Working-Men’s Gardens in France
ARTICLES FOR THE WORKERS
BY WILLIAM H. TOLMAN IN CENTURY MAGAZINE
In recent years a form of welfare work among the laboring classes was commenced in Paris. Small gardens were assigned to working-men with the necessary instructions in gardening to cultivate these lots successfully. Many of these men who spent their leisure in dissipation now utilized their time most profitably. The moral effect on the working-men was so great that similar movements have been started in United States.
"THE great value of my littie garden to me has been the fine vegetables it has yielded all Summer, and the good time the children have had in
the open air, but the glasses of beer and absinthe my husband hasn’t taken,” observed the mother of a French workingman’s rather numerous family to an investigator last Autumn.
“Quite right, mother,” echoed a man near-by; “you will never know the evil we men don’t do while we are busy io our little gardens.”
This conversation took place in France, one one of the workingmen’s gardens, a movement for self-help which is growing each year. A similar movement was started in Detroit in 1894, ander the name of the Potato Patch Farms; later carried out successfully in New York and other cities in the Vacant Lot Farms, while to-day Philadelphia is beginning her eighth year of successful effort.
Mme. Hervieu, a chariabie womr.11 in Sedan, tired of aiding the poor by gif is of money, attemped io rouse them to self-help by an offer of doubling any sum of money which they should deposit in the local savings bank. She rented a small tract of land, and said to tb/ poor people, “Now, go to work.”
They did, and, as they worked, the taste for it grew; they kept steadily at it, especially as they knew that the fruits of their labor would belong to them, that the vegetables they raised could be taken to their homes or sold.
Such was the humble beginnings, in 1889, of a little movement, but one so simple and practical that it grew until, last October, in Paris, there was held a Congres of Workingmen’s Gardens, attended by 700 delegates, under the presidency of M. Aynard of France. The organizer of the congress was M. l’Abbe Lemire, and the secretary, M. £
Louis Piviere, a collaborator of the American Institute of Social Service.
In St. Etienne, at the College of St. Michel, there lived a Jesuit well known among the poor of the community, thirty-five years of age, simple-minded, generous, and loyally devoted to his poor. Father Volpete, in the opinion of his colleagues, was the last man in the world to stray out of the beaten paths, to attempt a new idea calling for personal initiative. But Father Volpette realized that the $500 a year which he could spend in charity among the poor in St. Etienne did not go very far toward alleviating the misery and poverty which were so insistent. He heard of the Workingmen’s Gardens, the knowledge of which came to him like a ray of light in a dark place.
In 1894 he rented two lots, dividing them into little gardens; the owner of a stone quarry gave him a third, making in all about twelve acres, which he rented for $70. He divided this among 98 families, comprising 608 persons. Fencing, tools, seeds, fertilizers, water, and incidentals brought the total cost up to $700, representing money aid to each family about $7. In spite of a very dry Summer, the yield of potatoes and vegetables amounted to $1,200, or $12 a family. In reality it was more, as the initial cost of the gardens was heavy for the first year and represented assets that could be carried forward each season.
In 1895 and 1896 three new tracts were added to their other holdings. The expenses were $406, with sales from the crops amounting to $2,085, while it was estimated that each famify had consumed $20 worth of vegetables. In 1896 and 1897 more fields were added, the harvest yielding $3,600for that season.
Filled with joy at the success of the gardens, Father Volpette rented an entire farm about fourteen acres, accepted gifts of others for the season, rented
more small tracts, thus aiding 375 families in all. He did not stop there, but made it possible for the occupiers of the gardens to build dwellings. He started a brick yard and a rural bank. Last year he had 600 little gardens.
In the Autumn of 1903 there were 6,453 gardens in 294 groups, comprising 665 acres. Based on the satistics, 46,144 persons had been reached by these selfhelp workshops.
A movement like this of the workingmen’s gardens, which is now organized in at least 134 cities of France and directed by the foremost men and women, is deserving of earnest consideration. First, it will be necessary to examine details of organization, the conditions under which the workman may obtain a little garden, and its tenure.
