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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 10. The Chance For Laborers And Small Farmers
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Our Italy - Chapter 10. The Chance For Laborers And Small Farmers Post by :freebie Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2743

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Our Italy - Chapter 10. The Chance For Laborers And Small Farmers


It would seem, then, that capital is necessary for successful agriculture or horticulture in Southern California. But where is it not needed? In New England? In Kansas, where land which was given to actual settlers is covered with mortgages for money absolutely necessary to develop it? But passing this by, what is the chance in Southern California for laborers and for mechanics? Let us understand the situation. In California there is no exception to the rule that continual labor, thrift, and foresight are essential to the getting of a good living or the gaining of a competence. No doubt speculation will spring up again. It is inevitable with the present enormous and yearly increasing yield of fruits, the better intelligence in vine culture, wine-making, and raisin-curing, the growth of marketable oranges, lemons, etc., and the consequent rise in the value of land. Doubtless fortunes will be made by enterprising companies who secure large areas of unimproved land at low prices, bring water on them, and then sell in small lots. But this will come to an end. The tendency is to subdivide the land into small holdings--into farms and gardens of ten and twenty acres. The great ranches are sure to be broken up. With the resulting settlement by industrious people the cities will again experience "booms;" but these are not peculiar to California. In my mind I see the time when this region (because it will pay better proportionally to cultivate a small area) will be one of small farms, of neat cottages, of industrious homes. The owner is pretty certain to prosper--that is, to get a good living (which is independence), and lay aside a little yearly--if the work is done by himself and his family. And the peculiarity of the situation is that the farm or garden, whichever it is called, will give agreeable and most healthful occupation to all the boys and girls in the family all the days in the year that can be spared from the school. Aside from the ploughing, the labor is light. Pruning, grafting, budding, the picking of the grapes, the gathering of the fruit from the trees, the sorting, packing, and canning, are labor for light and deft hands, and labor distributed through the year. The harvest, of one sort and another, is almost continuous, so that young girls and boys can have, in well-settled districts, pretty steady employment--a long season in establishments packing oranges; at another time, in canning fruits; at another, in packing raisins.

It goes without saying that in the industries now developed, and in others as important which are in their infancy (for instance, the culture of the olive for oil and as an article of food; the growth and curing of figs; the gathering of almonds, English walnuts, etc.), the labor of the owners of the land and their families will not suffice. There must be as large a proportion of day-laborers as there are in other regions where such products are grown. Chinese labor at certain seasons has been a necessity. Under the present policy of California this must diminish, and its place be taken by some other. The pay for this labor has always been good. It is certain to be more and more in demand. Whether the pay will ever approach near to the European standard is a question, but it is a fair presumption that the exceptional profit of the land, owing to its productiveness, will for a long time keep wages up.

During the "boom" period all wages were high, those of skilled mechanics especially, owing to the great amount of building on speculation. The ordinary laborer on a ranch had $30 a month and board and lodging; laborers of a higher grade, $2 to $2 50 a day; skilled masons, $6; carpenters, from $3 50 to $5; plasterers, $4 to $5; house-servants, from $23 to $33 a month. Since the "boom," wages of skilled mechanics have declined at least 25 per cent., and there has been less demand for labor generally, except in connection with fruit raising and harvesting. It would be unwise for laborers to go to California on an uncertainty, but it can be said of that country with more confidence than of any other section that its peculiar industries, now daily increasing, will absorb an increasing amount of day labor, and later on it will remunerate skilled artisan labor.

In deciding whether Southern California would be an agreeable place of residence there are other things to be considered besides the productiveness of the soil, the variety of products, the ease of out-door labor distributed through the year, the certainty of returns for intelligent investment with labor, the equability of summer and winter, and the adaptation to personal health. There are always disadvantages attending the development of a new country and the evolution of a new society. It is not a small thing, and may be one of daily discontent, the change from a landscape clad with verdure, the riotous and irrepressible growth of a rainy region, to a land that the greater part of the year is green only where it is artificially watered, where all the hills and unwatered plains are brown and sere, where the foliage is coated with dust, and where driving anywhere outside the sprinkled avenues of a town is to be enveloped in a cloud of powdered earth. This discomfort must be weighed against the commercial advantages of a land of irrigation.

(Illustration: GARDEN SCENE, SANTA ANA.)

What are the chances for a family of very moderate means to obtain a foothold and thrive by farming in Southern California? I cannot answer this better than by giving substantially the experience of one family, and by saying that this has been paralleled, with change of details, by many others. Of course, in a highly developed settlement, where the land is mostly cultivated, and its actual yearly produce makes its price very high, it is not easy to get a foothold. But there are many regions--say in Orange County, and certainly in San Diego--where land can be had at a moderate price and on easy terms of payment. Indeed, there are few places, as I have said, where an industrious family would not find welcome and cordial help in establishing itself. And it must be remembered that there are many communities where life is very simple, and the great expense of keeping up an appearance attending life elsewhere need not be reckoned.

A few years ago a professional man in a New England city, who was in delicate health, with his wife and five boys, all under sixteen, and one too young to be of any service, moved to San Diego. He had in money a small sum, less than a thousand dollars. He had no experience in farming or horticulture, and his health would not have permitted him to do much field work in our climate. Fortunately he found in the fertile El Cajon Valley, fifteen miles from San Diego, a farmer and fruit-grower, who had upon his place a small unoccupied house. Into that house he moved, furnishing it very simply with furniture bought in San Diego, and hired his services to the landlord. The work required was comparatively easy, in the orchard and vineyards, and consisted largely in superintending other laborers. The pay was about enough to support his family without encroaching on his little capital. Very soon, however, he made an arrangement to buy the small house and tract of some twenty acres on which he lived, on time, perhaps making a partial payment. He began at once to put out an orange orchard and plant a vineyard; this he accomplished with the assistance of his boys, who did practically most of the work after the first planting, leaving him a chance to give most of his days to his employer. The orchard and vineyard work is so light that a smart, intelligent boy is almost as valuable a worker in the field as a man. The wife, meantime, kept the house and did its work. House-keeping was comparatively easy; little fuel was required except for cooking; the question of clothes was a minor one. In that climate wants for a fairly comfortable existence are fewer than with us. From the first, almost, vegetables, raised upon the ground while the vines and oranges were growing, contributed largely to the support of the family. The out-door life and freedom from worry insured better health, and the diet of fruit and vegetables, suitable to the climate, reduced the cost of living to a minimum. As soon as the orchard and the vineyard began to produce fruit, the owner was enabled to quit working for his neighbor, and give all his time to the development of his own place. He increased his planting; he added to his house; he bought a piece of land adjoining which had a grove of eucalyptus, which would supply him with fuel. At first the society circle was small, and there was no school; but the incoming of families had increased the number of children, so that an excellent public school was established. When I saw him he was living in conditions of comfortable industry; his land had trebled in value; the pair of horses which he drove he had bought cheap, for they were Eastern horses; but the climate had brought them up, so that the team was a serviceable one in good condition. The story is not one of brilliant success, but to me it is much more hopeful for the country than the other tales I heard of sudden wealth or lucky speculation. It is the founding in an unambitious way of a comfortable home. The boys of the family will branch out, get fields, orchards, vineyards of their own, and add to the solid producing industry of the country. This orderly, contented industry, increasing its gains day by day, little by little, is the life and hope of any State.

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