Here in the USA, before we had Social Security, poorhouses were, for many, the only social safety net*. Most common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were often situated on the grounds of a poor farm on which able-bodied residents were required to work.
Poor farms - also called Town Farms-
were county- or town-run residences where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. They were generally under the direction of one or more elected or appointed "Superintendent[s] of the Poor."
Most were working farms that produced at least some of the produce, grain, and livestock they consumed. Residents were expected to provide labor to the extent that their health would allow, both in the fields and in providing housekeeping and care for other residents. Rules were strict and accommodations minimal.
Poor farms were based on the U.S. tradition of county governments (rather than cities, townships, or state or federal governments) providing social services for the needy within their borders. Following the 1854 veto of the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane by Franklin Pierce, the federal government did not participate in social welfare for over 70 years.
The poor farms declined in the U.S. after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935, with most disappearing completely by about 1950. Since the 1970s, funding for the care, well-being and safety of the poor and indigent is now split among county, state and federal resources. Poor farms have been replaced by subsidized housing such as public housing projects, Section 8 housing and homeless shelters.
In Canada, the poorhouse, with an attached farm, was the favoured model. According to a 2009 report by the Toronto Star, "pauperism was considered a moral failing that could be erased through order and hard work". The oldest government-supported facility of this type that is still standing (now a museum), is located in Southern Ontario between Fergus and Elora. The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge was opened in 1877 and, over the years, housed approximately 1500 deserving poor, including those who were destitute, old and infirm, or disabled. The 60-bed house for inmates was surrounded by a 30-acre industrial farm with a barn for livestock that produced some of the food for the 70 residents and the staff and also provided work for them. Others worked in the House itself. A hospital was added in 1892. The nearby cemetery has 271 plots. In 1947, the House was converted into a home for the aged and in 1975 the building reopened as the Wellington County Museum and Archives, one of the National Historic Sites of Canada.
Of course this sentence is embeded with many controversial topics around labor, equity, justice , capitalism, economy, compensation, resource allocation and the 'isms' connected to them. Our decision to keep this sentence simple is not meant to minimize or ignore the faulty premises the sentence implies or the value of clarifying them. Our goal is to put forward an idea: revisiting the town farm model as a way of working towards re-imaging a social safety net... a network of neighbors.
While we perhaps find our rapidly changing society disorienting and divisive, we have at least one significant thing in common: we are neighbors, we have chosen to live in this particular PLACE.
Another commonality we share: should some event take place that isolates us from the systems we rely on, our neighbors are likely to be the ones we rely on and support to survive whatever that event is.
It would seem that proximity might afford us the opportunity to be a default safety net for one another. The agricultural traditions of this place we've chosen for ourselves lend themselves towards embracing this opportunity. Thankfully, we are in this pocket of the planet that isn't facing many of the hardships that other communities face: warfare, environmental catastrophe, urban blight, dictatorships..
from this vantage point it can be easier to tell that, for all of our differences we essentially want the same thing: we want a place to live according to our ideas and values, we want to earn fair compensation for the work we do, and to be rewarded for the skill, effort and talent we have fostered in order to do our work. we want people in our lives we value and want people in our lives who value us. We want to eat, play and rest ....//