I find that, among 134 groups, there are varying kinds of tenure, but those of St. Etienne have often been copied. They are very simple, the cultivator pledging himself to work faithfully, not to labor on Sunday or on the stated fete days, not to sublet his plot without express permission, and to do nothing that will bring ill-repute on the movement.
It is not enough to say to the cultivators, “Here is the land; you do the rest,” for they lack initiative. Tney frequently have no knowledge of the use of tools, the proper preparation of the ground, or the times and seasons for planting. In several instances it was found that the free use of the &«rd.ens was unwise, so a small renta. \w>.s charged, thus developing greater interest at once. At Rheims the cultivator who pays his rental becomes a kind of shareholder.
In general, the cultivation of small vegetables in preference to potatoes and cabbages is encouraged, with an attempt to forestall the cultivation for a commercial object. At Fourmies, if more than one quarter of the plot is cultivated in potatoes, the farmer loses one point in the annual contest. In assigning the gardens, preference is given the fathers of large families. Where there are four children at least, an extra amount of land is given ; at Amiens, a deduction in the rental is made where the children exceed seven; and at Rheims a fam-
ily of thirteen children received the largest garden.
The conditions of rental are a varying quantity, depending on the nearness of the tracts to the city and on other facts determining its value. The average rental for the workingman is $2.50 for a plot of 478 square yards. Many of the committees have rented the lots for from nine to twelve years, thus having time to secure the capital necessary for the purchase of the land, which in turn, can be sold to the little cultivators, who then can begin the construction of a little home on their own land.
To the rental of the land must be added expense of a water-supply, enclosing the tract with fences, and making the divisional lines between the plots. Frequently the city water-supply can be used ; on committee sank an artesian well. Other concessions are made in the shape of manure from stables and other fertilizers; seed is often given, and, in one instance, a carpenter gave his servies in building a gateway for the gardens.
If any person organizes a series of gardens, the control is vested in him; in charitable societies a committee guides the work. The ideal control is direction by the farmers themselves. In the case of Father Volpette, at St. Etienne, the cultivators chose a council on the basis of one member to each group of five families; his special council decides on the expenses, fixes the rules and regulations for admission, and is the permanent committee. The work, as a whole, is regulated by the general council, composed of representatives. At Beaune, the committee consists of the first four prize-winners and their wives; atVersailles, an outside committee designates one of its members to visit each week the gardens, and to confer with the cultivators on the spot, thus tending to the greatest contentment; while at Moulins, an instructor from the free school has a garden which serves as a working model for purposes of practical teaching. Experience shows that one man can superintend thirty gardens. The qualifications are comomn sense and tact, by means of which the sympathy of the workingman must be won over; for it
is a mistake to suppose that the use of a little garden for the Summer implies the surrender of one’s personality.
Every group has a visiting committee, which is largely made up of women, who can render a large social service to their less favored sisters; in fact, they thus recognize the opening up of a new career of usfulness.
Th material results of the gardens vary according to the nature of the soil and the knowledge of the individual cultivator, the nearness of the city, and the season. Based on the returns from ail the gardens, the average yield has been from $9 to to $25 for a plot of 1-llth of an acre. In general, the value of the product is from four to ten times the expense of the gardens. Apart from the money return, the horticultural knowledge is a most valuable asset. The inspector of one group has laid out the work on the basis of a rotation of crops every three years; at Carcassonne an horticultural expert visits each garden three times a month, giving individual hints and advice. On the basis of what he has found he prepares a summarized digest of the work, which is given to each cultivator.
The Horticultural Society at Rheims has a model garden, as an object lesson, with placards changed each month, so that the cultivators may know just what to do; in addition, one of the teaching staff of the society visits the gardens on the last day of the month for personal explanation and teaching. Many of the groups furnish courses of instruction; at Tours the planting of fruit trees and small fruits increases the revenue from the other crops, while the enclosures of the plots at Ohateauroux have served as arbors for grapevines. Bee hives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and even pig pens, show the possibilities of the work.
“The finest flower is a beautiful vegetable,” said one of the cultivators at Tours. But the women are not so material and prosaic, for we see that they set aside a little corner for the cultivation of the “inutilities,” which, however, rejoice the eyes and delight the soul; but even here the practical asserts itself, for often these flowers belong to the simples which occupy a cherished place
in the household pharmacoepia. M. l’Abbe Labeau always reserves a little place for the traditional flowers of Flanders, thus keeping alive a spirit of patriotism.
