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After having carefully plowed and cultivated his land the Italian sets out his plants, which are home grown, in August to November; these produce fruit in March or April. As a rule he keeps his plants only two years, after which time he plows up the bed and sets it out with the spring-grown plants. Pine straw, placed on the plants in January, is used as a mulch to protect them when a spring frost threatens the locality and to save the most profitable berries. The plants are set in rows at the rate of 12,000 to 14,000 plants per acre. About March 20, when the spring days grow warmer and the sun brightens, the activity in the berry field begins.

Early in the morning, before the dew is off the leaves, the Italians with their wives, children, and hired pickers are in the fields gathering the fruit. Each picker has a picking stand holding 4, 6, or 8 baskets. These stands are sometimes made with short legs to keep the tray off the ground and prevent injury to the fruit. As soon as the trays are filled they are carried to the sorting shed. Generally this is a small house built of rough lumber, used at night as a sleeping room for the hired pickers and during the day as a place to sort and pack the berries in crates for market.

In these packing houses the berries are poured from the baskets upon a sorting table (a square frame covered with burlap) around which sit the older women, who sort the berries. The soft and bruised fruit is discarded, and the hard red berries are placed in pint, quart, or unmeasured baskets, as the case may be. In filling the baskets the first or bottom layer of berries is thrown in carelessly, but the top layers are carefully graded and packed with the choicest berries. After this the baskets are packed in light wooden crates, containing 24 baskets each, in which condition they are ready to be shipped to the Northern markets.

The berry season usually extends over two months, from about March 20 to May 20. For the first two weeks of the season the Italian depends on his family for help in picking. But as the days grow warmer and the sun stronger the local Italians are unable to pick the berries as fast as they ripen, and hundreds of extra hands are needed. This help is supplied from New Orleans and consists mostly of Italians and their entire families who are out of work or who temporarily abandon their usual occupations in order to take employment in the berry fields. Many of the Italians in Independence have friends and relatives in New Orleans, who leave the city and move into the country for a sort of vacation in strawberry time.

Many of these pickers go home to the city Saturday night, returning Monday morning. At these times the railroad provides extra coaches that are attached to regular trains, exclusively for carrying the berry pickers to and from the berry fields. They are a happy group of people who go back and forth to work each week. They carry with them numerous musical instruments, which some of them play very skillfully. There is much singing, shouting, and light-hearted laughter, and all appear care free and happy.

Day after day the pickers-men, women, and children-toil in the hot sun gathering basket after basket of fruit at the rate of a cent a pint. Some of the children make a dollar a day, sometimes more, but many of the men and women are expert pickers and can earn $2 or more a day. The pickers are paid at the end of each week.

Berries are the principal food and are eaten along with Italian bread. In the field as little clothing as possible is worn, since the Italians dress for comfort rather than for appearance. As many as 500 pickers are employed when the season is at its height, and it has been these pickers that have contributed largely to the permanence of the colony.

After the berry season the farmers immediately begin operations in preparation for another crop of berries for the coming year, hence they have little time for other occupations. Some farmers go to the sugar plantations about October, but it is usually to the detriment of their farms, which require attention even then.

Cabbage, beans, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes are the principal vegetables raised by the Italians, but they are used only for home consumption.

The dairy interests of the locality are slowly awakening, but the Italian has taken no interest in that line. The Italian farms are too small to keep many dairy cows, and the application of the manure obtained, although it is a decided benefit to the land, impairs the keeping qualities of the strawberry; commercial fertilizer is used almost entirely on this crop. For these reasons the Italian has not the same interest in dairying as the general farmer who desires to improve his grass and corn lands.

MARKETS AND MARKETING FACILITIES.

The transportation facilities are excellent, for Independence is situated on the main line of the Illinois Central Railroad, that runs from New Orleans direct to Chicago. Ten trains pass through the town daily, and by these perishable produce may be sent northward. Perhaps the bulk of the berries go to Chicago, but St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Paul, Omaha, Sioux City, and other large cities receive a share. New Orleans takes what might be termed the “seconds,” or the berries that will not stand long shipments.

