Financial History Issue 113 (Spring 2015) | Page 32

bureau to supervise its program. The city used suburban land rented to it by private owners and had much more limited results. Men were paid wages by the city — not in dividends from their hard work — and only 2–3 workdays were available per week for each person who signed up. Each worker could still make $3–$4.50 each week, but wages were paid in the form of fuel or provisions made available in a “poor store,” not cash. Thus, demand for these positions dried up fairly quickly. “Tilling,” wrote Grant, “became merely a part–time job, not a labor of love.” And, the overall commitment and scope was limited — most times, the foodstuffs grown by the employees were handed directly to the non–working indigent, so there was no profit to be made, and also, the public treasury did not have enough money in it for more investment in seeds and land, limiting the program’s ability to grow. Brooklyn’s mayor, Charles Adolph Schieren, was a good friend and admirer of Hazen Pingree. He visited him in Detroit in January of 1895, in order to learn more about reform measures, and also about the Pingree Plan. In May, Schieren declared that more land than he ever expected had already been donated, and that he expected to raise $5,000 from philanthropists for seeds, equipment and supervision. His office projected the net profit on the farming of 200 acres would exceed $6,000 by the end of the season. “If the average farmer could make half that from 200 acres, he would consider himself rich,” noted the Rome Daily Sentinel. But only a dozen or so families took advantage of the inaugural vacant lot program in Brooklyn, which was then an independent city. The New York Herald blared “Pingree Plan a Failure” around six weeks after the program started. It blamed the poor, noting that even with the advantage of free seed and soil, “the toilers of the tenements prefer to remain watching the sun bake the rear walls and sleeping on the roofs when the nights are unbearable indoors.” Conversely, other papers reported that the problem with Brooklyn’s poor potato farmers was that they found the work so rewarding that they now wanted to move out of the city. Of course, neither of these assumptions was true. Applicants from “Smoky Hollow” and “Darby’s Patch” were few and far Illustration of one of Pingree’s potato patches that appeared in the Buffalo New York Courier, 1897. between, because getting transportation to the plots was difficult. In 1896 and 1897, though, increased numbers of families took advantage of vouchers for the Kings County Elevated Road, which took them safely to plots farther than walking distance from their homes. And while some people found city watchmen intimidating, others were glad to have protection against others stealing the fruits of their labor in the middle of the night. The farmers — many of whom were German immigrants — successfully raised potatoes, onions, radishes, beans and sweet corn. Again, like Rochester, the drawback was that little or no money changed hands: “If the Bureau of Charities…would pay these men 10 cents an hour for their work, and then dispose of the product, both sides could make some money,” wrote the New York Tribune on July 21, 1896. “As far as a mere