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information, 15 came originally from Sicily and 2 from Genoa. Only one came to the colony direct from Italy, the others having lived in other parts of Louisiana for a greater or less period of time following their immigration to the United States.
As stated, the majority of these heads of families were natives of the island of Sicily, and although the Sicilians are considered by many to be among the least desirable of all South European immigrants now coming to the United States, the success that they have made in agriculture in Louisiana and elsewhere will warrant a more careful consideration of their qualifications as agriculturists.
In the spring a great deal of help is needed to gather berries, and the Italians furnished the necessary supply of labor. They have proved the most available as well as the most satisfactory pickers, and not a few of them soon bought land and became owners themselves. Many of the present Italian landowners came to Independence owning nothing, but by the persevering work of the entire family many of them were able, after a successful season, to make a small first payment on 5 or 10 acres of land, and so became their own masters. It was and is now the general practice of the foreigners to pay a small amount down on the land and give a mortgage on the property for the balance, with 8 per cent interest. This mortgage is paid as soon as possible out of the returns from the crop.
The value of the property brought to the locality by the 17 heads of families under consideration was as follows:
Under $50, 3; $50 and under $100, 2; $100 and under $250, 5; $250 and under $500, 4; $500 and under $1,000, 3.
Of the number investigated, one worked for his parents and nine picked berries for a season before they made their purchase or lease. Many instances of Italians who came to the locality and rented land, either on "shares" or for money rent, are noted. When the crop is worked on "shares" the owner of the land prepares it for cultivation, furnishes one-half the fertilizer, one-half the berry boxes, and pays one-half of the cost of picking the berries. The tenant furnishes the berry plants, all the labor necessary for the cultivation of the crop, one-half the berry boxes, and pays for one-half the picking. Each receives one-half the gross returns of the crop. Under this arrangement an Italian with a medium-sized family is in a position, after two or three years of successful crops, to look for a farm of his
The following table shows the condition of land, size of farms, and price per farm of the farms first purchased by fifteen of the families included in the Commission's inquiry:
TABLE 53.-First purchase of land, condition, size of farms, and price paid-South Italians, Independence, La.
An American merchant told about one Italian who, for two successive years, came to Independence from New Orleans with his family and picked berries during the season. The third year he purchased a farm of 12 acres for $1,400, paying $150 cash. That year his berries netted him over $600 and he made a payment of $600 in the fall. The next year he cleared his place of debt and since then he is said to have made and deposited in the bank over $1,500; in seven years this man has made over $2,900, besides his living.
The following statement presents a summary of the present financial condition of the 17 families investigated, and represents in a fair measure the general condition of the South Italians in the locality. shows that 16 out of the total number own their places and that the number of acres per farm and the value of land, buildings, and improvements have increased over the first purchase, the price of land and improvements per acre having increased nearly 100 per cent. Seven of the farms show an average indebtedness of $864 per farm, making the average net value of all property $1,705 per farm.
Farms leased and owned:
Total farms of race.
Average size of farms, acres.
Kind of farms: small-fruit farms.
Total number of acres.
Number of acres tillable.
Number of acres not tillable.
Total value of personal property.
Average value of personal property per farm..
First purchase of land and improvements, number of farms..
Total number of acres.
Average acres per farm..
Average value per farm.
Farms now owned....
a $11, 291 a $753 a $38
Many of the Italians have come to Independence from cities where they have been engaged as unskilled laborers on various kinds of public works. Others migrated from the sugar plantations in the southern part of the State, where they worked as day laborers. In fact, laborers from the sugar plantations were among the first berry pickers who came to Independence. A large number of the berry pickers are merely transients who stay only during the picking season. Before coming to the United States from Italy all but one of the 17 heads of families under consideration (and he was a soldier) were either working as farm laborers or farming for themselves or working
a Not including 1 farm inherited.
on their parents' farms. Removal to the United States caused a change to other industrial pursuits in a few instances, so that immediately prior to coming to this locality only eight were following agricultural lines. The occupations ranged from merchant to laborer in a sawmill. It is significant that as soon as an opportunity presented itself they returned to agriculture.
In the spring of 1909 there were 250 Italian families in the vicinity of Independence, the total number of persons of Italian origin being estimated at 1,100 to 1,400. When it is noted that in 1900 there were but 205 inhabitants in the entire village, which in 1909, including the countryside, numbered about 2,500, the significance of the influx of Italians is clearly perceived. Of the families that purchased land only a few, not over 25 since the beginning of the settlement, have sold their holdings and moved elsewhere, either to the cities or into cotton or cane districts.
SOIL, CLIMATE, AND TOPOGRAPHY.
