Mayor Hazen Pingree and the Potato Patch Plan of the 1890’s
Detroit Mayor Hazen S. Pingree
From Reform in Detroit – Hazen S. Pingree and Urban Politics
By Melvin G. Holli
Excerpt Page 70:
During the second summer of the depression (1894) Pingree launched his “potato patch plan,” which, as a work relief measure, has been described as one of the original contributions of the nineties. The Mayor’s scheme envisioned the cultivation of vacant lots by the city’s unfortunate, who were, in many cases, but a few years removed from a peasant agricultural economy of Europe. Since Detroit’s poor commission was near insolvency and the city treasury almost empty, Pingree called upon the churches to contribute funds for the purchase of ploes, implements, and seed. “the Mayor proposes to find out if those elegant churches are only for show or for doing some real good,” a Pingree aide told a reporter.
Most of Detroit’s clergymen either ignored or ridiculed the plan. The paster of the fashionable Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church, for example, sarcastically asked his congregation to “give liberally and pray that potatoes might grow as had the … [Mayor’s] head and then there would not be a single hungry child left in Detroit.” The city’s churchmen contributed a paltry $13.80. Shortly thereafter Pingree began to advocate the repeal of the tax exemption upon church property.