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Success of Polish Farmers in the Connecticut Valley--Are Hard Workers.

Is New England to be owned by foreigners in no great length of time? Is it, at any rate, to be farmed by them in the meantime asks E. I Farrington in the Boston Transcript. There are ominous facts that may be taken as answer to these queries.

Gordon Woodbury complains that one reason why we are paying high prices for market commodities is that the farms we have are not being worked with that fervor which once characterized the New England Agriculturist, with his hard good sense and his patient industry. The New England farmer has become enamored of the town, says Mr. Woodbury, and has left his farm to the sweet wild ways of sassafras and a scrub pine. What is needed on our farms is industry, industry, and ever more industry. Now come the foreigner, with a zest for that very thing. The Pole, the Italian comes along, sees the acres, is beginning to obtain them, or the use of them, and is supplying the industry. Down about Newport the Portuguese are crowding in and owning farms once held by New England farm families of long lineage. Else where it is the Pole. And they are doing a fine yeoman work. They are supplying a necessary willingness to work, which nobody else seems ready to provide. Eventually this will work to our good. If we need the farms better worked, and nobody but the foreigner will do the work, let him do it, fetch down commodities to a more reasonable figure and reap what reward he can for his plans.

Many of the best farmers in the Connecticut River valley are immigrants from Poland. Some of the best farms are owned by them. Around Fall River, and in other sections of New England they are gradually coming to possess the land. If the movement goes on the farms of New England will come to be owned largely by the Poles, for the native-born stock continues to gravitate to the city, while the immigrants are constantly writing home to depict the freedom and prosperity of New England farm life, and so inducing others to come.

So important has this movement seemed to the State college, at Amherst that a Polish farmers' day has been held for the past two years on the college grounds, where the visitors have been treated to an extensive program, with a discussion of many important farm problems. The addresses were given by instructors at the college and others, a Polish linguist translating the remarks for the benefit of the audience. This farmers' day is part of the extension work of the college and represents one of the first attempts by any agricultural college to get into close touch with he immigrant farmers. The result has been sufficiently encouraging to warrant additional ex tension work among the Poles, and Professor William D. Hurd says, "We have felt that this work for the Polish people is perhaps as good extension work as we are doing."

Last year the attendance was nearly 100, and the enterprise and progressiveness of these immigrant farmers is indicated by some of the de sires which they expressed, as, for example, that the college send men to visit their farms, that the college faculty help them in getting their naturalization papers, and that night schools where English might be taught should be established.

Many of the Connecticut valley Poles are engaged in growing onions and various phases of onion growing and selling were given most of the program at the last farmers' day al though there was one address on the good points of a dairy cow.

The first Polish farmers to settle in this section of New England were two immigrants, brought from Castle Garden, New York, about 20 years ago, at a time when there was great scarcity of farm help. They began work as farm laborers in Sunderland and liked it so well that they wrote to their relatives and friends, urging them to come to this land of promise. Many of them came, and the stream of immigrants has been flowing ever since.

Beginning as farm laborers, the men hoard their money until they have sufficient to make a payment on a farm. Often they board them selves in groups at very little expense and get higher wages than would be the case if the farmer boarded them. Many Polish women also come and take service as domestics. The men and women marry, pool their earnings and are able to purchase good farms. They have a lot of children, for each boy and girl makes one more pair of hands with which to weed onions, or harvest tobacco. Onions and tobacco are the two crops in which they specialize.

These Polish people are exceedingly hard workers. Often a contractor will engage to do all the work in an American farmer's fields. The farmer deals only with the contractor; the latter makes his terms with the men and women he hires, many of them often his relatives, and the women seem to get a few favors. Weeding onions is not an agreeable job, for it must be done on the hands and knees with the feet stretched wide apart to prevent breaking the plants. When women first went into the fields, the owners complained that the skirts would do much damage, but this objection was promptly and satisfactorily met, the women donning overalls and jumpers. Now it is difficult, sometimes to distinguish a woman as she works her way down the dusty rows.

Polish women are exceedingly robust and what they can endure in the way of heat, long hours and backbreaking toil is almost unbelievable. It is not unusual for them to begin work at 5 o'clock in the morning and to keep it up all day, with the temperature running to 115 or higher in the unshaded fields. A woman will be absent for a few days and then appear at work again, while her husband announces with a wide grin that a new arrival has come in to the family.

