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[Page 576]

Jewish Farmers

by Yerakhmiel Morstein

Translated by Ellen Stepak

Ivaniki was, as is well known, a kind of “rest and recreation” town of Pinsk. All those who could afford to would rent a cart in summer and move their goods and their families to this village for a change of air. Ivanik was a center for Jewish farmers and the seat of the Jewish agricultural cooperative.

In addition to the Jews who dealt vicariously in agriculture, as lessees of land from the estates of noblemen, who raised cattle, geese and fished for a living, there were about one hundred families who made their living from agriculture, gardening and cows. It is true that for the seasonal work, they would hire peasants, but mostly they did the work themselves, specialized in branches of agriculture, and regarded this as their life's ambition.

The Yelinski, Feldman, Lusovski, Shapira, Rubakha and other families established themselves, built homes, purchased equipment, and were owners of orderly farms and enjoyed blessings from their labors.

At the initiative and with the assistance of the I.K.A. and Ort companies a cooperative was established, which united all of the Jews who dealt with farming in Pinsk and the vicinity. Its task was to loan money to members to purchase seeds, other materials and farming equipment; and to help market their produce. Likewise it provided professional guidance to all of the members together and individually, and promoted interest in agriculture, encouraging Jews to work in agricultural fields – particularly in raising fruit trees and beekeeping – as a way of supplementing their income. For this purpose, the plots adjacent to their homes in town were used, especially in the small towns of the region.

The agronomists of these companies would visit from time to time and help with advice and guidance. At the head of the cooperative was a manager of the committee elected by the membership.

The produce was marketed mainly in Pinsk and partially in Warsaw, where in the cucumber season, several train cars full were sent. Because the growers would carefully select the produce before marketing, the demand for Pinsk cucumbers was especially great. The cucumbers which were not marketable, were used for seeds. Thanks to the professionalism of the members, the seed industry developed. Aside from supplying seeds for high quality cucumbers for gardeners, seeds also provided additional income.

Some of the members also innovated the use of greenhouses for growing several kinds of vegetables before the season actually began, and in this manner supplied vegetables to the market in advance of most of the other farmers.

Because of their high price, these vegetables only made their way to the tables of the well-to-do, but the mere fact of supplying vegetables before the season made a great impression on Jews and non-Jews alike....

The inhabitants of Ivanik – one of the few agricultural colonies of Poland, where all of the inhabitants were Jewish – were also members of this cooperative. And for this reason, their circumstances were better than those of their Christian neighbors. Their farms were more varied in their produce and in addition to corn and cattle they also grew quality fruit trees and bees for honey.

All of the work was done by themselves and the families of the farmers, and the Jews of Ivanik had a reputation for being strong and healthy, like the goyim.

The farmer Hershl Patashkin, who reached a ripe old age (he boasted that he could remember the Crimean War), would, until his final days, take his horses to pasture, while making himself a cane of pinewood. When he felt that his end was near, he called for his extended family, asked for a glass of wine, and thus departed from this world, in which he had lived for over a hundred years. [The Crimean War took place in the years 1853-1856-ES]

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