S. Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Agricultural Economics
Lord, Russell and Johnstone, Paul H. (editors)


U. S. Department of Agriculture




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