a chapter from
Stories of New Jersey
written by the
"In exchange for a crowded tenement, a pleasant house and garden; for a cluttered city street, sunny fields and cool green woods; for an ill-lighted, stuffy workroom, a modern glass and concrete factory set in the open country -- these and the opportunity to share in the profits of their own labor are the advantages enjoyed by the group of families that has joined the Jersey Homesteads, a cooperative colony near Hightstown.
"The colony occupies 1,275 acres of beautiful rolling farm land and forest five miles southeast of Hightstown in Monmouth County. A factory is the center from which spread out, fanlike, the homes of the workers, the stores and the school. A wide belt of farm land and forest belonging to the colony encircles the community. This insures freedom from the encroachment of industrial or commercial activities.
"The colony was started by the Department of the Interior of the Federal Government, at the suggestion and under the sponsorship of a group of prominent men interested in social betterment. It was designed as an experiment in the decentralization of industry, to enable workers to live in pleasant homes, near their work, with enough land on which to raise some of their food, and so supplement their incomes. The colonists have organized all the work of the community and the administration of its affairs on a cooperative basis.
"Like Brook Farm, the North American Phalanx and other experiments in communcal living, Jersey Homesteads is designed to find a simple and happy solution for the complexities of modern industrial life.
"Construction was started in May 1933 under the Resettlement Administration. In August of the next year the first families moved in. In planning the colony it was decided that 200 families or about 1,000 people would provide all the workers necessary to run the factory, farm, school, store, post office, etc.
"The greatest care was used in selecting the colonists. First of all they had to be of good character, and each worker had to be expert in his particular field, whether he be farmer or hat trimmer. Second, everyone had to pass a rigid health examination. Finally, each family had to be able to contribute $500 toward financing the venture.
"The colony is run on the same democratic principles as a club, each member having only one vote. To date only two families have dropped their membership.
"At present the garment factory is the center of the colony. It is designed to furnish jobs for 160 garment workers making men's, women's and children's clothing. The workers are all members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union or the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and are paid according to the union wage scale.
"The factory is a one-story structure of glass, steel and concrete, sleek as an airplane. This air-conditioned building, one of the most modern garment factories in the United States, cost $95,000. It is planned to provide the most efficient operation consistent with the safety and health of the workers. There follow in successive steps around the building the receiving platform and room, the stockroom, the cutting room where 75 to 150 garments are cut at one time, the underpressing, the finishing, the final pressing, the finished stockroom, and so back to the shipping room, which is shared with the receiving room. The factory has a capacity of 1,500 coats and suits and 1,000 dresses a week.
"One corner is devoted to hat making, with a capacity of 200 to 300 dozen hats a week. There are also a shop meeting room, a director's room and retail department. The association maintains a showroom and designers in New York.
"During the first year, 1936-37, the factory disposed of its output through the New York market. The following year they distributed through consumer cooperatives in Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England. This experiment proved successful enough to warrant setting up an organization, composed of representatives of the regional cooperative groups and one representative from the workers, which has taken over the management of the factory as well as the distribution of its output. In this way the consumer, through his regional board, is taking his part in controlling the production of the garment he buys and is sharing proportionately in any saving that is effected. The factory turns over to the regional bodies any money that remains after the expenses of manufacturing have been met. This money is turned over by each regional group to the local consumer coooperatives, after deducting the cost of distribution. The consumer, in turn, receives a rebate from his local group, in proportion to the amount of his purchases.
"The workers' homes are good sturdy examples of modern architecture, for the most part one-story and flat-roofed, designed for efficient, comfortable and gracious living. Windows reach from floor to ceiling. Each house has a living room, dining room,kitchen and three or four bedrooms. All are equipped with hardwood floors, gas and electricity, electric refrigerators, oil burners, and are air-conditioned. There is an attached garage and a workroom for garden and carpenter tools. A plot of ground no smaller than 100 by 300 feet surrounds each house, enough space to allow each occupant to grow whatever flowers or vegetables he desires. The homes will be paid for over a period not exceeding 30 years at a cost of $18 to $24 a month.
"A space of about 500 feet between the backs of the houses is ploughed, sown and cultivated by community owned machinery. The families have decided on the vegetables which they all want. These are grown and cared for by the community, but the produce belongs exclusively to the family on whose land it is raised.
"The cooperative farm of about 500 acres gives work to six members. It has been so successful that wages of $25 a week have been paid the year round and a considerable amount returned to the credit of the whole colony. The produce has either been sold to other members or disposed of through a farmers' cooperative auction market in Hightstown. The quality of the vegetables has been praised, particularly the Irish potatoes, which in 1936 werejudged second best of all raised in Monmouth, Mercer or Middlesex Counties. The first year's crops showed a profit of $17,000 after repaying a Government loan of $26,000. During the planting and harvesting seasons the women help in the fields. When work is slack in the factory the coat makers and milliners join the farm workers.
"A cooperative poultry project has been started with 3,000 chickens. This gives work to two members of the colony. The colony has also acquired a dairy which is run cooperatively like all the other community projects.
"A consumer cooperative store owned by all the members as consumers is run on the same principles which govern other such ventures the world over. The savings were 8 cents on the dollar after the first four months of business. The young people of the colony opened in the pring of 1938 a small cooperative tearoom which was needed to serve the many visitors to the colony.
"The two utiliies which serve the community cooperative and which eventually will be owned by them --- water supply and sewage disposal -- are models for their size and have attracted the attention of engineers from all over the country.
"A fine school building with a capacity of 500 opened in the fall of 1937; in addition to the usual subjects the school offers training for future workers in the colony. A nursery school is conducted in one of the old farmhouses that stood on the property. A community center has been established in a farmhouse, and the factory is used for movies and dances on Saturday evenings.
"Jersey Homesteads, now incorporated as a borough with its own mayor and council, welcomes visitors interested in studying this new adventure in social and industrial planning."
Created April 6, 2002. Updated 24 June 2008.