The land in this locality is flat and low, the portion not under cultivation being covered with forest growth; but the Italians have already done much in the way of clearing up their unimproved buildings. Parts of the area are poorly drained and in early spring the roads are almost impassable after a hard rain. Bridges are seldom found excepting over the rivers, leaving the creeks and small water channels to be forded. Swamp areas are numerous and covered with a heavy growth of cypress, gum, and live oak. Many such tracts of land considered worthless for agricultural purposes by the Americans have been ditched and drained by the Italians and are now returning a prosperous living.
Some of the Italian farms are situated on soil known as the Hammond silt loam, this being a silty or fine sandy loam with an average depth of 15 inches. This soil forms the main part of the pine flats and its drainage conditions are poor. Such drainage is one of the principal factors in successful cultivation. At present comparatively little has been done in this respect, but illustrations of its value are not lacking. The success of many of the farmers in the Italian colony about Independence has been due largely to care in drainage, and the more productive areas along the stream banks serve as natural illustrations. As yet the country is not settled sufficiently to warrant large trunk ditches, but evidently this method should be used."
This soil is very deficient in organic matter and generous applications of fertilizer are necessary to enable the farmer to make a large crop of strawberries. The price of land varies widely. Ordinarily cleared land is valued at from from $45 to $80 per acre, but sometimes it has sold for $100. This is exceptionally high, but the Italian has been able to pay for it. The meadow type consists of low-lying and swampy areas, and much of this is subject to overflow during the winter and spring. The Italians have bought a good deal of this land, cleared it of chestnut, oak, magnolia, and pine, dug ditches, and now have productive soil reclaimed by their own hands.
United States Department of Agriculture. Field Operations of the Bureau of Soils, 1905. [Seventh Report.]
The Monroe silt loam is the most extensive and important soil type found in Tangipahoa Parish. It consists of a silty, fine, sandy loam, with average depth of 12 inches. But few of the Italians are found on this type, as it is more or less scarce in the locality of Independence. The drainage is good; it responds quickly to fertilization, and holds the moisture well during the summer. General truck crops and strawberries do well on this soil, and $200 to $300 profit per acre has been made some years from the berry crop alone.
Independence is situated midway between Hammond on the south and Amite on the north. At these two towns are Weather Bureau stations whose records will serve to show climatic conditions for this locality.
Normal monthly and annual temperature and precipitation, Amite and Hammond, La. [From United States Department of Agriculture Field Operations of the Bureau of Soils, 1905. (Seventh Report.)]
The summers are long, but the heat is not excessive. A southeastern breeze usually springs up after nightfall and gives relief from the heat of the day. The climate is extremely mild during the winter. The last frost in spring occurs from March 2 to 16, and the first in the fall from November 9 to 11. The average growing season is about eight months, and farm work can be carried on during the whole year. Snow does not fall more than once in every three or four years.
The rainfall for the section is very copious. Crops are more likely to suffer from excessive moisture than from drought. Almost tropical rains occur during January, February, and March and often in early April, causing the overflowing of the swamps and other lowlands, and in June, July, and August heavy rains are usual. During the spring of 1909 late frosts and hard rains caused the berry crops to fall off over 50 per cent from the prospective figures made by large growers; but this condition was unusual. High winds are likely to occur during March and April, and an occasional hurricane from the southwest destroys considerable timber and does other damage along its path.
The average farm of the small owners contains about 20 acres, though there are many Italians who own more land and rent part of it. On the other hand, some have farms only 2, 3, or 5 acres in
Of the 17 Italian farmers included in the detailed inquiry at Independence, only one is still renting land. One owns a farm of 80 acres. Six of the farms average 28.08 acres and 9, 16.66 acres each. Less than one-fourth of the area of the 80-acre farm is tillable, and it is valued at $50 per acre. The group of 6 farms referred to have a tillable area of one-half and under three-fourths, while of the group of 9 farms three-fourths or more of the area of each is tillable. average value per acre of the two groups is $75.
Strawberries are the principal and really the only crop produced by the Italian farmers under consideration. This is the crop from which the Italians have made all their money, and for which Independence and vicinity is noted. The Italians, who were entirely ignorant of the methods of strawberry culture when they came here, are now the leading berry growers in this region.
The majority of the Italians raise grain and forage crops valued between $50 and $100. All of the Italians raise and sell strawberries. Of those studied one sold $100 and under $250 worth of strawberries, seven between $250 and under $500, six between $500 and under $1,000, one between $1,000 and under $1,500, and two between $1,500 and $2,000, taking the average of the 1907 and 1908 crops. The following table classifies the farms by values of specified farm products produced and sold:
TABLE 54.-Classification of farms by values of specified farm products produced and sold.
One farmer reported the production of cotton to the value of $240; 15 reported grain and forage crops at an average value of $76 per farm, while all of the 17 farms produced strawberries, the average value of this crop per farm being $651.
Every Italian farmer has from a third to the whole of his tillable land set in strawberries. Ordinarily he divides his land into two parcels, one set in old bearing plants and the other in new ones.