3. Excellent Farmers
Memmonite People were living in communities and their properties were easy to distinguish at first glance. With time, when families enlarged, farms were organized in family compounds, frequently within one single enclosure for a group of houses. Inside the compounds, there were no barriers separating individual gardens and backyards. Poultries were not left wandering on the road and porks were kept in piggeries. Mennonite houses looked quite different with a massive architecture inspired by Northern Flemish and German constructions. They had an impressive size when compared to traditional Polish houses. This dimension was caused by the presence of humans and cattle in separated areas but under one single roof. Frequently, in prevention of the recurrent flooding of the Vistula River, barns and grain reserves were also regrouped into this unique building.
In the region of Mazovia, the human-cattle cohabitation was not usual. Polish farmers feared fires above anything and they separated farmsteads buildings around a central court. Cowsheds and stalls were sometime attached to the house but they always had a separated access. Barns and granaries were usually built at a security distance. Mennonite farmers who settled in the hinterland (away from the river) adopted such arrangement. Reportedly, the human-cattle cohabitation in Mennonite houses was sometime unfairly mocked.
The Community principles of the Mennonite also applied to their land organization. Mennonite farmers favoured large single well-tended lots (map below). Frequently, there was a common management with several members of a family working on a same lot. With such community arrangement, Mennonite properties looked very impressive. This rationalization enabled Mennonite farmers to improve cultivation methods. A better crops rotation and a common irrigation system resulted in higher yields of crops.
Prosperous Polish farmers had extensive estates, shaped by acquisitions, marriages and inheritances. Their properties were generally fragmented and scattered into several lots, sometimes with great distance. Other Polish farmers were penalized by the division of land across generations and most of them had to make do with tiny plots. Considering the demographic pressure, land regulations and the extensive tenures of dominant owners, it was very difficult for them to enlarge their holdings.
Mennonite farmers had also developed advanced capacities for in-house cattle husbandry. The forest was covering most of the south part the Kazun-Leoncin area. All the cultivable land was developed. Meadows were rare and there was not many places for open-air pasture. Frequently, Polish children had to lead the cow grazing along the paths, except during the winter season. In many Mennonites farms, enclosed breeding was organized around the year, in spite of the additional work required. Reportedly, their largest cowsheds could host the cattle of several families.
With their legal statute, Mennonite farmers had a social position outside the hierarchy of the rural world. They were not considered as proprietors because most of them did not owned their lands and were submitted to regular duties. They were not considered as sharecroppers either because they benefited from a derogatory regime. Land tenures were secured with long-term contracts. They could be transmitted down several generations and the farming continuity was ensured. Whenever a disagreement occurred, the dispute was settled by a solution proposed by the elders of the Community, without escalation to Justice procedure. Therefore, there was a great stability in land occupation.
Such stability was hardly observed on the Polish side. The consolidation of property rights in legal documents was not generalized everywhere. The transmission of lands, farmsteads and cattle was frequently an occasion of fierce confrontations between siblings. Most of the time, the inability to find an equitable solution caused either detrimental divisions or the loss of the family estate.
The social organization of Mennonite Communities was a strong economic asset. Most Mennonite farmers worked together for a collective benefit. This mutualisation was the equivalent of today cooperatives. Their collaborative strategy made them stronger on the market. Solidarity and cohesion were the buttress principles of their community. Together, they were able to address hardships of bad harvests, prices fluctuations or natural disasters with common rapid and efficient responses. This is another difference from individualistic and bickering Polish farmers.
On this map published in 1930, the land organization of the Mennonite Community is clearly visible. Farming was developed on large single and contiguous lots that were perpendicular to the river. This land rationalization enabled the improvement of cultivation methods and better yields.
Mennonites Deutsch Kazun
Mennonici Kazuń Niemiecki
Holendrzy - Olędrzy
This series is a reminiscence of the Mennonite Community in the Kazun-Secymin area with no historical pretentions. Mennonite People were Polish subjects and Polish citizens as any other members of the Polish population. However, for a better understanding, we use the words “Catholics”, “Poles” or “Polish farmers” to designate the native local population.
"Wan’t emm Winta kracht can buschelt’t emm Somma em Sack".
When you hear the cold in winter crack,
the summer harvest will fill the sack.