Sunday, October 23, 2016

Faced With Labor Shortage, Farmers Built Labor Camp and Imported Caribbean Workers, 1944

From the October 1944 issue of The Southern Planter

Smithsburg Farmers Provide Own Labor
If you are looking for a farming community that lost all of its labor to war plants; one where farm owners, not to be out-done, got together, organized a co-operative, bought 3 acres of land, built a labor camp with two dormitories, a dining room, laundry, bathhouse and clinic out of an old C.C.C. camp at a cost of $6,000, and imported 118 Jamaicans to work on their farms, go to Smithsburg, in the magnificent mountain country of Western Maryland, and see with your own eyes how 33 sturdy, thrifty farmers and fruit growers met and solved the worst sort of farm labor situation. The labor camp, now in its second year, is the finest illustration of self-help among farmers that has come to our attention.

To Mark Miller, Washington County’s young, capable county farm agent, must go credit for conceiving the idea of a community labor camp for Smithsburg, and to D.E. Rinehart, local farmer and fruit grower, praise for putting the project across with his neighbors.

“After meeting with our county farm labor advisory committee in Hagerstown and discussing the serious labor situation in our community with Mark Miller,” said Mr. Rinehart, “We called a farmers’ meeting at Smithburg. Mark was there. He outlined the gravity of the labor program—it was to get worse instead of better—and explained the help we could expect from the War Food Administration and the State Labor Office at the University of Maryland, College Park. We organized the Smithsburg Farmers’ and Fruit Growers’ Association with 33 members and set out to construct a labor camp and, with Government assistance, import workers. We raised $6,000 for the venture. This was in late July, 1943. By August 25, we had the buildings up and workers in them. The food we saved before freezes set in that fall, that otherwise would have been lost, more than paid us for the investment,” he went on.

We visited the camp the last of August this year, and talked with laborers, farmers and farm leaders. Lumber and fixture for the buildings were salvaged from an abandoned C.C.C. camp at Fredericksburg, Virginia. “The farmers, after an agreement with the Government, went to Fredericksburg with their trucks, took down the structures, hauled the materials to Smithsburg and erected the buildings. They employed the teacher of home economics at the Hagerstown High School to work out menus with balanced diets, employed cooks, set up a clinic and imported 118 Jamaicans—big, husky Negroes with British accents who want to work and prefer piece payment to work by the day. Piece work gives incentive.

The Jamaicans are paid 40 cents an hour for straight work but prefer to get 18 cents a bushel for picking apples, 8 cents for peaches, 2 ½ cents per quart for cherries, 12 cents for cutting a 96-hill shock of corn, and 15 cents for husking a shock.

The laborers pay the camp $1 a day for meals and 50 cents a week for lodging. A farmer is charged 75 cents a day per man by the camp to pay off the camp cost. Growers haul the laborers to and from their farms. The War Food Administration is assisting with trained personnel in the placement and importation of the workers. By the end of this year’s harvest the camp will be paid for.

And that is the story of one of the most remarkable pieces of farm co-operation to get a job done that  you will find in a day’s travel. Western Maryland people own their farms, and have owned them for generations. They don’t fold up when trouble strikes. They are not that kind of folks. Instead, they get together with their heads, their hearts and their hands—and that combination of farm people will always win. It was the combination that licked their farm labor shortage this time and enabled their food to fight for freedom.

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