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ITALIAN FARMERS IN CONNECTICUT

New York, 1908 - Any individual or group interested in developing the agricultural districts of the United States would do well to study the Italian contadini as a valuable contribution to the farming industry. Such investigation need not involve a journey to Italy, as there are numbers of Italian truck and fruit farms scattered through New England and in close proximity to New York City, as well as here and there through the South and West. These farms prove beyond any question that as an intensive cultivator of the soil the Italian cannot be beaten. Near South Glastonbury, Connecticut, are about seventy farms owned by Italians. The first pioneer of this interesting colony was John Carino, who came to South Glastonbury sixteen years ago to cut railroad ties for the New Haven & Hartford Railroad. At the end of two years, he had saved enough to purchase a small farm and send for his family. Every member of the family tolled early and late until the place yielded enough income to enable him to buy more land, and now, fourteen years from the date of his first purchase, Mr. Carino owns 1,300 acres, all with the exception of a small wooded portion, tinder the highest limit of cultivation. There are peach orchards, apples, plums and pears. Grapes are grown in quantity, and a variety of small fruits and vegetables. This year, if nothing unforeseen occurs, he expects to market 20,000 bushels of peaches. His eldest two children are attending school in Hartford, and no doubt will go to college later.

Some twelve years ago J. H. Hale (the largest peach grower in New England), of South Glastonbury, decided to employ an Italian, one Luigi Piro, on his place. The neighbors shuddered, and prophesied a tragic end for the entire Hale family. Today this same Luigi Piro is partner with Mr. Hale in a novel orchard. As time passed, Mr. Hale grew more and more to confide in Piro's Judgment, so that when he advised converting a 400-acre lot (which had always been considered by Americans “too difficult to grow anything on”) into a combination peach and apple orchard. Mr. Hale decided to take the plunge. It required a great deal of blasting to dispose of rocks and stumps, but, that accomplished, the soil was absolutely virgin and ideal for fruit growing. Between the apple trees are planted peaches. The space allows for a twenty-year growth of the peach trees, when they will have finished bearing for market purposes. By the time the apples will have matured, so as to require more room, the peaches will be removed. After the product of this orchard has reimbursed Mr. Hale for his outlay, with 10 per cent interest, he will deed one-half of it, or two hundred acres, to Piro. He prophesies that this will be accomplished in less than ten years, and that he and Piro will then each own an orchard worth $50,000 over and above all cost. "Luigi said it would grow'" exclaimed Mr. Hale, "and, by Jove! He is right!"

The natives around South Glastonbury speak well of the Italians as neighbors, although in the beginning they had to make their way against a wall of Yankee prejudice. Their credit is good. They are sober and industrious. They drink only the wine pressed from grape grown on their places, than which nothing could be more wholesome. When they buy a farm, they never rest until the mortgage is cancelled, and then cultivate the ground up to the last inch of its capacity. Their methods are often primitive and laborious, but they take readily to improved machinery. Their houses are clean and places well kept. They are anxious to give their children educational advantages.

At Matson Hill, South Glastonbury stands a little white schoolhouse which will serve as illustration. In Connecticut, the country schools are assessed by the taxpayers of each district so that the apportionment for school tax is voted by the men who pay it. In a New England farming district such as we are describing the results in former years were obvious. The schoolhouse was little better than a ruin. The roof leaked, the windows were broken, and it needed paint. Year after year a meeting was called to consider its restoration, but any such proposition was regularly voted down. Gradually, however, the Italian landowners gained strength, and the moment they controlled the majority vote they demanded a new schoolhouse. Many of them contributed lumber from their farms and more gave their services toward its construction. There are now thirty-two children who attend this school, thirty of them Italians. A young American girl is the teacher. She enjoys teaching the little Italians, and the parents cannot do enough to express their appreciation for the effort she is putting into her work. In the winter, the men turn out and shovel a path for her through the woods, cutting off a detour of about two miles she would otherwise have to walk. And now for the “bogie man”, the treacherous Italian of tradition, concealing a stiletto in one pocket and a bomb in the other, ready to "do" you with one or both on the slightest provocation. Like the “little darky in bed" when you turn down the blanket, I “reckon him not dar.” There are bad Italians, and there are bad men of every nationality, but in no greater proportion. The gentry of Black Hand notoriety confine their attentions almost entirely to fellow countrymen. They are not looking for jobs on farms and seek ever the city and the crowd. As a rule, the Italian, if only treated fairly, is gentle, loyal and very responsive to kindness.

If only a few simple rules are followed there need be no trouble in getting the best results from their labor, and they will prove a valuable asset to agricultural America. But these rules are potent, and Americans will find them well worth their attention. Never try to mix Italians from different provinces. You might better attempt to fuse oil and water. If you wish an agriculturist get a contadino, a farmer. He may have drifted to the city but his place is on the land, and you will find him taking to it like a duck to water. The Italians are gregarious. They prefer to live in little villages, as they do in Italy, while they cultivate outlying plots. The lonely farmhouse has no attraction for the Italian men or women. Their houses need only be of the most primitive construction to begin with. They will be sure to improve them as time goes on. Their forte is intensive farming, so that small acreage near a good market is to their and your benefit. Be careful to select a thoroughly reliable agency, which will assist you in choosing just what you want. Follow these few simple rules and, believe me, you will soon hear the music of golden eagles as they jingle in your pockets, while contact with these sunny-hearted Latins will bring your buried youth bubbling to the surface. The years will fall away by decades, and verily soon will be a boy again, although you may not look the part. At least, this is the result I have observed in men who were most happy in their treatment of the Italian, and who were therefore getting good results in every way.

I can remember when there was a prejudice abroad among Americans which extended to all Italians. Now the ban has been lifted to a certain extent from those who hail from Northern or Central Italy, but the poor Sicilian is still tabooed. The Sicilians, particularly those who come from the vicinity of Palermo, are expert fruit growers. Their great forte is grafting. A friend told me that in Sicily she had eaten six varieties of the citron family grown on one tree, and each fruit had a distinct flavor, and all were delicious.

These people are industrious and clean. They are very clannish, clinging to family connections through endless ramifications.

By Alice Bennet

 

SOURCE:

New-York Tribune, September 27, 1908