05 March 2008

Achieving Zion: The Improvement Era and The Perpetual Education Fund

As the official Church magazine from 1898 until 1970, The Improvement Era was largely a focus on improving your life, and not always in the religious, or spiritual sense. It gave practical, hands-on, and how-to suggestions for improved living. The magazine acted as a community builder, empowering the members of the church in both spiritual and secular living.

While some of the stories are obviously outdated, many are surprisingly relevant today. One of the great series that ran for at least two decades was titled ‘Exploring the Universe’ by Franklin S Harris, Jr. Here are some examples:

Jun 1936 Modern Energy Supplies
"'THERE ARE energy sources for man's every need for thousands of years, despite the fact that his demands have increased over forty told in the last hundred years.' This is the conclusion of Dr. Gustav Egloff in an article in the Science Monthly, April, 1936. We don't know how much energy we will need in the future, but it will be a huge amount. So far man has never failed in inventiveness to make the machines to use our great resources to lessen man's labor, and he will probably be able to lighten his work in the future. Dr. Egloff considers coal, oil, natural gas, water power, wood, wind, alcohol, even direct sun energy, and internal heat of the earth in reaching his conclusion."

Aug 1936
"FRESH ripe fruits, fresh garden vegetables, salads, cereals, milk of good sanitary quality, and milk products satisfy the hunger while adding but little to heat production. They are therefore good for hot weather...MILK could be divided and each part made into a different cheese, Emmental, Roquefort, Limburger, and Cheddar, which differ radically in taste and appearance. Cheesemakers could make these different cheeses from the same milk by varying the methods of curing and ripening the cheese. Temperature, salting, humidity, and kind of micro-organisms can be varied."

Dec 1936
"THE soybean, imported from the Far East where it is used as an article of food, is bidding fair to become a very important factor in American agricultural and industrial life. It makes good hay, and the beans are a green vegetable for the home table. The oil from pressing is used in industries from paint and printing ink to lubrication. The meal left after pressing may be used as feed for animals or with flour, or to make glue. It is also used in the plastic industry."

Apr 1938
"GROUND sawdust and mill waste can be squeezed into hard dense products that are stronger than the wood made by nature."

May 1938
"PLANTS have their "drinking hours" when their roots absorb more water than their leaves evaporate, and times when more is evaporated than absorbed. From noon to 4 p. m. the most water is absorbed and evaporated, with slightly more being evaporated. At night enough extra water is taken in to make up for the loss."

Oct 1938
"THAT gasoline mileage can be greatly increased by observing a few simple driving rules is shown graphically by a test over a 10 mile course in Detroit using the same car and same route through traffic. One trip with speed as the watchword, through keeping within the 30 mile speed limit, using all gears, took 39 minutes, giving 8.5 miles per gallon. Then using the best driving practices such as coasting up to stoplights in neutral, starting in second and accelerating slowly took 44 minutes with 17 miles per gallon."

Nov 1938
"BATTERY-CHARGING, windmills which convert wind power directly into electric current and work on comparatively slow winds have been developed. One feature is airplane-type propellers: another is the enclosing of the generator and vane in one streamlined piece.
WHOLE WHEAT bread is greatly to be preferred to white bread, both from the point of view of national economy and for better health, scientists at the recent International Physiological Congress were told. That complete substitution of fat for carbohydrate in the diet, or carbohydrate for fat, is impossible was also reported."

Nov 1954
"EW. GOLDING writing in Unesco's "Impact of Science on Society" estimates that if the solar radiation on an area the size of Egypt could be utilized directly it would provide the world's present need for power."

Sep 1954
"BASED on the latest work in Greenland and the Antarctic, the melting of the glacier ice would raise the sea level about 200 feet…IN 1952 the output in the United States of soft drinks was more than twentyeight billion bottles, or an average of a bottle every day for every person."

Jul 1954
"CAREFUL studies of watershed management and flood control in Davis County, Utah, have been made by the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Tests of ninety-seven sites in Utah found that with normal plant cover the runoff is about five percent of the rainfall applied, but as the protective cover is decreased, it was found that nearly bare areas yield from twenty to eighty percent runoff."

Many other articles were by LDS professionals in their field:

The Soil As a Living System June 1934
"Consideration of the soil as a thing alive is not as common as it should be. The fact that soil responds as though it were a living thing must be apparent to all who observe closely, and it is that response which makes man react to it the way he does, particularly in the spring of the year."

The Mormon Village Retrospect and Prospect Mar 1936

A Highway over Water Jul 1936
"AT THE request of President W. Aird Macdonald of the Oakland Stake, J. G. Bastow, structural and civil engineer of Oakland, California, has written this statement on some engineering features of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for the readers of "The Improvement Era." The author was born in Utah, graduated from Brigham Young College in 1912, filled a mission for the Church in the Samoan Islands from 1912 to 1916, is a graduate of the Utah State Agricultural College and of the University of California, was a pilot in the United States Army Air Force during the world war, and is now Assistant Chief Engineer and Assistant Port Manager of the Port of Oakland."

