Publication: Liberty

Full Citation

  • Title The Fight for the Forgotten Man
  • Author Howe, Louis
  • Publication Title Liberty
  • Collection Liberty Magazine
  • Date Saturday,  Sept. 17, 1932
  • Volume 9
  • Issue Number 38
  • Page Number 18
  • Place of Publication Rye, NY, United States
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Liberty Library Corporation
  • Copyright Statement © Liberty Library Corporation.
™ Fight for the Forgotten Man The comfortable farmhouse now oc¬ cupied by Fred and his family. What Governor Roosevelt's Back-to-the-Farm Program Is Accomplishing, and the Particular (3ase of Fred the Blacksmith Louis Howe d) Fred, successful "subsistence farmer," with two of his boys t Bros, photo and their special pride- Photos by E. \V. Logan -real live horses! f organizations it has given the necessary financial aid. Each dis¬ trict takes care of its own people. The interesting discovery has been made that a large number of city families sprang recently from the soil. Men working :n office buildings, at building construc¬ tion, or road work, left farms for the lure of city prosperity and city life. It is this type of man that is being offered the oppor¬ tunity to go back to the land. THERE was a blacksmith named Fred X. Of the 428 families who have been put out on farms, Fred X and his family are consid¬ ered the prize exhibit in proof of l Th The little girls on Fred's reclaimed farm. Don't they look healthy? Harry L. Hopkins, chairman of New York State's Tem¬ porary Emergency Relief Commission. ent mother. Investi¬ gation brought out the fact that the man had been born and raised on a farm. He wanted to be a city blacksmith; in those days there were enough horses to make such a trade profitable. - Fred eventually went to the city. In good times he made a livable wage; then bad luck and illness closed in on him. He lost his job, lost even irregular work when the de¬ pression came along. That day when he brought his little girl to the welfare bureau for glasses his family was living in the squalor of a city slum, eating the cheapest kind of food and not enough of that. Gutters and ash cans provided toys and amusement for his undernourished children. Not very far outside the city was a 175-acre farm that had been lying idle for three years. The house, a comfortable two-story affair, badly in need of paint, was dreaming in the sunshine amid green fields of the days when there was joyous life and human happiness there. A flower garden was so overgrown with rambling weeds that it was impossi¬ ble to believe the rosebushes and val¬ ley lilies had survived — but they had. An apple orchard was still bear¬ ing bounteously. The neglected barn had treacher¬ ous flooring. The implements were rusty and broken. The whole place cried out for the capable hands and practical mind of a man who under¬ stood farming and was not afraid of work. And so it became the simple, obvious thing to bring Fred X and this neglected farm together. That was in April. And now? Cultivation has re¬ placed desolation. Waste fields are already producing. The old house rings with the laughter of little chil¬ d hlthd ll h for the first time in their (Reading time: 13 minutes 55 seconds.) CC IS. T APOLEON lost the Battle of Waterloo because j^J he forgot his infantry. He staked too much ^" upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present administration in Washington pro¬ vides a close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army. These unhappy times call for the building of plans that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." That is the high light of the now famous " Forgotten Man " speech delivered by Governor Franklin D. Roose¬ velt last April. The " Forgotten Man " no longer exists. While the country has been concerning itself with more spectacular problems, Governor Roosevelt has for the past three months been giving his personal attention to this man. How to restore him to a self-supporting basis was the problem Governor Roosevelt set out to solve. His first step was to call a special session of the Legis¬ lature and demand an appropriation of $20,000,000 to be placed at the disposal of a Temporary Emergency Relief Commission of the State of New York. At this psychological moment the governor's atten¬ tion was called to an editorial in Liberty in which the use of abandoned farms was urged as a possible solution of the unemployment problem. Farm-bred himself, the idea instantly caught the governor's imagination. He called in the executive secretary of this newly created or¬ ganization, Harry L. Hopkins, now its chairman. " Why can't we put some of these unemployed family 18 men on abandoned farms ? " he suggested. " It will get them out of the cities, and in many instances enable them to be self-supporting and no longer a burden to the state." _ The commission was impressed by the obvious practica¬ bility of making a vast aggregate of waste land productive and at the same time affording a large number of unem¬ ployed men an opportunity to make an honest living. Today there are approximately 428 of these men and their families living on former abandoned farms. The farms themselves were located a year and a half ago, when the reforestation policy called for a survey of waste land. It remained only to find out which ones were best suited for cultivation. A true lover of the country, Governor Roosevelt had always disliked the sight of an abandoned farm. Some¬ thing of this deep-seated resentment must have crept into his words when he outlined in another stirring speech his plans by which a large number of unemployed men