Posts tagged ‘factory gardens’
Yesterday, I was catching up on some research at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, which holds 43 linear feet of collections relating to the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company. I’ve mentioned Brown & Sharpe in previous posts, because National War Garden Commission founder Charles Lathrop Pack singled out this Rhode Island firm for sponsoring War Gardens in 1917.
I focused on a dozen of the 43 linear feet: materials related to Luther D. Burlingame and wartime activity. Burlingame worked for Brown & Sharpe as engineer, and he was active in Rhode Island’s environmental movement in the early 20th century. He not only coordinated the firm’s War Gardens during World War I, but he also launched the state’s subsistence garden program in 1932.
In the last section of the last scrapbook in the last box I had requested, I found several items related to Brown & Sharpe’s activities during WWI. The prize was an 1918 article by Burlingame on “Shop Gardening as a War Measure: How Factory Employees Can Help Increase the Food Supply.” Glancing at the sample list of employees who tended garden plots, I saw a familiar name:
That’s my grandfather, Louis Zurier, who worked–and gardened–at Brown & Sharpe in the war years! I was stunned to encounter him on the pages of a magazine article, in a scrapbook, in a box, at a library. There he was, with 14 bushels of potatoes worth $24.80 in 1917. Good growing, grandpa!
For the past few months I have been spending some quality time at the microfilm readers at the central (don’t make me call it Empire) Providence Public Library. The Rhode Island Collection includes a subject index to the Providence Journal. I am grateful to those generations of librarians who typed out article titles and dates and page numbers on catalog cards.
I have found hundreds of articles about WWI-era war gardens, WWII-era victory gardens, school gardens, community gardens, mill village gardens, and the like. And as I spin the microfilm reels to the next relevant page, it’s hard not to get distracted by all the other news and advertisements of the day.
This ad, run in the classified section on 15 May 1917, was a happy find. In 1917, Rhode Island had a case of gardenmania. In addition to all the organized garden programs–school gardens, Governor’s mill village garden contest, factory gardens, demonstration gardens, community gardens, and vacant lot gardens–individual citizens were planting “pocket-edition” gardens in their own backyards. Vegetable gardening was a statewide movement, or as the ad would have it, “a universal planting crusade.” The more I read about the Progressives’ impact on the urban environment in the 1900s and 1910s, the more I think about how it’s time to renew their goals for healthier cities and citizens today.
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?