Agriculture and the Church Security Program Jan 1938
"THE Security Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has three objectives: First to supply food, clothing and shelter to faithful Latter-day Saints, who are unable through their own efforts to secure these necessities of life; second, to find employment for those now unemployed, who are capable of laboring; third, to improve the conditions of those who may be employed, but whose income is so meager as to furnish the bare necessities, not the comforts of life. These objectives may be summarized as charity, self-support, and progressive improvement of existing conditions."

We Now Enjoy Shade and Beauty Because Someone Planted Well May 1938
By J. C. HOGENSON Extension Agronomist. Utah State Agricultural College
"THE FIRST consideration of a family is to provide the necessities of life, foremost of which is an adequate balanced food supply. In many cases this can be done best and most efficiently with a growing garden… In this worthy enterprise, too, all members of the family are given the opportunity to contribute something of importance for the maintenance of the family as a whole. In addition, caring for the home garden is an excellent tonic for tired, shattered nerves and jaded muscles."

Vines May be the Answer Mar 1955
"FEW plants grow more quickly or more profusely than vines. What of the yard with new trees? Why not make vines provide the shade and ornamentation until trees have time to grow? If there are clothes posts or other posts in the yard, fasten a trellis to them and train vines up the trellis. They will grow rapidly and will provide enough shade for a lawn chair or if there is a high fence, train vines over it to furnish shade at least part of the day."

Apr 1955
STUDIES at the Utah State Agricultural Experiment Station have shown that for potatoes furrow irrigation requires 30 to 50 percent more water than sprinkling when soil is maintained in moist condition and that more frequent light irrigations alone should increase potato yield by 100 bushels an acre."

A Scheme for Safer and Better Highways May 1955
"Sufficient time has elapsed since World War II to demonstrate that the gap between construction and maintenance, and actual traffic, is ever-widening. Highway deaths are increasing."

These and many other examples allowed the members to learn from other members presenting information in their fields of expertise. Reinstating this concept today would allow members of the church all over the world to share their expertise on various useful subjects with the rest of the Church. This becomes especially important as we seek for a global Zion community scattered throughout the world.

Hands-on topics about advances in food and shelter technologies are increasingly needed in a worldwide Church, many of whom live in poverty. Experts in the Church providing tutorials to fellow members would provide a great equalizer in education and knowledge. In the context of a geographically global Church, this would become a powerful tool aiding in the establishment of Zion. Knowledge and education gained from these would help lessen the poor, hungry, uneducated, or uninformed among us. Top-down direction is desirable for spiritual matters, but in temporal or secular matters, the forum of a bottom-up approach created by members, for all members could be powerful.

The Church has always placed importance on self-reliance, and has a fabulous website dedicated to this today. But a periodical resource created by the members of the church to help other members of the Church, provides a personal touch that reaches the heart more than a generalized summary on food storage. Included could also be individuals helped by the Perpetual Education Fund. We occasionally hear about the numbers of people helped, but rarely their personal stories and experiences. Four individuals are currently highlighted on the website.

One of the great features about organizations like Kiva is that when you loan money, you can read the biography of the actual person you are helping. You see their picture, read periodic journals from them, and track the progress of their project. You see when payments on the loan are made. You develop a love for and connection to that person. A similar application to the Perpetual Education Fund, I feel, would increasingly draw the Church together in unity and love. This intimacy with other members around the world is one way to help build Zion.

While the Church has amazing outreach with Humanitarian Aid, the Welfare Program, and the Perpetual Education Fund, the personal connection is missing. Through a bottom-up forum such as a new Improvement Era or personalizing the Perpetual Education Fund, we can come together in a global Zion-like community having our "hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another." (Mosiah 18:21) Zion today is achievable.

The Earth is God's Canvas by Catch the Dream


Mellifera said...

It's a cool idea, I just have visions of such a journal being taken over by pyramid scheme testimonials. : )

I totally agree with the idea that folks can and should really take their living into their own hands, and through more than just a job. It's funny how that all turned into... Bountiful.

I wonder if maybe part of the reason the New Era phased out that angle is that there's just too much diversity in members' circumstances. And even two families in similar circumstances in different cultures makes it difficult to do a churchwide approach- what Mexican wants to read through tips on creative taro recipes from members in Samoa and how much better winters have been since the Jensens on the East Bench installed subfloor heating on their driveway?

Thought-provoking questions on the international church.... : )

green mormon architect said...

Wow - you're probably right. It could be a new forum for Amway or pest control...

Good point about various regions of the world having different needs. There is currently the Liahona which serves Latin America, I believe. Others could potentially be created for various geographical regions & languages. The main effort would be compiling and pooling the skills/efforts of the members in that region.

Mellifera said...

And heaven knows, Amway and pest control need all the new fora they can get! : D

I used to work for Tahitian Noni... "agroenvironmental consultant." Very interesting experience.

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