might once more become self-supporting and self-respect¬ ing. In Monroe County, for example, the survey showed 317 idle farms, but after this speech 110 families who owned such farms voluntarily went back to the homes they had left for the city. In almost every emergency for which special funds are supplied there is waste of money; many mistakes are made. Not so with the governor's back-to-the-farm pro¬ gram. It is working out simply and efficiently. Not one penny of the appropriated fund is being thrown away. The commission turned over to local charities and welfare bureaus the job of deciding who among their dependents were best suited to farm life and work. To these local pp the merit of Governor Roosevelt's practical plan. They are typical. Here is their story: There came one day last fall to the welfare bureau of an upstate city a man holding a pale, thin child by the hand. " She needs glasses," he explained, " and I have no money. She didn't pass in school; they say it's her eyes." Such a modest request was quickly granted, and father and child disappeared for a time. But the welfare bureau knew that he would appear again. He did. Frequently. Fred X wasn't the usual type of charity case. For the first time in his life he was being compelled to seek, help for his wife, three boys, two girls, and a depend- dren, healthy and really happy lives. In the kitchen a sweet-faced mother bakes and scrubs in happy contentment. Down in the barn a grateful man is going about the once despised chores. A pair of blue- denim overalls has replaced the shabby suit that had be¬ come a badge of failure and of despair. He looks—he is —a new man. He can now hold his head up. He has hon¬ est work to do. Interested in finding out for the governor at close hand just how his experiment was working out, I made a trip out to this place. The grandmother of the household was sitting on the porch when we drove up. Peace and contentment lighted up her features. Inside, the noonday meal was in prog¬ ress. The children were crowding about the stove. " They are always hungry out here," the mother said happily. " But we have plenty of milk and that helps out." " Do you like it here ? " I asked her. " Like it ? " she laughed. " Why—it's heaven! I have a lot to do, of course, but it's so quiet and clean I somehow never get tired like I used to. I guess it's because I don't worry about the children any more. It's been fine f th Btt h for them. Betty has gained fifteen pounds in six weeks, and Jane is getting fat, too! " Jane was the little girl for whom the welfare bureau had been buying extra milk in the city because she was so frail. The husband and fa¬ ther came in. His over¬ alls, his hands were grimy, his forehead damp with s w e a t—h o n e s t sweat from honest labor. " I've been working," he explained. It was not an apology. He wanted us to come first and look at his barn. The cows were the pride of his life. He pointed to a half-finished concrete floor with trenches at the side, laid according to sanitary requirements. " I was working on that when you came," he said. " I want to have more cows and sell milk, but the law says you must have a clean barn. I've spent a lot of time clean¬ ing the place out and fix¬ ing things up. I repaired all the tools—lucky I was a blacksmith and could do it. And I've built a milk house, too, with the regu¬ lation cooling vat and tilt It' i ventilators. It's come in mighty handy, my being able to do things like that—but I learned it years ago, nineteen years, to be exact." Four cows were grazing in a distant field. Closer at hand were four calves. He pointed to one. " That's a thoroughbred," he said impressively. "I bought it for a dollar. Some day it will be a good cow." " But my horses, daddy! " an excited little voice clamored at my elbow. " I want the man to see my horses. Don't you want to, mister? " I DID. And presently two old horses were brought in from the yard. They had seen better days, but to Jimmy they were the most important thing on the farm. With the exception of an occasional peddler's dilapidated horse in the slum street, these were the first horses he had seen, the first he had ever touched. He pressed his brown little face against the neck of one. " Let's go upstairs now," the father suggested. " I want you to see the nice brood room I've fixed." It was warm and clean and sunny up there. The walls had been freshly whitewashed. " I'm going to raise chickens real soon now," he told me. He wanted us to see the garden in the orchard. The potatoes were up; green lines of lettuce, turnips, beets, and radishes showed against the rich earth. " And when we get more seed we'll plant more," said the wife, who had joined us. " Show them your watermelon plants, Fred." The watermelon plants were under glass in crude but effective hotbeds. The entire family was as excited over 20 the growth of these plants after a recent ram as they would once have been over the unheard-of extravagance of a movie. One of the boys left us, riding bumpily but successfully on a homemade bicycle, a fishing pole slung across his back. " Eddie made that himself," his mother said proudly. " He got the parts out of ash cans on our street back in the city, and in junk piles." It was an excellent bicycle, considering its origin. A boy who is smart enough to do that, I thought, deserves a chance in life. Now he has it—a real and good chance. S hd thll Th So they all. There was a bright wholesome- ness about the children, an inquiring eagerness that city life dampens in the very young. They were going, the mother told me, to a white school- house not far from the