In my research on Rhode Islanders’ wartime gardens, I expected to find precedents for school gardens, for community gardens, for public gardens, and for women and children going to work at local farms. I was surprised, however, to learn about the number of allotment gardens that local manufacturers provided for their workers.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the National War Garden Commission saluted the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company for establishing 30 acres of war gardens in Providence in 1917. Today I found a Providence Journal article announcing the kickoff of the B&S gardens–nearly 600 25′x80′ and 25′x100′ plots on and around Pleasant Valley Parkway. The company obtained, plowed, harrowed, fertilized, and staked the plots. The newspaper reported, “What is now a big, barren lot of land, is expected, within a few months, to become a huge field of potato plants and blossoming bean stalks. Here hundreds of employes [sic], aided by the company by which they are employed, will do their ‘bit’ for the country along agricultural lines and at the same time provide themselves with a generous supply of potatoes or beans for the next winter.” The photo depicts a worker and family preparing their garden in May 1917.
Several Rhode Island manufacturers provided land for free and materials (like seeds, fertilizer, tools) at cost to their employees. My running list through 1917 includes Stillwater Worsted Company; Manville Company; Wanskuck Company; Goddard Brothers; B&S; Pawtucket Rendering Company; and Slatersville Finishing Company.
It was a win-win situation for employee and employer alike. The employee received a free plot of prepared land; free or cheap supplies; food for their family; and an opportunity to support the war effort. Did the worker also get work time to garden? Not sure. The employer received the gratitude of their workers; control of their workers’ leisure time (more time in the garden = less in the bar or the union hall); stronger and healthier workers; and enviable public relations for their support of workers and the war effort.
Workplace gardens were common in Rhode Island and throughout the states during World War I. Know of any other examples, past or present?
Entry filed under: community gardens, factory gardens, food, gardens, Providence, urban agriculture, vegetables, War Gardens, wartime gardens, worker gardens. Tags: Brown & Sharpe, community gardens, factory gardens, Providence, Rhode Island, urban agriculture, War Gardens, worker gardens, World War I.