Life of a Gardener in 1934 - A Memoir

46 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. 


  • 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.

  • Shelley

    This was so touching and brought to mind the stories of the Depression and WWII times. My parents and grandparents told all the tales and still lived as though they had very little and saved so many things clear until their death. I am beyond grateful for the teachings they gave me now. I am in my early 60s and running a ranch with my husband. The past two years we have really expanded our gardens and thanks to MI GARDEN we have had great success. Bless all of you friends here with good crops and good health ❤️💯👍🏻

  • Marcia Krech

    My Dad’s family had two Depression gardens in Michigan. A kitchen garden and a bigger one down the street at his Dad’s paint company. He once traded a pound of potatoes for 50 cents so he could take his girlfriend to the movies. He had to get it back. “What will we eat?” my grandma said.

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