Farms in the 1930s were diversified, growing a variety of crops in the fields, vegetables in the garden and fruit in the orchard. Small farms usually raised chickens, eggs, hogs, and cattle, as well as keeping horses and mules for work, and sometimes sheep for wool and meat. Some farmers kept bees and harvested the honey. Women baked their own bread.
During the Depression, this self-sufficiency carried over into their social life. One-dish suppers and church potlucks were important ways to have fun and share food. On radio and in women’s magazines, home economists taught women how to stretch their food budget with casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast or waffles. Chili, macaroni and cheese, soups, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular meals.
In the 70 or more years since the Great Depression, a lot has changed on the farms of rural America. All of these changes have resulted in farms that usually specialize in only one main crop. Today, entire regions have become “monocultures.”
Life was different in the 1930s. Person after person – like Millie Opitz (left) – will tell you that they never went hungry despite the fact that they never had much money. And Helen Bolton (right) can still quickly list all of the tasks she had to do to keep food on the table.
The Apetz brothers hunted rabbits to put a more meat on the dinner table. Delbert Apetz says, “We had a brooder house [for chickens]. My uncle and dad, they’d go out rabbit hunting (now this is in the winter time). Be rabbits hanging there, dressed all the way through that and any time you wanted something to eat you’d cut the string on the rabbit and bring it in the house, fry it or cook it and make soup or whatever you want. We ate a lotta, lotta rabbits. But that’s what we had to eat.” Still, it was a constant work to put food on the table, and sometimes the food was covered with dust when the wind blew dust through the cracks in the house.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.