Time Machine

Time Machine: New York economist brings his homesteading philosophy to Troy Mills in 1954

Mrs. John Ludeman of Madison (right) holds a bowl of whole wheat kernels ready to be ground, while Mrs. William Treichler Sr. of Troy Mills holds a bowl of milled flour. The two presented a lesson in flour milling as part of the 1954 Exposition of Homesteading in Troy Mills. (Gazette archives)
Mrs. John Ludeman of Madison (right) holds a bowl of whole wheat kernels ready to be ground, while Mrs. William Treichler Sr. of Troy Mills holds a bowl of milled flour. The two presented a lesson in flour milling as part of the 1954 Exposition of Homesteading in Troy Mills. (Gazette archives)
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When New York economist Ralph Borosodi teased his wife in 1934 about the freshly canned tomatoes from her garden, she challenged him to show her that factory-produced tomatoes were more economical than her home-canned ones.

He compared costs of the two methods and discovered home canning saved 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost.

“I thought, if this is right, everything I’ve been teaching and reading is wrong,” he said. “It isn’t division of labor that is economical. Then I set out to find out where was the miseducation.”

He found that distribution costs jacked up the price of mass production.

That thinking led him to his philosophy of “decentralism” — basically living off the land and practicing self-sufficiency.

Borosodi and his friends founded the School of Living in Rockland County, N.Y., in 1934. He brought his agrarian philosophy — prompted in large part by having lived through the Great Depression — to tiny Troy Mills in northern Linn County in August 1954, where his School of Living sponsored the Exposition of Homesteading.

Homesteading

The Troy Mills exposition focused on the art of productive rural living and featured speakers from California and Florida as well as Cedar Rapids. Attendees came from 11 states.

Borsodi spoke to about 60 people about homestead living the evening of Aug. 13, 1954, at the Troy Mills Christian Church.

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“If we could succeed by making the world see what we could do by making the family the center of the community, we would have the answer to the crisis of civilization,” Borsodi said.

Borsodi said he now lived in a new decentralized community in Melbourne, Fla., with a guided missile base 15 miles away.

“Well, we’re in a Christian church, and I wish you would think through that paradox,” he said. “We, followers of the Prince of Peace, build our prosperity on guided missiles and bombs.”

Borsodi said there are four responses to the challenge of modern times. The two responses that had failed, he said, were capitalism and individualism. Capitalism failed, he said, because “it doesn’t lead to a peaceful, decent Christian world.”

“In individualism, ‘I’ is the important unit,” he added. “Each individual works for his own prosperity. This teaches the idea of individual success and is failing us. It is not producing a peaceful world.”

The other two responses, he said, were communism and Borsodi’s decentralism.

Treichlers

Some called the Troy Mills gathering the “Treichler Exposition” because the William Treichlers were homesteaders at the edge of Troy Mills. The elder Treichler was a lawyer who turned to homesteading because he felt that independence was essential.

“If this nation is to survive another Great Depression, we must have more people on the land who are self-sufficient,” Treichler said.

Treichler said homesteaders were interested in grinding their own flour, making their own clothes and building their own earthen homes — but using modern, labor-saving equipment to do so.

The expo featured talks on nutrition, milling, loom weaving and rammed earth construction.

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The latter used an aluminum frame to mold compacted earth into blocks to make a house. Another device built walls of hollowed cement.

When the Expo was all over, Marion Sentinel columnist and former Gazette Editor Verne Marshall had this to say:

“It isn’t easy to detect the weakness in the philosophy of that group which assembled at Troy Mills a few days ago to witness an experiment in ‘decentralism’ and to hear an economist say that capitalism, industrialism and individualism have failed the world. There might have been some benefit, however, in a debate as to whether this twentieth century tempest may justly be charged to the failures cited.

“Somewhere along the line, we neglected to take advantage of our own achievements. We reached for the stars — and found hydrogen bombs.”

Ralph Borsodi died in 1977, but his theory of decentralism lives on today among environmentists and ecologists.

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