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The Jewish Farmer

From New-York Daily Tribune newspaper, October 14, 1906:



Splendid Work Being Done Along This Line in New York by Highly Practical Philanthropists.


"Can the Jew become a successful farmer?" is a question which seems in the minds of most people almost as difficult to answer in the affirmative as was the query, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" asked by incredulous Jews in the days before the measure of agricultural instinct they possessed had been stifled by the restrictions, the oppressions and the herding into ghettoes of the Middle Ages.

A Gentile was walking aimlessly through the East Side, in the neighborhood of Seward Park the other day. Men were gathered along the curbs selling willow wands in full leaf, and strips of palm leaf carefully swathed in burlap. Other men, with long beards, fathers in Israel, were seen everywhere carrying twigs of willow or wrapped palm leaves. It was the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles, the festival when the orthodox bring back to mind the days when the Jews lived in groves and gardens in huts in Palestine and gathered the fresh grapes from the vineyards and rejoiced in the blessings of the land. The visitor was thinking of the significance of the survival of this peculiar relic of ancient times, and the desperate and pitiful efforts which the Jew makes to reproduce the scenes of his early history with a few green twigs and a little leafy booth on the roof in the quarter of the city which is furthest removed from any resemblance to a land of fruitful fields. Suddenly his eye was arrested by a sign. It was on the side of a building of a style of architecture in striking contrast to that of the populous tenement houses which surrounded it. The sign was the announcement of an exhibition showing what had been accomplished by Jews in this country as farmers, and the opportunities in this direction open to the East Side Jew. It was to open in the building of the Educational Alliance on that day--the day on which a comparison of the joys of a life in the country with the close, steamy atmosphere of the sweatshop and three-room tenement apartment would most appeal to the minds of the Jews of that quarter. The sign, in relation to the question of the success of the Jew as a farmer, was like Philip's answer to Nathaniel's query of long ago, "Come and see."


Climbing a flight of stairs, he reached the door of the small exhibition hall, and entering found himself in a room full of optimistic proofs. There were many signs in English, as well as in the "curve and angle" Hebrew characters, explaining the exhibits. There were photographs innumerable showing Jews ploughing the fields, hoeing rows of flourishing vegetables, milking cows, making cheese and gathering flowers from the gardens about six-room houses. Men with Hebraic faces stood in the shadow of stalks of prize corn which rose to almost twice their height. "Sammy" and "Ikey" and David and "Aby" were portrayed learning "dog paddle" in real "swimming holes." There were photographs of large New England farmhouses, with Jewish families, the owners, standing on the grass in front. Most of the houses had none of the dilapidated appearance that one connects with the abandoned ancestral homes of old New England families, although such most of them were said to be. Dozens of pictures showed families whose names end in "sky" holding picnics, and loading hay, and doing other things of a like nature. A sign said that there were Jewish families in Alaska, Canada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Washington. He was informed that it was known that in the United States there were at least 1,382 farmers of the Jewish faith. They and their families, aggregating 7,481 souls, were now cultivating farms covering 125,434 acres, and valued, with the chattels, at $2,716,649.

The visitor was astonished at discovering that in Connecticut there were between four hundred and five hundred Jewish farmers. Some of them had gone to Connecticut to work in factories and, finding abandoned farms in the neighborhood, had bought them. Others had followed them to the country. A young man in the exhibition hall, who proved to be the head of the Board of Education of Woodbine, a Jewish farming and industrial community in Southern New Jersey and the head of the De Hirsch Agricultural School there, said he was the son of a Jewish farmer of Connecticut and a graduate from the Storrs Agricultural College of that state.

There were several cards telling what a number of this new type of Yankee farmer possessed and what they made their possessions yield them. There was one farm at Ellington, consisting of 260 acres, which was valued at $12,000, and on which there was a mortgage of $6,500. On it were thirty-five cattle, three horses, poultry and, surprising to relate, three pigs. Last year the owner made $4,000 from his landed possessions. Hew was not the only farmer on the list owning porkers Others of less annual income reported the presence of pigs on their estates, without telling why they harbored these animals, so abhorred by the Jew, or indicating what they did with them. Most of the farms were not so ostentatious as this one, which headed the list.

Jewish immigrants on a farm.


There was Abraham Goldstein, who had invested $300 and signed a mortgage of $1,250, who was making an income of from $500 to $600 a year out of milk, eggs, butter and fruit and adding to his receipts by keeping summer boarders in his nine room house. With two exceptions, all of the houses had over six rooms, one having as many as eighteen, and few had fewer than eight rooms, into practically all of which the sunlight poured on every pleasant day.