As domestic servants, the young Polish women are much in favor and easily find employment indoors, until the higher wages of the onion fields attracts them. After the sea son is over, they are ready to return to the kitchen and the laundry. They draw from $1.50 to $2.00 a day while doing a man's work in the onion patches, and most of this money is saved to be put with that of the husband-to-be, if they are unmarried, when they are able to get possession of the fine farm on which they have their eyes.

It is characteristic of the Polish laborers of both sexes to be good tempered and teachable. The women usually sing as they work and laugh and joke freely among them selves. They have a hard time, though, with the mysteries of the English language and confine their speech mostly to their native tongue.

The Poles are progressive farmers and not afraid to spend money for machinery and improvements. It is unfortunate that they seem to put the dwelling-house last when betterments are under consideration and it is to be hoped that one influence of the public schools will be to create in the Polish children a greater degree of pride in their homes. The children are eager to learn and are bright and quick. The fathers and mothers, however, are still cut off from intercourse with their English speaking neighbors and so fail to be assimilated. Although landowners and perhaps naturalized citizens they remain as strangers in a strange land.

This condition, though, is not of the Pole's choosing. They desire to become Americanized and welcome every opportunity to learn the customs of their adopted county. A number of young men from the college have begun teaching classes in English for the benefit of the adult Poles and there is every reason to believe that this sort of instruction could be carried on with success in a much more general way. Once familiar with the language, no doubt these people would make free use of the public libraries. The librarian of the institution at Sunderland re ports that a few books in the Polish language put on the shelves have been in constant demand.

As business men the Polish farmers have shown themselves superior to many native born tillers of the soil. They know how to use borrowed money to the best advantage and are very prompt in meeting their obligations. No difficulty is found by them in securing all the money they need from the banks, and they economize in every way possible until the farm has been paid for; and the women and children do their part. Occasionally one finds an Italian who has bought a farm and settled down, but the Italians, as a rule, have ideals and purposes quite different from those of the Poles. They aim to save a certain amount of money and then go back to Italy, where they can live in comfort. They are excellent farm laborers, how ever, and some of them eventually decide to locate in this country. J. H. Hale, Connecticut's famous grower of peaches, tells of an Italian foreman on one of his farms, who performed what seemed like an impossible feat of clearing away trees, underbrush and stones, finally planting an orchard which now pays large dividends and in the midst of which the Italian has a pleasant and com fortable home. This man's children are being educated in the public schools and he is a useful and patriotic American citizen.

In general, though, the Poles are the Immigrants who are establishing themselves in largest numbers on the productive farms of New England, and the fact must be reckoned with that they are fast coming into competition with native-born farmers. The question is, are they to be as similated, encouraged to adopt American customs and inspired with American ideals, or are they to constitute a peasant class, similar to that which exists in Europe? In the latter case, it will/come to be a difficult matter for native-born farmer to get a living in the country.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: The beginnings of another New England, a society apart from the region's ancient Anglo-American origins, began to emerge in the years after 1900. An unprecedented surge of new immigrants to the United States peaked between 1880 and 1910. They finally reached the Connecticut Valley in the last years of that period and soon came to fill an important part of Valley society. This article is generally positive about the immigrant presence, reflecting an optimism not entirely unusual in the years before World War I. But the outbreak of war in 1914 slowed new arrivals and when the numbers began to pick up in the early 1920s the nation was much less well disposed to new immigrants. Immigration to the United States almost entirely ceased after the 1929 implementation of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. Polish immigration into the Connecticut Valley resumed somewhat after World War II but was squelched by the Cold War. Many new immigrants have come since 1990.


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"Aliens in New England" article in Greenfield's Gazette and Courier newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Dec 7, 1912
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   2.25"
height   18.5"
height   10.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Article
accession #   #L02.034

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See Also...

"Immigrants in Industries, Part 24: Recent Immigrants in Agriculture" from Reports of the Immigration Commission

Deerfield Potatoes Bag

"Are We To Be Polanized?" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Courier newspaper

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