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Italian owners or laborers in orchards or vineyards are reported, there being a considerable settlement thus engaged near Fredonia. Very few engaged in general farming or employed as general farm laborers were observed.
From a general study of the three classes of Italians in agriculture it was observed that those owning or renting farms are more nearly Americanized than individuals of the other two classes. As a general rule, they have been in the United States for a number of years and have thus had the opportunity to acquire the English language and adopt American customs; and as property owners they naturally show more civic interest. In all localities it was stated that the proportion of Italian property owners who had taken out naturalization papers was much greater than among those who are tenants or farm laborers. The interests of the Italian farmer and his American neighbors are the same, and the community of interest thus formed has done much to bring about the Americanization of the race. The residence of the Italian farm laborer in the agricultural community where he is employed also offers advantages tending toward early Americanization which the Italian of the cities or of industrial centers does not possess. The Italian farm laborer is often employed by the American farmer, and thus comes into daily contact with Americans and more readily learns the language and customs of the country. Further, their associates are the Italian farm owners of earlier immigration, and this association also has an Americanizing influence. It was very noticeable that the Italian farm laborers secured from the cities were much less intelligent and progressive than Italian farm owners, tenants, or general farm laborers residing continuously in the country. In the cities whence they came they live in Italian colonies, trade at Italian stores, work in gangs of Italians on the railroads and on construction work, and associate very little with Americans. On the farm they are also worked in gangs, usually under the immediate supervision of an Italian, are quartered together, and here as in their winter work, they are surrounded by few Americanizing influences.
The standard of living of Italians on farms is without doubt higher than that of Italians in cities and industrial localities. There is less congestion in living and sleeping quarters, less filth is observed in apartments and houses, and the police report less crime among Italians in rural districts than in industrial centers.
SYSTEMS OF AGRICULTURE.
Very few Italians have engaged in general farming, most of them confining themselves to the small crops. Only a few instances were observed in which Italian farmers owned over 50 acres of land, the usual farm being from 5 to 15 acres, and many were farming but 1 to 5 acres of land. The reason for the South Italians being small farmers is that few had sufficient capital to invest in a large acreage. Practically none have had any previous experience in general farming and almost all are ignorant of the methods of raising the staple crops. Few know anything about the care necessary in handling
horses or live stock in order to insure the best results, and as most of the tilling and planting on the Italian farms is done by hand, the farmer and his family are able to cultivate only a limited acreage. The size of the farm generally depends upon the size of the family, as the average Italian farmer is averse to employing farm laborers. It was also observed that Italians generally confined themselves to one or two crops, such as onions, celery, etc., with which they are uniformly very successful. On large farms where wheat, oats, corn, hay, and staple crops are raised, the South Italians in New York have achieved no marked success, due to the causes given above and the lack of intelligent fertilization, crop rotation, and preparation. Their fort seems to be specialized commercial agriculture.
The chief objection to Italian farm laborers on the part of American farmers is that they require too much supervision and that few show any initiative. On the other hand, South Italian laborers have proved very satisfactory on truck farms, nursery farms, and on the farms of canning companies. Here they are worked in gangs, and where little machinery is used and most of the work is done by hand, many farmers prefer them to Americans, because it is stated the Italians are more easy to handle and are steadier and more reliable workers.
The contrast between living and housing conditions in agricultural localities and in cities and industrial communities is very marked. It is evident that more attention is paid to sanitary precautions in the homes of Italian farmers than in those of industrial workers. In cities and industrial communities the apartments or houses in which Italians reside are generally rented, and little attention is given by the owners to necessary repairs; this was particularly noticeable in coal mining localities where the houses are owned by the companies operating the mines and are rented to their employees. There congestion and the overcrowding of sleeping rooms are very prevalent, owing to the large number of boarders, and in consequence, apartments are very unclean. In agricultural settlements these conditions are less in evidence, few boarders are kept, and the Italian farm owner in New York at least seems to take pride in the appearance of his property, keeping it in repair and seeing that the premises surrounding the dwelling are kept clean. The interior of the house is not always as well kept as it might be, but when contrasted with homes of Italian industrial workers, conditions are far superior.
CANASTOTA, N. Y., SOUTH ITALIAN ONION GROWERS.
Madison County is located in the central part of New York State. It lies between 42° 43′ and 43° 12' north latitude, and meridians 1° 5' and 1° 28' east longitude from Washington. The total area is about 649 square miles, or 451,168 acres.
The town of Canastota is situated near the northern boundary of Madison County, and according to the census of 1900 had a population of 3,244, while in 1909 the population was estimated to be close to 4.000. It is on the lines of the New York Central and Hudson River, Lehigh Valley, and West Shore Railroads, and the Erie Canal. The railroads and canal furnish good transportation and give ready access to all markets. There are several factories in Canastota, but it is in the fine agricultural country in the vicinity that the town finds its principal source of wealth.
There are two settlements of Italians in the locality, one in Canastota and the other 2 miles northwest of the village, at Onion Town. It is estimated that about 50 families are engaged in farming and that at least 500 Italians, including men, women, and children, in or near Canastota secure their living from the farm. About 20 families own their property; the rest are either renting, farming on shares, or hiring out as farm laborers. The Italians in the locality, with a few exceptions, are from southern Italy, and are divided as follows: Men 21 years of age or over.
Women 21 years of age or over.