Down in Southern New Jersey, he learned, there is a village of Woodbine, containing a population of more than two thousand, settled by Jews. Here is the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School for Jews. At Norma, Rosenhayn, Carmel, Alliance, Brotmanville and Garton Road, in the neighborhood, are colonies of Jews, including more than 250 farmers. Scores of pictures showed them picking peaches, gathering grapes from their vineyards, cultivating sweet potatoes and shipping them to market. The Jewish farmers of this neighborhood, he found, had formed a union to protect their interests. Shipping through the union they secure better freight rates, for they can ship in quantities.

They also secure better prices, for they can market their goods through one man instead of competing with one another.

A pamphlet described the National Farm School at Doylestown, Penn., which was established several years ago for the training of young Jews in the science of agriculture, and which has been commended by President Roosevelt and Secretary Wilson of the Department of Agriculture. Several of its former students are employed by the department, and it is turning away applicants for admission every year.

The exhibit also contained information about the educational, the religious and the social opportunities for Jews in each of the neighborhoods where Jewish farmers have settled. The Jew is anxious to have an opportunity to visit the synagogue occasionally, facilities for the education of his children and a chance to marry his daughters to Jewish young men. An isolated Jewish farmer would be cut off from the former and when his daughters mature into marriageable maidens, they too would be cut off from opportunity for mating with their co-religionists.

Up to the roof garden of the Alliance Building the visitor climbed. There he found in a booth made of green boughs the fruits of several Jewish farms. There were stalks of prize corn, mammoth prize pumpkins and squashes, with the names of the growers grown into them. There were bunches of asters, evidently gathered from the beds of the farms.

Jewish immigrants in an East Side Sweatshop.

(By courtesy of the Consumers' League.)

The visitor thought of the contracting picture presented to the mind of the Jewish immigrant who chanced to be standing at his side. On the East Side this serious faced representative of the flood of tens of thousands of Russian, Rumanian and Austrian Jews pouring into the overcrowded ghetto and the producing members of his family together were earning on an average $7 a week, or a little over $350 a year, bending over the ceaselessly whirring sewing machine of the sweatshop. He was spending a quarter of these earnings for the use of three or four rooms and the privilege of becoming a victim of the "white plague." Out of the remainder of the family of seven was being fed, clothed and warmed. On the farm was a comfortable house, roomy enough to accommodate his family and summer boarders besides. He could secure fresh vegetables, and there was an income of at least $500 or $600 a year. Was the exhibition a painting of a promised land unattainable to those whom it would most benefit? The visitor turned to one of the directors of the exhibition:
"How do these men with their beggarly incomes, buy farms?" he asked.


"We have worked it all out," he replied, "so that any man who shows a desire to leave the ghetto and take up the life of a farmer can begin with a fair chance for making a success of it. Our scheme is founded on business principles, and no effort is made to force a man to leave the city. The desire must find expression in a request before we will aid him in this direction. Our desire is to develop successful colonies which will serve as examples and centres which will be congenial. Every successful farmer is an additional argument for leaving the city, and every successful Jewish community is a discourse on that subject. Assured of the right surroundings, the path is made easy for the sweatshop worker to leave the old conditions and enter the new.

"We do not buy him a farm and start him off without knowing whether he will be a success or not. We test him for a year. A couple of years ago the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society of this city bought the Indian Head Farm, at King's Park, Long Island, containing five hundred acres of land, spending something over $33,000 for it. When a man asks for an opportunity to become a farmer we send him out to this test farm, as we call it. He must spend a year there, learning the various operations of farming under modern conditions. He is permitted to take his entire family with him, and half a double farmhouse, containing five or six rooms, is assigned to him. For this he pays a rental of $1 a week. He has the free use of a piece of land for a garden, in which he can raise vegetables. Some of those who have been there have had cows also. We encourage him to make use of our facilities in this way, for it aids him in securing knowledge and encourages him to continue the occupation. The man and any children beyond school age work on the farm under the supervision of a skilled man, the superintendent. For this work he receives a dollar a day, so he starts with a better income than the average immigrant secures in the ghetto. If he sticks to the work for a year and shows promise of being a successful farmer, we buy a farm for him valued at $1,200 or $1,300 in a Jewish colony and lend him $500 in addition for the purpose of purchasing implements and stock and establishing himself. He pays for the farm and returns the loan, with interest, in moderate installments. Not all of those who go out to the test farm prove themselves good material, Some stay only long enough to learn how a hoe handle feels in their unaccustomed hands and turn their faces back to the crowded city. One day is long enough to satisfy some of the would-be farmers. Others stay as long as three months and then quit.

