|Men, boys, and women were all called upon|
to do their patriotic duty
Teenage boys were the obvious first target. The Department of Education approved the release of boys age 14 and up from school attendance if they were performing farm labor (girls were also eligible, though it appears that many fewer of them took advantage of the program), and they were encouraged to register as members of the Boys’ Working Reserve (also known as the Farm Cadet Program). The State Bureau of Employment coordinated the placement of boys on farms, working with farm bureau agents and local school districts. The state agricultural schools provided basic training to the boys before they were sent out to work. The boys were supervised by school authorities, who also inspected the job sites and ensured that the workers had suitable living quarters. By September 1918, over 12,000 boys had been placed on farms throughout the state.
New York State also took the rather bold step of creating a program to enlist women farm workers. The Food Commission hired eight women farm labor specialists, whose job was not only to recruit women workers, but to convince farmers that they should hire women. Many farmers were skeptical about women’s abilities to handle agricultural labor, but the fact that they could pay them less than men undoubtedly won some of them over. Women workers had to be at least 18 years old and pass a physical examination, and they were not permitted to work more than 54 hours per week. Like the boys of the Working Reserve, they were carefully supervised, and their workplaces and living quarters were inspected.
|“Girls of Cornell Farm Unit Women’s Working Reserve|
at Work in Hay Field”
|A Tractor School at the New York State College of Agriculture|
In addition to addressing farm labor shortages, the Bureau of Production also provided resources for battling pests and crop diseases, supplied seeds and inspected seed corn and potatoes, and started programs to increase the production of essential commodities, particularly wheat and pork. While most of their work was directed at those who farmed for a living, they also encouraged anyone who could possibly do so to start their own gardens. Since much of this wartime garden activity overlapped with the work of the Bureau of Conservation, we’ll discuss it in more detail in our next post.
“School Cadets Harvesting: State Defense Council Takes Steps to Provide Farmers with Help,” Plattsburgh Daily Republican, September 6, 1917.
“Tractor Use Instruction: School to Be Held in This City December 16-20,” Plattsburgh Daily Press, November 21, 1918
Report of the New York State Food Commission for Period October 18, 1917, to July 1, 1918
Pam Brown, “Farming for the War,” New York Archives v. 11, no. 1 (Summer 2011)