With the growth of the trucking interests in the South the system of refrigerator cars has improved greatly, so that now the Illinois Central furnishes and handles the cars under a system that enables the farmers to place their crops before the buying public quickly and in the best of condition.

When the strawberry season is at its height several cars loaded with berries are shipped each day. The express company handling the shipments leases refrigerator cars, specially constructed with ice boxes in each end, holding from 6 to 10 tons of ice. These are filled with ice at McComb, Miss., before the cars are sent to Independence to be loaded with berries. After being loaded they are reiced at the next icing station, and as much ice is added en route as may be necessary to protect the berries. The icing keeps the temperature of the car between 45o and 55° F.

Early in the season the refrigerator cars are attached to the regular mail trains, and their departures are so timed that the berries will arrive at their destination in the early morning so that they may be distributed to the wholesalers before daylight. The time of delivery in Minneapolis, Buffalo, Detroit, and Omaha is the third morning after shipment; in Chicago, the second morning; and in New York, Boston, and Denver the fourth morning after shipment. As the season advances, through express trains of refrigerator cars are put on. These trains run on passenger schedules and enable the shipper to place his fruit on the market in the least possible time.

Before the season opens, some of the berries are shipped north in refrigerators. These are wooden boxes about 3 feet long, the same in width, and 27 feet high. The walls are 2 inches thick. Running through the center of each box is a galvanized compartment about 3 inches wide for holding ice. The crates of berries are placed on each side of this compartment; at the top of the box is another galvanized pan also filled with ice. The boxes are iced each day, insuring the safe delivery in marketable condition of berries that have to be four or five days on the road.

The actual outlay per 24-pint crate for harvesting and preparing the berries for market, provided the grower has to have all the work done outside his family, is as follows: Crate and baskets ....

$0. 12 Picking berries, at $0.01 per pint.

. 24 Sorting and packing berries..

.08

. 44 Therefore if a farmer has all his picking and packing done by hired help his expenses will average 44 cents a crate. The Italians whose families are sufficiently large to gather their own berries save the labor item of 32 cents a crate.

Total.....

EXPRESS RATES.

The express rates on berries between Independence and the cities which are the principal markets for the crops were furnished to the Commission's agent by Mr. F. S. Knouse, route agent of the American Express Company, New Orleans, in February, 1910, as follows:

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a All carload rates are based upon a 16,000-pound minimum car, or a car containing 960 24-pint cases or crates.

o The rate per case here given is the minimum figured on 960 cases to a car, the rato increasing as the num. ber of cases in the car diminishes.

Heavy express charges and unsatisfactory returns from the berries sent the northern commission men caused the Italians to form, in January, 1909, an association for their own protection. This society, chartered under the laws of Louisiana, is known as The Independence Farmers' Association. It has a capital stock of $3,000, represented by 3,000 shares of the par value of $1 each. No stock can be held by any one who is not actually engaged in growing strawberries unless such stock has first been offered for sale to the other stockholders and the purchase refused.

The purposes of the association, briefly stated, are the selling and marketing of strawberries, fruit, and vegetables produced on land

controlled by members of the corporation in the manner and on the price and terms most advantageous to the members. The management of the corporation is vested in a board of seven directors, consisting of a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, and four other members elected annually. The board of directors elect three of their number to act as salesmen of the produce grown by the stockholders, who bind themselves to sell all of their strawberries, fruit, and truck through the officers of the corporation, and not to make any sales in any other manner except by the written consent of the board of directors. At the time of organization the association had about 225 members, of whom 200 were Italians and the rest Americans. The president, vice-president, and the board of directors are all Italians; the secretary and treasurer are the only American officers. The association is financed by the paid-up capital stock, by the rebates on sales to the commission houses, and by a fixed charge of five cents a crate deducted on account of all berries sold. The actual cost of operation is from 3 to 4 cents a crate.

A member of the association brings his berries into Independence and places them on the platform of the freight house. Here the crates are inspected and checked by the official inspectors of the association, who grade the berries and have authority to reject any berries or packs deficient in any respect. In this way the standard of quality is maintained. The sales agent of the association has full command of the crop after packing; he watches the market and is careful not to overstock it.