"One man took his family out and spent an entire year. Three of his children, two boys and a girl, the former twenty and seventeen years old, respectively, and the latter about eighteen, were employed on the farm besides himself. Together they received $14 a week. At the end of the year he wanted to buy a 50-acre farm, valued at $3,000. It was thought that that would be too much of a burden for him, and that he could not work so much land to advantage. It was suggested that he take twenty-five acres to start with. He declined to accept anything less than his demand, and returned to the city with his wife and family of several children, leaving behind the oldest son, who refused to accompany him. He went into the pushcart business and is making about $4 a week. His daughter and the seventeen year-old son went into the sweatshops again. His wife was taken sick and had to have an operation performed. The daughter is now at home taking care of her and the family. The boy was run over in the street and is in the hospital. The income of the family, instead of being $14 a week, with a rent of only $4 a month, is now the amount that the head of the family can make with his pushcart. The rent is at least twice as much as he paid in the country.


"At some of our colonies we have thoroughly trained farmers conducting model farms so that the beginners can see for themselves what they ought to do and how and when to do it, in order to make their farms successful. We have one in connection with the Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School at Woodbine, N.J., and another, owned by Maurice Fels, in the neighborhood of the other South Jersey colonies. In December, 1904, A. W. Rich, the founder of the Milwaukee Agricultural Association, purchased a quantity of land in the central part of Wisconsin at Arpin and settled a colony of twelve families there with a manager to conduct a model farm.

"The Jewish Agriculturists' Aid Society of America, with headquarters in Chicago, looks after the Jewish farmers of the West. Many Jews have bought farms without assistance from the aid societies at the start, but have found themselves in need of funds. The aid societies, which are backed by the De Hirsch fund in a large measure, then lend money to these, taking mortgages on the property as security.

"The Jewish agricultural school at Woodbine has been attended by as many as a hundred persons at one time and the one at Doylestown to the limit of its capacity.

"The movement to clear out the congested districts, of course, is only in its infancy. We are laying the foundations, feeling sure that eventually they will grow naturally. We hope the news of the farming possibilities will reach Russia, for there are two or three thousand Jewish farmers in Southern Russia. People here seem to think that the Jews are unaccustomed to life in the country. One little girl who came to New York from Russia exhibited her ignorance of this country by remarking: " There are no trees in America like there are in Russia, are there?" She had lived in the country all her life. The Russian Jew thinks that New York is the only place in America. One who was starting for Boston recently told his friends he was going "somewhere out in the country--to Boston.'

"We believe that getting the Jew out into the country is the best way to Americanize him. When he owns a little property, pays taxes and finds himself in a position to have a responsible part in the government he quickly becomes Americanized. What the farm does for the Jew is illustrated in an instance related by Rabbi Levy, secretary of the Jewish Agriculturists' Aid Society. In 1903 he made an inspection tour through some of the Western states, visiting the Jewish farmers. He came to Wilton, N. D., and found there on a farm a Jew who had come from New York the year previous with his wife and eight children. He lived like all the other Jewish farmers in North Dakota, on a tract of 160 acres. Although it was his first summer as a farmer, he had already made important improvements. He had worked thirty-five acres, upon which he had planted flax, grain, potatoes and garden truck. He was assisted in the work by his eighteen year-old son and a daughter. The man and his wife understood the circumstances. They knew that they had to face a tremendous amount of work, but they were prepared for it. The satisfaction with which they expressed their view of the future and the joy with which they and their children worked, all gave evidence that they were bound to succeed.

"The visitors noticed among the possessions of the family a photograph which they had saved from the period of the ghetto life. The family had been in the grocery business on the East Side. The picture displayed the entire family arrayed in the splendor befitting the family of an East Side grocer, and the grocer in that part of the city is somebody. The father wore a heavy chain and watch. The wife was well bedecked with earrings and other jewelry and the children wore a fine display of lace and ribbons. One of the visitors remarked on the fine appearance of the family, and said that such finery would hardly be appreciated on the farm where there was no one to see it.

"'It is very fortunate, replied the farmer's wife, 'that we do not need that kind of thing now. There in New York we were working for clothes and style and nothing else. Here on the farm we clothe ourselves in order to work to create for ourselves a home.'

"There you have the contrast drawn between the artificial life on the East Side amid squalid surroundings, and a home under natural conditions."

The Gentile left the exhibition convinced that the question could be answered in the affirmative.



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