As the - farm work goes on, better acquaintance results, until the germ of co-operation appears; for the produce of seeds, one group makes a levy of 15 cents on each person; at Tours the committee has proposed the wholesale purchase of potatoes, as well as of seed. The annual contests, with prizes, promote interest. In 1900/ at Beauvais, 100 prizes were awarded; 114 in 1902; and 169 in 1903. The prizes are in money or garden tools, seed, etc., .nough at Beauvais the prize taices uie form of a pass-book in which is inscribed a credit in the National Funds for Savings.
These material results of selfhelp through an earnings capacity, of an awakened and stimulated agricultural knowledge and skill of the by-products of the farm, and of practical co-operation, fully justify the efforts of those who are in charge of the 139 groups. But to my mind the indirect results are what will continue to an increasing ratio, strengthening the moral fibre of the parents, and thus the children, so that society at large becomes stronger and purer by means of the reabsorption of these individuals who have renewed their civic and domestic virtue through contact with the soil.
“The best way that I can show my apreciation for what the gardens have done for me,” said a workingman of Rheims, “is to help any one else who is in need, according to the resources which I have at that time.” Frequently the plots of those who were taken sick were cultivated by their neighbors. A blind man applied to the group at Puy, but they hesitated to give him a garden. “We will help him,” said the neighbors. For three years the blind man had a garden, which was one of the best.
Working on the soil tends to a desire for a permanent settlement, for homebuilding. A gardener in Amiens, a mason by trade, bought a little piece of ground and the materials by means of those “little economies.” so dear to the
French, and built a home. Three houses have been built at Brive on ground which is being paid for in instalments. Father Volpette, at St. Etienne, has helped forward the construction of forty-five houses. Communal houses, or, rather, social centres, are appearing. M. Vellot lias built one at Grenoble, containing a room for storing the tools, a dining-room, and a lecture hall. Every two weeks one of the professors from the university gives a practical talk on the care of children, hygiene, alcoholism, and tuberculosis. “I am compelled,” said the organizer of this group, “to make a kind of popular institute of this building, because, after helping the people to get their daily bread through work on the soil, I feel that I must also help them to get intellectual food.”
A group of the cultivators at Nimes have built a temperance villa, equipped with a library, a lecture room, and a gymnasium.
As a saloon substitute, the workingmen’s gardens are in the front rank. “On my little plot,” said a father of four children, “I have paid for my rent twice; once with the crop I have raised, and a second time with what I have saved in not going to the saloon.”
The garden is a kind of safety-valve, where the man can work off his extra steam. If by chance he lives in one room, he can go to his little plot instead of seeking the distraction which he finds in the saloon. The rapid growth " of tuberculosis, a city disease, is made easier by the unhealthy homes where so often the workingmen must live; in the open air he can overcome that dread disease, if its ravages have not gone too far.
Under the skilful guidance of Father Volpette, a dispensary, a bureau of legal advice, and a labor bureau are in successful operation. Not content with these foundations, he has so extended the original plan that to-day forty-five houses, varying in price from $IC0 to $3,000, have been built by those to whom a little garden was given because they were so poor that they had lost all hope of doing anything alone. The committee in charge of the farms builds the house according to a plan drawn by its architect and accepted by the cul-
tivator; the Fund for Savings pays for the land and the building of the house. These expenses are paid off in from ten to twenty-five annual payments, which include interest and life insurance. The workingman may prefer to build his own house, but he lias no bricks or money. Foreseeing this contingency, Father Volpette has opened a brickyard with a capacity of 5,000 bricks a day, made by fifteen workingmen who happen to be unemployed.
A rural savings-bank on the Raiifeisen-Durand system advances two thirds of the cost, if the workman can put up the other third. Regular payments are made against this advance, which has been secured by a mortgage on the house. A rural savings fund and a cooperative society started in the gardens at Rheims now include the entire workingmen ’s quarter of the city, but they are distinct from the gardens. At Orleans, a society for building low-priced dwellings has been added to the garden group. Seven homes have been built.
