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Lessons from a kitchen garden


As a fairly infrequent contributor to FDL, I find myself more often than not just another fan in the bleachers.  It’s nice work if you can get it, actually, what with the Snarkosaurus Rex, Jane and Pach kicking ass and taking names day and night and then waking up in the morning to more of a fascinating mix of legal analysis and West Virginia culture from CHS…  

TRex and I are from a rural family.  One of the reasons I love Christy so much is that she reminds me of cousins of mine- redheaded descendants of the immigrant Civil War veterans who settled the Appalachians in the 1870s.  Many of those immigrants were just off of the boat from Ireland and Scotland when they were drafted in the Union Army.  Once the shooting stopped, the men that survived spread west and south, looking for land to plant and places to build humble houses.  My great great grandfather was one of these men.

Pat Buchanan has said very little in his life with which I agree, but one thing he said that has resonated with me:  America was a great country before it was a rich country.  My grandparents scratched a living out of the earth and lived humbly.  They were able to save their pennies and buy building materials over the years, and they never had a mortgage payment, a car payment or a credit card payment.  To paraphrase Loretta Lynn, they were poor but they were proud.  There was a time when it was not illegal to be poor, nor was it considered a moral failing.  Men who took advantage of honest people to enrich themselves were not thought of as honorable men.  I don’t know when the rules changed, but I think I can guess who was in the White House at the time.

Christy often references home canning or produce stands in her FDL entries, when they aren’t about the rules and arcana of putting bad people in jail.  My grandparents farmed hard all summer and put up tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pickles, corn, black-eyed peas, okra, pear jelly, fig preserves and a dozen other good things to eat each summer.  That was how they were able to eat all winter long.  I learned from watching them.

TRex and I had to go up and help close their house this summer.  My grandfather knows that I have taken over the position of Family Gardener, so he gave me two tillers.  One is an old-school plow.  Not a mule-drawn one, mind you- it’s one that was designed for one man to push it to break the earth.  It has an iron plow blade on it and an iron wheel.  The handles are wooden.  It’s the sort of plow only a man too poor to own a mule would push. It was his first plow.  He also gave me his massive 6.5 horsepower rear tine tiller.  I could take that thing out and plow a row down the center of highway 29.  It’s massive.  That was his last plow.

He told me "I broke a lot of ground with both those tillers, son.  I hope you will too."

I also inherited my grandfather’s quail hunting shotgun.  It’s not some Itailian-made shooting jewelry like a man would take on a canned quail hunt (and use to subsequently shoot one of his biggest fund-raisers), but it does the job on birds, as I recall.  My papa put a good bit of meat in the freezer with that thing when times were tough.

I think all of us could learn a lot from our grandparents- things about sustainable agriculture and how not to be sucked into mindless  consumerism and revolving credit debt hell.  My life would be terribly different and MUCH MORE FREE if I was able to live with no mortgage payment and I was paying cash for everything.  

My grandmother used to tell me that her father would go to the dry goods store in autumn and return with half a pig (smoked), a bushel of cabbages, a barrel of apples, and 25 pounds each of the following: coffee, flour, and sugar.  That was what they needed to survive the winter, on top of whatever they had canned and dried.  Milk?  See the cow about that.  Eggs?  Chickens over there…  The woods were full of deer, rabbits and squirrels (hey, don’t knock it- country squirrels are tasty!  Lord knows what city squirrels eat, though…) and the streams had fish in them.  There was clean water in the well and quail in the fields.  

Most of rural America lived like this prior to the New Deal.  The prosperity that followed World War Two (and was the rising tide that floated Americans to the top echelons of wealth compared to other people in the world) drastically increased the buying power of American consumers and moved many, many people into the cities and closer to factories. 

I only mention this because the wife and I have been working very hard to turn the clock back on our little farm.  (Regular reader and commenter Old Sow is way ahead of us, I admit, but we’re working on it.)  There have been plenty of times as I looked at a failed crop of collard greens, a cherry tree decimated by caterpillars or a peach tree that won’t bear fruit when I have said, "Well damn.  This ‘living simply’ sure can be complicated…"

I think that we’re preparing for Bush’s "re-Hoover-ization" of the (soon-to-be-former) middle class.  We’re knocking down debt as fast as we can and trying to prepare for a time when our dollar either doesn’t come in as fast or go as far, or both.  If the collapse of the housing industry about which Atrios has been musing doesn’t come to pass, then all the better.  We’ll be healthy, strong and rich.  If it does and the economy goes room temperature, well… we’ll just have to live like my grandparents. I think I’d be alright with that, though.

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patrick rex

patrick rex