Sunday, March 12, 2017

1888 - Humbug? - Free Seeds from the Government

I have to admit this posting was prompted partly by wanting to share this illustration.  

Weinmann, JW, Phytanthoza Iconographia -  Echinops sphaerocephalus -Artist unknown.

A. I. Root's influential journal, Gleanings in Bee Culture, covered many agricultural and scientific topics. This opinion of the government free seed program was widely held.  While the program started with the admirable intention of exposing farmers and the general family gardener to superior varieties being developed, it grew over time into a politician's give-away to curry favor with their constituents. 
More often in my reading I come across strong opinions from reputable seedsmen who were outraged at the poor quality of seed that was sometimes accepted by the government, as well as the fact the government was competing unfairly with their business as they saw it.

Feb. 1889 - Gleanings in Bee Culture
CHAPMAN HONEY-PLANT SEED; CAN IT BE OBTAINED OF THE GOVERNMENT?
I saw the notice last spring In Gleanings, stating that the Agricultural Department at Washington had obtained seed of the Chapman honey-plant, for distribution. I applied to our representative, and be notified me that he had never heard of such a plant, but said that he had sent my application to the department, since which time I never heard from it. Were any of your readers more fortunate?
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Friend L., I can not help you any about procuring seed of the Chapman honey-plant, opposed the measure of asking the Government to buy friend Chapman's seed, at the National Convention held in Chicago; also at the Michigan State Convention at Saginaw, a year ago.
Some of the friends who were in favor of it admitted that the Government Seed Bureau was a big humbug anyway; but they gave, as an excuse, that friend Chapman might as well have some of the humbug money as anybody else. They did not state it in just that way, but it amounted to that. 
Now, the $2800 that was paid to friend Chapman for his honey-plant seed might almost as well have been thrown into the fire, in my opinion. The seed is very likely stowed away with other old rubbish, and it will probably get too old to germinate before it gets into the hands of beekeepers, if it ever does at all.
 Another thing, I do not believe that any bee-keeper wants a lot of Chapman honey-plant seed until he has first tested it by trying a five cent package; and even after it has been so tested, and the seed was wanted, I am not sure that it could be had of the Government.
Perhaps I am a little uncharitable here; but I can not help feeling indignant at this whole proceeding—not only in honey-plants, but seeds for almost all other purposes. There have been a good many complaints just like yours, friend L., that they could not get the seed of the Chapman honey-plant, even after the Government had paid $2800 for it; and it is not only this kind of seed, but seeds in general are managed a good deal in the same fashion.
Our agricultural papers have for years shown it up, and protested that our money should not be wasted in such senseless proceedings, but still it goes on. This is the first time I have publicly spoken about the matter, and perhaps I shall never have occasion to speak of it again.

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A follow up -  CHAPMAN HONEY-PLANT SEED—HOW TO GET IT OF THE GOVERNMENT
As I see some complaint in Gleanings, on page 134, by A. L. Lane and you about the distribution of the Chapman honey-plant seed by the Department of Agriculture at Washington, I want to say that I too read the notice in Gleanings last spring, and I at once wrote to Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner of Agriculture, at Washington, for some seed, and soon got a little package of the same.
I sowed some, and almost every seed came up all right. Some plants had, by fall, leaves 38 inches long.
I believe if Mr. Lane had applied to Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner, for the seed, instead of to his Representative, he would have received some.
Jacob Ruch, Jr.
Gruetli, Grundy Co., Tenn., Feb. 21, 1889.

I had to look up Greutli to see if it was an OCR mistake!  Nope.