In these days of rapid communication, when the cities of the world are fairly elbowing each other, a practical effort finds ready imitators, who may profit by the failures no less than by the successes.
The French industrialists are beginning to make special provisions for little gardens in connection with the workingmen’s dwellings. Notably in this the case with MM. Didot at Mesnil, Menier at Noisel, Bouillon at Lari viere, and by the companies of Mulhouse, Guebwiller, Niederbronn, the mines of Anzin, Lens, and Creusot. Concessions of gardens without houses have just been granted by MM. Mulat et LeGrand at Fourmies, and by Poullot at Rheims. At some of the factories, the company organizes visits to the gardens by the directors, who can thus see for themselves what their men are doing, and then award prizes based on their own observations. At the mines of Lens it was found that the miners took great delight in working their gardens, using their free-time in this way. Their agricultural ignorance of the right time to plant and the best selections of crops have proved such a heavy handicap that
it is now purposed to start a series of practical talks and lectures on these matters.
In almost every country, a little vegetable patch appears alongside the stations, freight houses, and the track. These little gardens have been given to the agents, the trainmen, and other laborers. Within the last few years, the concession of these little gardens to the railway men has made rapid strides. For example, the Northern Railway (Nord) has gardens of from 358 to 598 square yards each for 3,000 of its men; the Eastern (l’Est) places gardens at the use of 2,800 of its trainmen and 820 station agents; on the Southern (Midi) some 2,600 shelters are built, each having attached a little plot of 598 square yards, while 650 station agents and clerks have allotments of from 717 to 837 square yards each. Altogether, this one line sets aside 448 acres. The Orleans Railway not only provides 6,062 of is staff with little gardens, but contributes to this movement at Tours, where 30' gardens are placed at the disposal of the families of the men employed in the stations.
The custom-1 muse officials at Havre cultivate 50 gardens, which are given to them, based on length of service and merit. The same general facts are true of Dundirk. In fact, Dr. Langtry has made a special study of what may be called “Gardens of the Administration. ’ ’ The administration in some parts of France bestows the use of the little gardens on the gendarmes and the keepers along the canals. It would seem unfair to omit the soldiers, so we find that in some of the garrisons agricultural conferences have been organized, so that the soldiers may know something of the art of sustaining life instead of studying all the time of art of taking it. Captain Hardy of the 120th Regiment organized a military garden at Peronne, which is considered a model of its kind. These gardens are very common in the garrisons of Algiers and Tunis. The 4th Regiment of Chasseurs d’Afrique, in the latter city, have
added a pleasure garden to their kitchen garden. The standard of utilities is always rising, because each new commandant wishes to add something to what his predecessor lias established.
Of course there are school gardens, where the little ones may learn the simple principles of agriculture and floriculture. Twenty-two little gardens for apprentices and forty for school children are set aside at Douia. M. Giot has three series of gardens, one in connection with the school, and two others in the workingmen’s plots, where he works with his pupils, for the sake of showing them by example as well as by precept. In addition to all this, he has a model farm on marshy land, in order that he may demonstrate to that neighborhood what it is possible to extract from land of little value, by means of chemical fertilizers. Here and there a church garden is appearing, thus enabling the priest to raise his own foodstuffs, while helping the peasants, the artisans, and other workingmen of his parish to supplement their earnings, to say nothing of the greater hold he obtains over his parishioners, due to his practical interest in their welfare.
The workingmen find the gardens of great advantage in the case of non-employment. An example is cited of one industrialist who placed several acres at at the disposal of his workmen during a period of depression. Along the seaports, the little gardens are being taken up by the fishermen, who frequently spend more than half the week on -the land. If this new movement had become establishd in Britany, the sufcome established in Brittany, the sufdine fisheries would have been greatly alleviated. In any vent, it will always be possible for the women to cultivate a little corner of ground, while their men folk are on their fishing trips.
The congress of those interested in tie plan of the workingmen’s gardens, held in Paris toward the end of 1903, aroused so much enthusiasm that it was decided to bold an international conference at Paris in 1905.