BY CAROLYN BOTARI
Special to the VOICE
Cutting asparagus, picking fruit and hoeing potatoes were all farm chores well known to Pelham families. With the call to arms in World War II, a shortage of farm help became alarming. In response to this labour shortage the Ontario Farm Service Volunteer Board was formed. The Department of Agriculture soon began setting up live-in camps for girls, boys, or adults from surrounding communities to fill the need for farm labour.
Young women, 16 years of age and older, were enrolled in the Farmerette Brigade, their work designated as fruit, vegetable and truck farming. Those girls whose high school marks were sufficiently secure to excuse them from the last months of school in spring were the first ones to begin their farm help careers with the cutting of asparagus or transplanting of vegetable seedlings in late spring.
In Fenwick, the Farmerette Camp opened in the spring of 1942 on the Clemens farm, at 445 Welland Road. The Clemens farm was a second-generation farm with rolling acres of fruit trees, woodland, hay field, potato patch and huge family vegetable garden. A driveway curved in from the road to the Clemens house, around a willow-draped pond, then up a hill, to a two-storey unpainted packing shed, which became home to about 40 Farmerettes.
The YMCA from Hamilton was given the task of setting up the camp, staffing, feeding, organizing work schedules and mothering the girls. Army cots and orange crates filled the second floor of the shed. The first floor was divided into kitchen, dining room and small office. A small kitchen staff was made up of kindly neighbours who lived along Welland Road. A small shower and bathroom was also added the back of the shed building.
Most of the girls were initially unused to living away from home and working the 10 hour days of steady bending and stretching. The girls were paid about 20 cents an hour, or 20 cents a bushel of apples or eleven quarts of sour cherries picked. Earnings usually came to $2 per day. They were also charged $4.50 a week for board, and if it was a rainy week, they may have barely earned enough to cover their board for that week.
The girls’ day began shortly after 6:30 AM, when local farm trucks began arriving at the Farmerette Camp to pick up those workers who would were hired to work on other area farms. They planted, they hoed and weeded, they picked, graded and packed apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes, peaches. Over the course of the summer, the girls learned many new skills and were willing to tackle almost any challenge, from greasing 22 points on a new Cockshutt tractor, or grooming a horse, or pitching hay.
As summer ended and the girls headed back home and back to school, they came to know Pelham as a beautiful area of hills, vales, meandering streams and beautiful soil, a true Garden of Eden.
The Pelham Historical Society has put together of new display at the Fonthill Library featuring the history of agriculture and farming in Pelham. ♦
Taken from the accounts of Doris Stringer and Dorothy Frolick, Fenwick Farmerettes.
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