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Adjusting Our Lives

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Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

There are about 130,000 Jews, or three per cent of American Jewry, living in rural territory, most of them engaged in agriculture. Farm occupations have become in the past thirty years increasingly attractive for thousands of families among the Jewish immigrant population.

Jewish farmers pursue all types of farming and are found in practically every part of the United States. But the bulk have taken to poultry, dairying, fruit and truck farming, and are located in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—not far from the metropolitan centers, near the best markets. Accordingly, they have not felt the effects of the depression as severely as did the farmers of the “hinterland,” far away from large centers of population.

The second generation of the Jewish farmers in America has proved particularly successful in a few specialized branches of agriculture (tobacco, poultry, etc.), towering high above the average farmer. Also in Canada we find over 1,000 Jewish farm homesteads with a high degree of economic success.

EXPERT GUIDANCE AVAILABLE

Farming may offer a haven to many Jews who have been displaced or “declassed” by economic or social forces, such as chronic unemployment, technological changes in industry, anti-Jewish discrimination, and so on. Agricultural economists, moreover, believe that this is a good time to go into farming. Values are lower than they will probably be when the turn for the better comes. When all is said and done, the economic prospects for the desirable movement to the land depend, however, on experienced direction and expert guidance.

Happily, our farmers are assisted in many ways by the Jewish Agricultural Society. Its Farm Labor Bureau provides employment for American Jewish boys who become farm hands as a stepping stone to a career of independent and intelligent farming. Again, the Society gives advice to farm seekers, provides protection against fraud in farm purchases, supplies farm loans as well as student loans and scholarships for Jewish boys in agricultural colleges, and brings through its Yiddish – speaking agronomists and Yiddish publications, instruction to the individual farmstead.

Furthermore, the Jewish Agricultural Society maintains agricultural evening classes for city workers, a purchasing bureau, a rural sanitation service, and provides guidance in farm cooperation and community activities. In a word, to quote from a recent article by its directing head, Gabriel Davidson, “it aids the farm aspirant, the established farmer and the farm family.”

THE PROBLEM OF CREDIT

Besides trained experience, farming requires a capital investment for a homestead, equipment and operation, while at the present time the number of those who possess sufficient means of their own to undertake the venture is pitifully small. Again, city banks with which Jewish aspirants for a farm career are more or less familiar have no credit facilities of an appropriate kind.

The only way, therefore, in which Jews can be placed on farms in appreciable numbers is through the extension of credit by an agency that is able and willing to assume certain inevitable risks. Such losses, needless to add, would be more than offset by the saving in costly forms of relief. They would be vastly compensated through building up a strong Jewish farming element in America. This is the principle on which the Jewish Agricultural Society operates.

Unfortunately, its resources are insufficient to establish any large number of new farmers and at the same time to carry existing farmers over this great depression.

NEW WAYS OF FARM LIFE

In addition to farm experience and capital, as conditions upon which economic success and ultimate satisfaction depend, conscious planning is required. Several newly devised modes of farming, to suit the social and economic circumstances of the Jewish people in America, have of late been carried into effect.

Thus an agro-industrial plan of settlement has aimed at bringing the Jewish farm closer to industry. City workers in New York, with the aid of the Jewish Agricultural Society, have been settled on small farms within commuting distance of their shops. A bridge over the gulf between farming and the city life is thus created. Although this beginning of a farm career would not involve big sums, the possibilities for the proper person to become in the course of time a straight farmer are obvious, while also his family is in the meantime likely to be fully adjusted to the new way of life.

Subsistence farming, of which so much is made now, aims at the raising of food for family sustenance only, thus making for a rather low standard of living. Such a plan, nevertheless, may appeal to a number of Jews, enervated by unemployment and insecurity, as a means of physical survival.

When all is said, farming is more than a mode of making a living, it is a way of life. So, for example, most difficult for the former Russian-Jewish city dweller is the transition from the time-honored diet (meat, herring, tea) to a food of a more natural and nourishing kind (milk, eggs, vegetables). Only gradually the established habits become renounced and forgotten. Apace with this change, the Jewish farmer, formerly given to one-crop production, takes to much more promising types of cultivation—mixed farming, truck gardening, poultry and dairying. This is a handy means to obtain fresh food for his household over and above the cash income from his produce.

Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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