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with a rush; American farmers took it up; better methods were found by experience; several varieties were tried, until pepper growing became an art as well as an industry.
To raise peppers well they must be started early in hot beds. As soon as the plants are well rooted, the ground warm, and the danger of frost over, the plants are set out in rows, either by hand or machine, in the same manner as sweet-potato plants. Hoeing, weeding, and clean cultivation are given during the growing season. One very seldom sees a weedy pepper patch. Late peppers are set out about July 1; they can be picked but once, late in the autumn, whereas the early peppers produce from the middle of July until frost nips the plants. One ordinary family can take care of about 4 acres of peppers. A good many have 5 to 10 acres of them. A rather high average yield is 400 barrels per acre. Some do not raise more than 200 barrels per acre.
Early in the season peppers are sold by the bushel hamper, and the man who has a very early crop realizes good returns. July 10, 1909, they were selling for $2.50 per hamper in New York to which place nearly all peppers are consigned. While the price is above $1 a barrel they go forward in hampers, but the price soon declines, and barrel shipments make up the bulk of consignments after the first two or three weeks.
Practically every barrel is shipped to commission men in New York, many of them Italians. At Newfield a young Italian, who has a farm in the neighborhood, is acting as agent and endeavoring, he says, to get a square deal for the shipper. Several attempts have been made to form a cooperative shipping association, but none have succeeded. The demand for peppers comes largely from the Italians themselves and in 1908 and 1909 there was a decreased demand, said to be due to the emigration of Italians to their native land. The large exodus in the years mentioned produced a decided reactionary effect on the consumption of peppers, hence the reduced price.
To raise this vegetable successfully requires a fertile, sandy loam. soil, with a clay subsoil, if possible. Light, loose sands that raise good sweet potatoes are not well adapted to peppers. Given a soil with some "body" to it, it must be well tilled and well fertilized with barnyard manure. Most growers use both barnyard manure and commercial fertilizer. About one-half a ton of fertilizer is used. The barnyard manure is shipped in by the carload from Philadelphia and costs $2.50 per ton delivered in Newfield. Some farmers use several carloads every year. This, of course, must be hauled from the station, a distance of at least 2 miles, over good roads. The commercial fertilizer is rich in potash, and costs about $24 per ton. Lime is also frequently applied broadcast; the manure and fertilizer are distributed in the row or hill.
Counting all expense of labor, fertilizer, and marketing, it is doubtful whether peppers can be raised for less than 75 cents a barrel, even with a 400-bushel crop. Once raised, anything received over actual cost of marketing decreases the loss, of course.
Several varieties are raised, late and early "sweets," "hots," small pickling, and other sorts. There are few pests that menace, frosts seldom cut off the crop in the fall, while shipments are profitable, and, if carefully tilled, a fair crop is usually secured.
When the culture first began, hand labor was employed almost exclusively. Now modern plows, harrows, planters, and cultivators are used, and while the Italian still employs the hoe much more than does the Jerseyman, he uses the cultivator much more than formerly. The family, with some day labor and occasionally a monthly hand paid $16 and board, does all the work of the season.
The other crop, monopolized by the Italians, is Italian beans. The Italian bean, growing pods much like pea pods, is an importation from Italy and has much the shape of the Lima bean. The demand for them is not great, but about 4,000 bushel hampers are shipped annually from Newfield. A few go forward from Vineland; 2,000 hampers are shipped from Malaga. Other products of the farm shipped from Malaga and Newfield are "pickles" (cucumbers), blackberries and strawberries, and sweet potatoes. About one-third of the pickles, one-half of the berries, and two-thirds of the sweet potatoes are shipped by Italians.
THE ORIGIN OF THESE ITALIANS.
There are not very many North Italian immigrants in the settlement; most of them seem to be Sicilians or Neapolitans. They have not proved as capable of taking care of themselves as the North Italian, but they have been farmers a shorter length of time. One of their number, a man of property and intelligence, is their counselor and advisor. Their helplessness in the hands of commission men or fertilizer dealers is pathetic; but, for the matter of that, few Jerseymen have been able to get certain and just returns for the produce they ship to commission houses.
