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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.
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 45° 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.