And we can do it again. The last time our financial system crashed and we saw double digit unemployment rates that were comparable to today’s situations was known as The Great Depression. Most of us middle aged people grew up listening to stories from our parents and grandparents about how they survived this period of history. Having heard these accounts we find two things that were critical to the well being of our forefathers.
The main things that created jobs and eventually got the financial sector back on its feet were government sponsored work programs like the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) and WPA (Work Progress Administration). These programs not only provided income, food, and shelter for millions of Americans but also stimulated the economy as local businesses were paid to provide for the needs of these workers wherever they were sent. These types of programs were much more successful than welfare checks and soup kitchens. In my opinion, our present situation would be improved by implementing similar programs as opposed to government bailouts or “economic stimulus packages.” Let us not forget that what is borrowed must be paid back eventually. We cannot simply keep borrowing from the Chinese. We should instead use this historical example of putting good use to the assets we already possess. These civilian heroes of the Great Depression built roads, dams, and buildings that are still in use today. The work was accomplished using mainly hand tools and locally available materials.
The other recurrent theme in surviving The Great Depression was self reliance. Small scale farms and gardens kept food on the table for many families that would have otherwise wound up on standing in the soup lines or on the government dole. This came about due to the fact that in the 1930’s there were still a great many people involved in small scale agriculture. Even those who had moved to the big cities to work industrial jobs were not far removed from the family farm.
My own family history is a perfect example. My dad grew up on the family farm in Cuero, Texas. I remember that he often spoke of how poor they were. In fact, my dad came to associate farming with being poor. So much so that after WWII he went to college to become a professional, eventually earning a doctorate and retired as a professor at Midwestern State University. He never farmed or tended a vegetable garden again.
My mother’s story was a little different. During the Depression, her parents owned a store in Denton, Texas with a soda fountain and small restaurant in back. Although they lived on an average city lot in town, my grandparent’s back yard was one big garden. Undoubtedly this was to help supply the restaurant with seasonal fruits and vegetables but I’m certain this also served the family well. My mom’s memories of those times were that they were able to make ends meet and fared better than most. Regardless, farming and gardening played a major role in the lives of both my parents. My dad may have been considered poor, but at least there was food on the table.
That was then, and this is now. One major difference is that most of us today are at least one if not several generations removed from the family farm. Much of what was considered common knowledge in those days has been lost to a society that has become disconnected from the natural world. We live, work, and move about with heating and air conditioning everywhere we go. Our daily contact with Nature may be just the time it takes to go to the mailbox or drive to work. We have become spoiled by shopping malls and grocery stores that cater to our needs. Many of our children actually believe that all food comes from the grocery store and beyond that haven’t a clue. They also have grown up being constantly entertained by television, video games, cell phones, and so forth.
One of the best ways to get reconnected with Nature, spend some quality time with the kids, and stretch that spending money is growing a vegetable garden. Gardening has many side benefits including physical and mental health. This comes not only from providing fresh, highly nutritional produce but also from the physical labor and satisfaction of seeing your efforts pay off. Besides the obvious savings on groceries, you just might find the cost of health care decreasing as the general health of your family increases. You know that old grind about diet and exercise is actually true.
If our sales at the nursery are any indication, it seems a good part of the American public is catching on. Despite all the bad news concerning the economy this past year we sold more seed and vegetable transplants than ever before.
Another venture we see on the increase is a growing (get the double meaning?) industry known as Community Supported Agriculture. These small but thriving businesses are exact replicas of the old family farms of days gone by with a new marketing strategy. The owners of the farm sell shares in advance for whatever vegetables they intend to produce. If the farm fares well, then the community that supports it has a greater share. If drought, floods, or some other malady strikes then the community suffers that loss along with the farmer. This not only eliminates the need for crop insurance but also gives the farmer good incentive to produce as much as they can. For instance, if crops need to be replanted due to an untimely freeze, the delivery dates get pushed back and the money to buy more seed is already in the bank.
Because this produce is grown and consumed locally the cost of shipping, handling, and packaging is reduced so CSA farmers can compete price-wise with the mass produced fruits and vegetables sold at your local Megamart. CSA farmers grow organically so the health benefits are basically the same as if you grew it in your own back yard. In addition, most CSA farmers have regularly scheduled “farm days” so they can get to know their clients, perfect for getting the kids out for some fresh air.
All of the CSA farmers I know are happy with this arrangement and most are expanding operations. In fact, CSA farmers say they do very little in the way of advertising. Most have all the clients they can handle by good reputation and word-of-mouth. The demand for CSA farming is huge. If you are one of the many people who have lost their job due to the failure of big business, you will not only create a job for yourself and others but also will find satisfaction in adding to the general wealth and welfare of your local area.
If you have a job, then join a local CSA or consider growing what you can in your spare time. If you are a beginner then start small and work your way up. Just remember that the larger your family is, the larger your garden should be and the larger your harvest of health and happiness will be.