farm. " And when school is over they come straight home," she sighed in re¬ lief. " Before, I never knew where they were. I never knew when one of them would be brought home to me dead. You know what city -traffic is!" W E' went back to the house and sat on the porch. The husband brought out a big pitcher of cool fresh milk—the first bit of hospitality he has been able to extend a visitor in years. Now they were all truly " at home," where they be¬ longed. For the first time in years they had security. Happiness. " Nothing can set that family back now," de¬ clared the secretary of the local welfare bureau, as we drove back to town, " except, of course, serious illness. We are " teaching them how to stay well, too." It is that part of the program that is going to make a success. Putting dependent city families out on farms is only the beginning of Governor Roosevelt's back-to-the-farm plan. Even though they may know how to farm and aren't afraid of the work, they need help of a definite and practical kind for some time, and this the governor's commission is watching closely. In many cases it has cost the state no more, and some¬ times less, to send a whole family out on a farm than it previously cost to keep them in the city. Often the rent of £l farm for a whole year is no more than one month's rent in the city. In some cases the farm owners have let the farms go with the understanding that they will be relieved of payment of taxes. The local welfare bureau pays them out of the funds given it by the commission. Sometimes the new tenant can pay the rent. But in any case the essentials cost less than in the city. In three cases chosen at random from the files the cost of aiding a family of nine in the city for one month was: Groceries . . . $44.08 Lights and gas 2.52 Rent 20.00 Fuel 6.10 Shoes 3.23 Total . . . $75.93 The cost of aiding a similar family that had been sent out to a farm, over a period of two and a half months, was: Groceries . . . $31.60 Shoes .... 3.62 Total $35.22 This last amount does not include rent, as the farmer himself was able to assume that expense. The aid given was necessary only for the first two and a half months, until some of the crops had matured. The local welfare organization provides all the neces¬ saries with which to start the farm operating and pro¬ ducing. This includes seed, tools, live stock—though many of the available farms already have a few cows or horses or chickens on them and the owner is glad to be relieved of the expense of feeding them. There is nothing haphazard or indiscriminate about the type of people being sent out to these farms. City- bred people with no knowledge of farming are not being thrust out on the land and told to earn a living from the soil. Nor are farm-bred people who dislike the country and farming being used in this experiment merely to get them out of the city and off the city charity pay rolls. The main requirement is some actual farming experi¬ ence, a natural liking for the country and farm life, and a willingness to work hard. They must understand that they will have to strive to earn a living on the farm, even though given assistance, the same as they would have to strive in the city. Families are not being sent back to farms in wholesale lots. The commission is feeling its way carefully. One member states that he does not expect the experiment to prove a success this year—or even next. IVTEVERTHELESS, there are certain facts that must be ^ regarded as significant. Since last April some of the " subsistence farmers " have assumed their own rent. They tell us that they will not need any more assist¬ ance this summer, perhaps not even next winter. They are growing enough vegetables for the table and are sell¬ ing milk and butter. Their wives expect to can enough food to last until spring. In one district twenty families were sent out on farms, provided with enough food to last two months. Some time has elapsed since the expiration of that period and they have made no further request for help. In a way, the farming that is being done by these sub¬ sistence farmers is nearly as primitive as farming methods when the Pilgrims landed in this country. No expensive machinery is being bought for them. Many are making their own implements. The old New England, Western, and Southern farming idea is being followed in many districts, in which labor is being exchanged in¬ stead of money. The chairman of one of the local relief committees told me that some of the subsistence farmers had complained about the equipment provided them. " I haven't got a tractor," they would say; " I haven't got seed; I haven't got this or that." " Well, neither had your forefathers before you," the chairman replied. " But they had courage. Haven't you courage, too? Can't you swap a little labor for some seed ? Can't you go to your next-door neighbor and ask him to lend you his horse on trust? You've got to get your living out of the ground now—so get busy." And they have. In many cases the subsistence farmers are improving the value of land and property. What we have done in New York State is only a step toward what the governor would like to see accomplished in every state in the Union. He has by no means offered it as the solution of the unem¬ ployment problem; it is only one branch of the needed relief. Is it a success? Everything points to the affirmative. But whether or not the plan is carried out on the elabo¬ rate scale the governor anticipates, at any rate it is send¬ ing back home, back where they belong, men who never in the first place should have left farms, who never be¬ longed in the city. THE END