Life of a Gardener in 1934 - A Memoir

43 comments by Luke Marion

A memoir as written by Clyde Finch,

It was August, in the year 1934, The Great Depression had hit hard, and times were tough for everyone, but I found solace in the soil and the satisfaction of growing my own food. August was the hottest month, and it was particularly hot and dry. Not as dry as Oklahoma, but dry enough to the point water was being rationed as to not run the well dry. The well we lived on was a bit more fortunate due to the low elevation. We received about 4 gallons of water per hour from the well. Plenty enough to satisfy our needs, but not enough to take for granted.

We lived in a small farming community on the outskirts of town, in Greenfield Indiana. I found it to be particularly challenging to make ends meet, just due to the lack of work, and the time it took to get into the city. But our local farmers co-op assisted in providing some seed to grow our garden and fill it with the staples our family loved to eat. I learned through my father how to save seeds, and we were all encouraged to save seeds to ensure enough supply for anyone who needed some. I wasn't great, but one doesn't get great overnight. 

I woke up early every morning, before the sun had even risen, to tend to the chickens, the one cow which gave us milk and butter, and my garden. I was very fond of my garden, and truth be told I enjoyed it more than other farm chores because it was calm, the smell was rich, and the sun wasn't hot. I worked tirelessly, planting, weeding, and harvesting. I had a wide variety of vegetables growing, from tomatoes and cucumbers to peppers and squash. I also had a small plot of corn, which I was particularly proud of. Our neighbor Jane Sutherland would sit on her porch and say, "I think your corn grew another inch last night!" which I believe it did. My secret was using the chicken droppings from the coop. They were free and the plants seemed to spring out of the ground whenever I used them. She was keen to give me compliments, since she knew I would bring her some zucchini in exchange for a small tray of her famous crinkle cookies. 

Despite the struggles of the times, my garden flourished. I was able to feed not only myself but also my family and even some of my neighbors. It was a small thing, but it brought me a sense of purpose and pride. My entire family would join me in canning the harvest when it came time. Canning tomatoes was an especially memorable time. Myself as well as my wife and 4 kids would sit around peeling tomatoes all morning. By noon, we would add all the tomatoes to a big pot, place it over the stove, and let it simmer for hours. Once the tomatoes had simmered, Dorothy my wife, would add 1 teaspoon of vinegar to every quart of tomatoes. It was hard to come by lemons so we used vinegar instead. Then we would jar them up and place them in a hot water bath to seal properly. 

Speaking of vinegar, if I may digress for a moment. Was used to make one of our kid's favorite summertime recipes. Vinegar lemonade. We would mix 1/4 cup white vinegar with a 2 tablespoons or three if we were splurging with sugar. We added that to a pitcher of cold water and what a treat. There wasn't anything I savoured more than to come in from working the field all day than a glass of vinegar lemonade. Continuing on. 

I also found a sense of community in the other gardeners in my area. We would often share tips and tricks, and even trade seeds and seedlings. It was a tight-knit community and we all looked out for each other. We would meet in the small church in town to share each other's seeds and harvest. I saved mustard seeds, tomato seed, and August was too early to bring my town famous butternut squash seeds, but they would be ready in late October after a killing frost. The seeds I would bring would be traded for canned goods, as well as other seeds I was unable to save. There was a gentleman by the name of Clark Holmst who would bring fresh apples, the most crisp and sweet apples you have ever tasted, and he would trade me 5 apples for 20 tomato seeds. 

I fervently believe it was community that helped pull us through the hard times. The hard times shaped us, but didn't define us. We built many great memories. Sometimes I almost miss those days. They were simple, had their trials, but the simple things seemed so valuable back then. 


  • Teresa Trettin

    I live on the farm acreage in Iowa that my grandfather bought in 1914. My dad said living through the Depression wasn’t so bad as everyone was poor and living on the farm they always had plenty to eat. My mother’s family lived in small towns as her dad ran grain mills throughout Iowa. Moving all the time was the hardest part but grandma always had a garden wherever they lived. She was from a family of 12 so being frugal was normal. I garden and can more now than when my kids were younger. It’s been more an obsession and matter of pride though it’s just the two of us now. I think we endure just about any disaster with all the food I’ve put up. LOL

  • Natalie Williams

    I love ALL these stories and i remember a-lot of the same ones from my grandmother and older relatives. i remember being on my Aunt & uncles farm outside of detroit MI. On my aunts birthday one time they ran a full page ad in the paper inviting all who wanted to come. I remember the line of cars coming down that country road. They had a couple of cows and a few pigs on spits and coal Pits for two days prior ! There was a 4 foot iron kettle over a huge fire full of corn on the cob. The birthday bash lasted for the whole weekend. I know there were hundreds of people that came and i do believe they all knew my aunt and uncle. They were two of they kindest people i remember. One of my aunts grew a huge garden every year and i would get water from the rain barrel or the hand pump at the kitchen sink. I did not like the outhouse though !! LOL. Years later she was able to get an indoor bathroom. I grow pretty much all my vegetables and i have a bee hive which i will expand to about 5. My goal is to grow all i can eat, have enough for my grown kids family, any neighbors in need and then enough to trade and sell. I’m just about there. Oh yeah i have chickens too. I have gardened my whole adult life even if i was in a rental with just a little spit of dirt outside the door. I only use about 1/4 of my two acres and it is totally possible. I think i will get a pig this spring and / or another calf. i live in the hot high and dry desert in San bernardino. Our summer temps go to 115 and winter down to 26. using the Ruth stout, lasagna gardening, deep mulch, back to eden and all the manure my animals give me it gets easier every year. My water usage is low and the nutrition and taste is unbelievable. I’m only 64 years old so i have many years of gardening ahead of me !!!

  • Katie

    I heard of you from several pages I follow including roots and refuge. I’m pleased that I was able to purchase from a small company, a heirloom company and even though I’m ordering late, it seems I was able to get 60-70 variety. I’ll have seeds for years! I’m glad, looking forward to expanding my seed catalogue in the future too. I but the bullet and bought a whole bunch of fun seeds and plant types and will see how I can possibly work them into duplex rental gardening here. Thanks frome Wi!

  • Justin Williams III

    I was shocked to hear how severe the Depression was from an old homeless guy. He worked 10 hrs a day washing dishes as a young kid. His pay was one slice of pie. They all nearly starved to death. I believe it was much worse than people think.

  • Sandy

    I enjoyed this story. My parents and in-laws both lived during the depression. My mom lived with her family in town without a garden. My mom-in-law lived with her grandparents on a farm. My mom would talk of hardships, eating a lot of oatmeal and peanut butter. My MIL said she never noticed food shortages. Gardening was the difference. My husband and I have been backyard gardening for 45 years. Along with the food it provides, I love the peace and tranquility it brings in tending to it. On a side note, years ago, I watched a documentary on PBS (WI) called “A Farm Story.” It’s a wonderful story of farm life from years ago. I especially liked his story of hooking up electricity to their barn and the reaction of the cows to the bright lights over a lantern. If anyone is interested, you can search for it on YouTube.

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