Dairy Farm Lessons

A boy from the Bronx recalls a summer working on a dairy farm and what he learned.


| April 2015



The E.J. Louis farm

The E.J. Louis Farm dates to at least 1929.

Photo courtesy Raymond Glassman

Due to the extreme shortage of farm labor during World War II, many teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 volunteered to work on farms through the Farm Cadet program administered by the New York Department of Agriculture in the early 1940s.

When I read Leonard Rue’s article (A Year to Forget) in the August 2014 issue of Farm Collector, my experiences in the Farm Cadet program came back to life. Just as Rue described, the dynamics of the “hired man” farm labor force went through significant change during the war years.

We were recruited for the program in our high school and through other sources. The program was a huge success and still exists, in a modified form, today. Cadets were expected to work on a farm for a specified period of time, ranging from a few weeks to two or three months, depending on the assigned farmer’s requirements. First-year cadets in New York were paid $1 per day, plus room and board. The cost of transportation from home to farm and back was paid by the employer.

In 1948, I was a 15-year-old student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in New York City. I met the recruiter, Mr. Foltz, through a classmate who had worked on a farm the previous year. To me, the idea of getting out of the city for the summer and getting paid a dollar a day was manna from heaven.

Off to the farm

So, on the day after school let out for the summer, a classmate and I boarded the train from Grand Central Station to Utica, New York. From there, we traveled to the dairy farm of Ed and Edith Louis in Herkimer County, outside of Utica. I was extremely fortunate to be assigned to that farm. As I learned later that first summer, not all farms and farmers were created equal. Some kids were treated terribly under extremely difficult situations.

The Louises had no children. We were treated like their own family. At the mid-morning break, we ate ice cream made from milk (mostly cream) from their Jersey cow. Mrs. Louis prepared three big, delicious meals a day, accompanied by farm-fresh milk from the dairy.