These can be considered permanent residents, there being also a floating population of Italians engaged in other pursuits, which will be enumerated elsewhere.
Though the soils surrounding Canastota are admirably suited to raising general crops, no Italians have entered this branch of agriculture, but all confine themselves to truck farming on the muck land. This method of farming appeals to the Italian, as he has been brought up in his own country on a small farm and thoroughly understands the planting, cultivating, and harvesting of the small crops. Onions, beets, carrots, potatoes, and celery are the vegetables produced for market, and every immigrant farmer has a garden. where peppers, beans, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, etc., are raised for home consumption. No poultry or live stock is kept on account of conditions which will be explained later.
In order to attain success with the crops mentioned above there must be a thorough preparation of the soil, constant care must be exercised in cultivating and weeding, and particular attention must be paid to draining and ditching. The Italian, with his large family to aid him and by his indefatigable energy, is enabled to show remarkable results.
The principal crop raised by Italians is onions, although some also raise celery, carrots, beets, and potatoes. Onions and celery require constant care and attention. From the time the crops are planted until they are ready for the market the Italians are busy on their farms. Carrots, beets, and potatoes do not require as much time and labor, and immigrants producing these crops have some spare time, which they improve by hiring out to neighboring farmers.
HISTORY OF SETTLEMENT.
The first Italian to engage in farming in the locality says that before coming there he had been employed as a general laborer in different parts of the State of New York. He was persuaded by an American to rent several acres of muck land near Canastota, and in 1897 put in his first crop of onions. It proved successful, and finding that he could earn more by farming than he could as a laborer, he continued in the onion industry and in 1898 induced several of his countrymen to enter the same business. Thus in 1897 and 1898 the first Italians came to Canastota to engage in farming. During the next three or four years others joined them from neighboring cities until in 1900 there were about 15 families engaged in farming in the muckland district. Most of these farmed for a share of the crop, a few paid a cash rental, while three or four bought land and engaged in farming for themselves. Each year more Italians are buying property, and it will probably be only a matter of time until people of this race will own most of the muck land.
The settlement has increased in size slowly but steadily. The first immigrant was induced to engage in farming by a native. This Italian in turn brought in a few friends from Utica and Syracuse, N. Y. Others, who were engaged in railroad or canal work near Canastota, seeing the success of their countrymen, rented or purchased farms, and each year the settlement was increased by the addition of three or four families. No effort has been made toward colonization, and immigrants have either come in through the advice of their friends or of their own accord.
The settlement is becoming better known and is increasing in numbers much faster than in former years. At first all immigrants lived in Canastota, going out to the farms each morning and returning in the evening. Of late, however, many are building houses on their land, and a settlement has been formed 2 miles northwest of Canastota, called Onion Town. Other Italians have shacks or huts on their land, where they live during the summer months, returning to town for the winter season.
TERMS OF PURCHASE.
The price of land varies according to the distance from town and also according to its state of cultivation. That which has not been cleared of timber or drained sells at $30 to $50 per acre, while the
land under cultivation is valued at $100 to $250 per acre. The highest known price ever paid for muck land in this section was $300 per acre. A fair average is considered $150.
The usual terms of purchase are one-half cash and the balance in yearly payments on three to five years' time, secured by a mortgage on the land. Most of the Italians who own farms have purchased them in this way, and have easily paid off the mortgage in the specified time by their profits from the crops.
The terms of lease vary. The usual lease is for one-half the crop, the owner furnishing one-half the seed and fertilizer and plowing and placing the land in a fair condition for planting; the renter furnishing one-half the seed and fertilizer, supplying all labor in planting, cultivating and harvesting the crops and preparing the same for market. Where the land is remote from the village, or is of poor quality, or unimproved and without a dwelling, the owner usually furnishes all the seed and fertilizer, the tenant supplying the labor and receiving one-half the crop. Few Italians pay a cash rental for the following reason: The onion crop is very uncertain; it may be destroyed by high winds, hail, heavy rains, or drought, and the Italian renter does not care to risk the money involved in a cash rental.
Practically all of the first immigrant settlers in Canastota secured land in an uncleared and undrained condition, and it required much labor to get it into condition for cultivation. The land was really a swamp covered with brush, and with trees from 3 to 6 inches in diameter. First, ditches had to be made for draining, brush and trees removed, stumps pulled, and decayed roots and logs which were embedded in the soil had to be dug out. Those who made purchases had expended most of their savings on the cash payment, and while the work described above was going on, a living had to be provided for the family. To furnish support the head of the family worked on the railroads or farms and gave all his spare time to his own land. In the meantime the wife and children were busy burning brush, grubbing out trees, and digging the smaller ditches. Americans did not have much confidence in the immigrants in the early days of the settlement, and it was hard to secure credit. Supplies had to be paid for in cash, and settlers had to practice great economy to make both ends meet. After the first crop had been produced conditions were better, although often it was very hard to meet payments. From time to time some have had a partial or total failure of crops, and the year following such disaster has been hard. At the present time most of the older settlers are well to do, and few have to seek work to keep the family through the winter. Those who now purchase uncleared land do not have the obstacles to overcome that the first settlers had, as there are now Italians in business who will make advances to the settler until he produces a crop.
PROGRESS OF COLONY.
The early settlers all rented homes in Canastota, and it was several years before any began to purchase residences. As is generally the case, all lived in the same part of town. As the settlement