Vacant Lot Cultivation

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In the hard times of 1894, Mayor Pingree, while riding over the vacant land around Detroit, saw the connection between idle lands and idle hands. He secured the permission of some of the owners of the land, and offered to the people on the City Charity pay-roll the use of three-quarters of an acre each. Nothing was supplied except instruction, seed, rough plowing, and the land; yet in one year this plan reduced the charity pay-roll by about 60 per cent. The cost to the management was about three dollars and sixty cents per family.

In 1895, a committee took up similar work in New York City, under the care of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and its example was followed the next year by about twenty other cities and towns. Much of the land then used is now rented out to cultivators, and the increase of employment and increased speculation in land which followed improvement in financial conditions made this form of relief less available in the following year.

Typographical Union No. 6, of New York City, later set up a farm for unemployed printers, and thereby greatly reduced its pension and "out-of- work allowances. " It was given up, however, owing to the impossibility of securing the use of any land near New York City, and to a change of control of the Union. It points the way, however, to the resource of Trades-Unionists to keep themselves during strikes or scarcity of work.

Philadelphia has persisted in Vacant Lot Cultivation for nine years, and in 1905 had over eight hundred families, men, women, and many children, cultivating quarter acres or less per family, of waste land, on which they raised an average of 850 of crops per quarter acre. Some make $200. Besides this the Association has a co-operative garden and farms some land "on shares."

In Copenhagen the Vacant Lot Cultivation is carried on under the supervision of the Government. It has so developed that thousands of poor families raise their entire year's supply of vegetables with the exception of potatoes.

On Sundays the whole family will go off to their quarter-acre farm and have a day's outing. Near the gardens the Government has provided a pavilion in a grove for dancing. The people are free to enjoy themselves, subject only to certain restrictions made by the superintendent for their common good.

The time should not be far off when the prisons will have school gardens so that convicts may learn how to support themselves independently, unaffected by their previous history.

  • Bolton Hall. "Vacant Lot Cultivation." Social Progress. Josiah Strong, ed. New York: Baker and Taylor, 1906. 288-289.