Some of the Newfield Italians are said to be suspicious and fearful, and some are inclined to be quarrelsome, but they live up to their contracts, and real-estate men and bankers at Franklinville and Clayton say that in hundreds of dealings not one dollar has been lost. No one hesitates to give them almost unlimited credit. Many of them ask credit at the stores, and buy fertilizers, machinery, and supplies on their personal notes, drawn for three or four months at 6 per cent. These are always paid. Even store accounts, sometimes delayed in settlement by sickness or bad crops for a long period, are, without exception, paid as soon as the money comes in hand. In this respect their credit accounts are considered more certain than those of most Americans.
EFFECT OF THE SETTLEMENT.
This settlement, economically considered, presents a very different significance from the original Vineland colony.
Near Newfield the Italians came into an old, exhausted agricultural region at a time of depressed agricultural conditions. The old agriculture was no longer possible; newer, more intensive, specialized culture had not begun. They took up the old places, established accidentally a new industry, and for the time being saved the region to agriculture. They are still taking up farms, and the Jerseymen are leaving. Some of the younger Americans, appreciating the necessity of better methods, have gone into poultry, cucumber, and fruit raising,
and are doing well. They gain by superior intelligence, foresight, and resourcefulness what the Italian wins by sheer hard labor, dogged perseverance, and cheap living. Most careful observers, who have watched the ingress of Italians from the beginning, feel that the movement will continue; that the Italians have saved the situation, and that they will continue to outcompete the Jersey farmer.
The Italians live in the old houses of the former owners. Some have acquired the houses and land (sold for taxes) of an abandoned Jewish settlement established fourteen years ago at Ziontown. A few have rebuilt, built new, or repaired and repainted. Most of them have done nothing to keep up the old homes. But the old trees, the lawns, and the shrubbery remain. To many of the farmsteads wagon sheds and poultry houses have been added. A great number have built the outdoor, brick beehive ovens of southern Italy. The wagon shed is in imitation of the American farmer.
Notwithstanding the dilapidated and unkempt buildings, there is a fair measure of prosperity evident. Their American neighbors are the fittest" who have survived severe competition, and the Italian is imitative. As a whole, they do not own as much property as the Vineland Italians but they are slowly forging ahead, and may some day rival the neighboring settlement at Vineland.
HAMMONTON, NEW JERSEY SOUTH ITALIAN BERRY FARMERS.
Perhaps even better than the colony at Vineland, the flourishing settlement of South Italians in the vicinity of Hammonton, Atlantic County, N. J., shows the possibilities of the southern European immigrant in agriculture.
The town of Hammonton, situated on two lines of railroad, the Pennsylvania and the Reading, just about midway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, is a real oasis in a waste of sand and lowland which includes a large part of the southern and southeastern parts of the State. For a distance of about 10 miles, its center between the stations of Winslow Junction and Hammonton, the railway traveler rides through a succession of little berry farms with acres on acres of vineyards, and rows on rows of blackberries, dewberries, and red raspberries, planted right up to the doors of the little houses, and stretching away on every hand.
This little section, something less than 10 miles square, has long been known as Little Italy. The state census of 1905 gives Hammonton a total population of 4,334 persons, of whom 1,233 are enumerated as Italians, and 2,875, or two-thirds of the total, as Americans. Of the 2,875 perhaps one-fourth are native-born children of Italian parentage; on this calculation there were something like 2,000 Italians of the first and second generations living in Hammonton in 1905, and getting a living mainly from the land. The tax roll for 1908 enumerates 450 persons of Italian origin paying taxes in the township; 82 of these pay poll tax only, and 368 are taxed on real estate owned, either town lots or tracts of agricultural land.
With the exception of Vineland, N. J., where the location and soil are more favorable in certain respects, we have here the largest Italian agricultural colony in the United States.
The light, sandy soil of this whole region, in its wild state apparently worthless, is, after clearing and subduing, admirably adapted to small fruits, certain varieties of vegetables, grapes, pears, and peaches. Grapes, bush fruits, and strawberries are raised by nearly every Italian farmer. Some have peach and pear orchards, and many raise considerable quantities of sweet potatoes, cucumbers, or peppers.
The farms are small, the median Italian farm being a little less than 12 acres. Very few contain more than 50 acres each. Those who have farms of 5 acres or more are able to make a subsistence on their land. Few can handle more than 25 acres in berries without a good deal of outside help.
Here there is a more or less compact settlement of more than 450 families, with a few scattered outlying groups, on some of the poorest