Chapter 2: The Economy Matters (Part 2/4)
The struggles faced by farmers in Hallsport in 1859, like the Greens, were all too real. That year, a series of political decisions in Albany and Washington D.C. created new harsh economic realities where larger farms in the western part of the country contributed to overproduction. High tariffs were implemented between the United States and European countries, making it difficult for small farmers to meet ends. Family farmers were often caught in a cycle of debt, borrowing money to purchase new machinery, seed corn, and fertilizer, only to find themselves struggling to pay it back when the harvest came.
William Erastus was no stranger to these challenges. He had been squeezed between big-money operations popping up west of the Mississippi, shipping products by rail car into Western New York. This infusion of lower-cost products into the local market was on his mind as he watched his boys work the farm; he was acutely aware of how much he had to rely on their labor to keep the family afloat. This reliance was especially true for Levi, who had shown great promise as a farmer and was eager to learn more.
Feeling the weight of competing against what he believed to be an unfair advantage made possible by politicians, William Erastus decided he had no choice but to keep Levi home and accept his son’s decision not to return to school. He knew it would be an uphill battle for Levi, especially with farmers’ numerous struggles during that time. However, he believed that with hard work, perseverance, and the support of his family, Levi could overcome these obstacles and build a successful life for himself once he could turn the homestead over to his sons.
However, to their surprise and delight, the year’s harvest profits exceeded their expectations. The extra income provided some much-needed financial relief, allowing Marvin and the rest of the children to return to school with new clothes and shoes. The latest additions to their wardrobe were something the children appreciated. All the children except for Levi. In addition to new clothes, William Erastus could hire a farmhand to assist with the farm’s daily operations with the additional funds.
As the leaves began to change colors and the air turned crisp, William Erastus would often look out at the expansive fields of corn that he would soon harvest for the cattle, a crop he would put in for the winter, grateful for the blessings that had come their way. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in his son’s accomplishments and Levi’s invaluable contribution to their family’s livelihood.
Zilpha Anne, too, saw the silver lining in their situation. She noticed Levi’s joy and satisfaction in his work and how it brought him closer to his father. While she still harbored concerns for Levi’s education, she took solace in the fact that he was learning invaluable life lessons and skills that no classroom could teach.
That summer, the family gathered around their dinner table each night, sharing stories of their day, each member contributing to the fabric of their family’s narrative. They knew that life would continue to present its fair share of challenges, but they also knew they would persevere as long as they had each other.
To Zilpha’s surprise, John Sterns had become keen and observant of the running of the farm, having taken a particular interest in the business side of the operation. He recognized that understanding the finances and economics of their livelihood was just as important as the physical labor that went into working the land. He spent many afternoons with his mother, Zilpha Anne, poring over ledgers and account books, learning the intricacies of managing a successful farm.
Over time, John Sterns grew more comfortable with his newfound knowledge and began to take on additional responsibilities. He often accompanied his mother on trips to town, where they sold their produce and negotiated deals with local merchants. His keen eye for detail and natural business acumen proved invaluable in securing favorable terms for the family.
The more John Sterns learned, the more he wanted to share his insights with the rest of the family. He eagerly shared his findings with his father and brothers, discussing ways they could cut costs, increase efficiency, and invest in their farm’s future. William Erastus listened attentively to his son’s ideas, proud to see him taking on such an important role in the family business.
William and Zilpha still had a firm handle on the business side. Still, they started implementing some of John Sterns’ suggestions, but slowly, they saw incremental improvements in their financial situation. They were careful with their spending, investing in new farming equipment only when necessary and always considering the long-term impact of their decisions. Through their efforts, and William had to admit with a few good suggestions from John Sterns, they overcame some of the most challenging economic hardships they experienced, as did many other families in their community faced.
Winter on the farm was a time for reflection and preparation. As the cold winds swept across the land and snow blanketed the fields, the family gathered around the fireplace each evening, sharing stories and making plans for the coming year. They spoke of new crops they could try, innovative farming techniques they had heard of, and dreams for the future.
The Green family had become profitable, with each member contributing unique talents and strengths to ensure the farm’s success. The boys’ contribution served as a testament to the power of determination, cooperation, and resilience in adversity.