Surviving The Great Depression
Learning self-sufficiency from those who made it through the depression
The 1930s were a rough period for most of the world, but with the dust bowl in North America as well, it was catastrophic. Unemployment sky rocketed, many lost their homes, and most did not have enough to eat. The dustbowl and the drought that went along with it had the greatest impact on the southern plains, causing the loss of many crops. Through all this though, there was actually a SURPLUS of farm raised foods.
These did not come from large industrial style farms. Instead, it was the small, self-sufficient farmer who managed to continue growing. Even in areas less affected by the dust bowl the fall of numerous banks meant those who owed on land or equipment would lose their farms.
For those who already owned their land, and produced enough to care for their families, the Depression had little impact. Here are some stories from our own family tree that help illustrate the different ways many were able to get by while staying away from Hoovervilles and food lines.
For example, the Sneed family of Southern Indiana/ Northern Kentucky. They were small hog farmers who grew their own veggies as well. While money was tight, they would buy 50 lb bags of salt, potatoes and beans with the profits from the meat they sold to supplement their diet. The boys in the family joined the military early on to send home money as well, and they got by without much issue.
Meanwhile, the White family could not provide for their daughter, and took her to a nearby farm such as the one described above. While the rest of the family did not fair as well, she thrived and was adopted.
The depression was a good place for entrepreneurs as well. The Smith family in Harlan County had a saw mill. My Memaw recalls taking her brothers lunch and watching them pull trees off the sides of the mountains with mules. They took advantage of the need for railroad ties and supplied the government throughout the depression. They also sold lumber and built houses. Meanwhile, the women kept a garden and animals to produce their own food, something she would continue up until her later years.
In a more urban area, such as Evansville, Indiana, things were a little different.
The DeVillez family lived with 3 generations and raised rabbits in their backyard so they would not have to buy meat. Meat was expensive during this time and many could not buy it very often. For this reason, they sold rabbits as well for extra income.
The Jessup family had a farm outside of Evansville, Indiana and even so can remember eating cornmeal and egg mash before the depression even began. In 1927, Mrs. Jessup would become and RN while Mr. Jessup worked as a nurses’ aid for the state mental hospital. Working for the state allowed them to get by during the 1930s and even begin a family.
During these trying times the families that were already self-sufficient had a great advantage over families that relied solely on paychecks and grocery stores to put food on their tables and clothing on their backs. In more modern times, most people have either forgotten these skills or they were never passed down from generations past.