Independence is so noted as a strawberry producing center that buyers from the large commission houses in St. Louis, Chicago, and other northern cities go there at the beginning of the season and stay until it closes. The association sells practically all the berries to these agents f. o. b. the cars at Independence. If the entire crop can not be disposed of in this way the balance is shipped to commission houses in various cities, who charge 10 per cent for handling, but they rebate 3 per cent to the association, and this amount goes into the treasury for current expenses of the association. By selling on the platform the farmer gets his money the same day his fruit is sold, and he loses nothing if the shipment does not reach its final destination in perfect condition.

Fifty or a hundred crates may be standing on the platform and a buyer may come up and offer so much a crate.

If the sales agent does not consider the price sufficient he waits until he has a higher offer, which is generally likely to come, for shortly before train time some buyer finds himself 50 or 100 crates short of a carload and is obliged to offer a higher price in order to fill his car.

By shipping and selling through the association the farmer has no occasion for worry after his berries are delivered. The buyer pays the sales agent of the association by check for the berries and he in turn pays the farmer. Those that are not members of the association may sell their berries in the same manner to commission agents, but as a rule the prices they receive are lower. Others of the independent growers ship entirely to commission houses in Chicago and elsewhere. In this event they pay transportation charges, 10 per cent commission, and stand shortage. The association has rooms in one of the business blocks, and during the busy season employs several bookkeepers.

а

One room is equipped after the manner of a country post-office with individual boxes for each member of the association, in which are placed checks in payment for berries sold, market quotations, and other notices.

From March 27, 1909, to May 25, 1909, 236 refrigerator cars of berries were shipped from Independence by the association, and in addition many separate crates of berries were shipped before and after these two dates, of which no record was kept. The recorded sales of the season shown by the books of the secretary are as follows: Number of 24-pint crates (including quarts)....

155, 198 Gross proceeds from same....

$203, 180.37 Net proceeds to members of the association..

$198, 277.36 Average net proceeds of same per crate (24 pints to a crate).

$1.28 Average net proceeds per quart.

$0.101 The difference between the gross proceeds and the net proceeds, or about $1,900, was used for the expenses of the association, about 3 cents a crate. No dividend was declared last year, but a rebate of 1 cent per crate shipped was returned to the members. Therefore it cost only 2 cents commission per crate to the members to run the organization.

The whole strawberry output is not included in the above figures, for a conservative estimate places the entire strawberry business for 1909 at $250,000, 85 per cent of this business being done by the Italians. The first car of berries sold in 1909 brought $1.85 per crate, the last car sold for 87} cents, and the best car of berries contained 672 24-pint crates and was sold for $1.90 per crate.

During January and until the crop is nearly ready for market the association sends out letters to various commission houses telling them the condition of the crops, etc., in this way keeping the buyers interested.a

a The following statement of affairs was issued by the association for 1910: Memo statement of assairs of Independence Farmers' Association, season 1910.

INDEPENDENCE, LA., July 30, 1910. Amount of berries sold, say, 205,925 pints and 29,090 quarts, equaling 264,105 pints, sold for....

$357, 639.76 Paid out to members from same the sum of

342, 070. 40 Leaving in hands of the association treasurer.

15, 569.36 From which amount we have paid out, say: Sundry expenses for office....

$57. 82 Stamps for letters and circulars..

27. 15 Telegrams sent and received..,

81. 30 Stamp and pad for members (shipping stamps).

164. 33 Officers' salaries to July 30, 1910..

1, 201.00 Office clerks during season...

824.75 Loading and bracing 302} cars.

912. 50 Strips for same..

697.50 Scrippers, or manifest clerks in car.

235. 75 Berry sellers on street.....

324. 00 Inspectors at sheds and at depot.

285.00 Street man and car inspector..

82. 50 Chicago correspondent and his telegrams..

130. 96 Stationery, office books, etc...

181. 67 5, 206. 23

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