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Sep 10

Agriculture in America, or the lack thereof.

by Ranger W.
Sept 10, 2012

Many articles have been written lately describing the fiscal cliff, budget problems, staggering debt, and all around “collapse” many see coming. All worthy of any attention they receive and I would certainly argue they should all be discussed far more often in the mainstream media. But what are the biggest most influential differences in American society from 1930 compared with today? Small family farms, or lack thereof is what is really different today. Sure the Internet, the highway system, and suburban sprawl are significantly different now than during the Great Depression but these are tools or by-products of a changed society. The fundamental change and what causes our nation to be the most fragile it has ever been is the lack of its citizens’ ability to provide for themselves.

Agriculture in America has undergone changes in the last 80 years that have dramatically shifted the culture, society, and economy of the United States. In 1930 there were about 122 million Americans with over 30 million of those people living on farms that averaged 157 acres. In comparison with today’s society that is a shocking number; to realize that approximately 40% percent of this country’s population once lived on rather large family farms. Obviously not every one of these families were actively earning a living just from their farm, but it could be surmised that most of these farms provided these families at minimum a baseline for a self-sustaining life.

During the Great Depression these farm people (remember, almost half the American population) had very difficult times in famous regions like the Dust Bowl or other beleaguered middle-American towns. But one thing can be inferred from these statistics and from anecdotal evidence, almost half of all Americans during the Great Depression had the resources, tools, equipment, land, and knowledge to produce a minimal level of sustenance. 157 acres is actually quite large when you consider during this time farmers weren’t using tractors. The rudimentary tractors available at the time were far out of the price range of these Depression era farmers who, on average, produced enough food for 9.8 people per year.

In current times less than 2% of our population lives on farms. Our reliance on corporate farming is a subject for another article but the simple fact is this: hardly anyone left in this country knows how to produce a single durable item or food product, let alone all of the other “homesteading” skills that used to be considered common sense. Even a guy with a garage full of power tools, a neatly manicured lawn, and pretty good handyman skills couldn’t even begin to complete any of the basic tasks that were necessary a few decades ago or answer the simple question of what month to plant grain. Today in our society most Americans could be dropped on a 100 acre farm with a full orchard of fruit trees, corn ready for harvest, full size chickens and a full chicken coop of fresh eggs per day and many would still starve. All of the crops and animals would be gone or wasted in a few short weeks, and with no skills they would be helpless.  This is why I say we are far worse off as a society now than we were in 1929, and this is also why if another economic collapse befalls our country the pain and suffering will be far worse than was experienced during the Great Depression.

It should be noted that after World War II many American service members came back to the US and used the newly rolled out GI Bill. This dramatically changed the landscape of our society. Many could argue this increase in access to higher education has been a prime motivator in turning America into the world’s super power, but I would argue the pendulum has swung too far. We have no shortage of Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology, law schools are turning out record numbers of Juris Doctorates every year but the thing we really need are more people that know a solid crop rotation schedule or how to simply can some vegetables for the winter. Last time I checked you can’t eat a diploma even if it is says Harvard in fancy Latin.

 

 

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  1. Lola

    Very well said. Makes me stop and think that maybe I should start a small garden in back yard.

  2. Ranger W

    Absolutely Lola! Even one tomato plant on your porch is a great start. I am a suburbs dweller currently so I had to make some farm friends to teach me some skills and assist with an off site location. I am working on another article about how to make the transition from city folk to someone with some real skills.

  3. Lee

    my grandparents were depression era but my parents were who taught me to garden…you can raise plants in containers on an apartment patio, or if you have a yard, plant what you can…utilize your local garden center as to what grows best where and your growing zone, but realize growing zones are changing…and think outside the box…many ways to garden, find what works for you

    1. The Maj

      Another good point of reference is your county cooperative extension office. Most have brochures for the local area and many have gardening programs where they offer master gardener courses and other gardening classes.

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