Taking Care of Farm and Family During the Great Depression

As the Great Depression began, what was a challenging life on the farm became more difficult. There was very little money on hand to keep the farm going from year to year and to purchase what they could not produce themselves. Many farm families found creative solutions to their problems. Communities came together to help one another whether it was to build a new barn, or bring in harvest.


Verana Grant Johnson recalls the day she and her mother served dinner to the neighbors who had come to help build a barn on their farm. Preparing meals was one of the many chores Verana and her siblings were expected to do.

Verana Grant Johnson: "We had to work hard and I think we instilled that in our children too. They all know how to work. I don't begrudge it at all  because Mother and Dad were good to us, but they were strict and we had to work.  We had to do our chores, which was good."

Beyond the smiles and determined faces, though, Pete's photos revealed a vulnerability rooted in hard times. What little security families had could be wiped out by an epidemic in their livestock or a complete crop failure. They knew the Depression meant tough times, but then again, tough times were all many had really ever known.

Neil Harl: "I remember my father telling my mother in the fall of '36 that we had $100 to get through the winter and put the crop in. We didn't buy a lot of inputs then. We didn't buy a lot of food, but they made it. You kind of think back and wonder how they managed to have enough vision, enough courage to get through those times. It was tough and had been for a number of years."

Many point out they didn't realize they were doing without simply because they had always done without. Even if they had felt a sense of urgency, looking for help from outside the farm was anything but second nature. After all, farms then were by and large self-sufficient. If families could grow their own fruits and vegetables and raise their own meat and plow their own fields, they could come up with homegrown solutions to Depression dilemmas too. There was pride in handling one's own affairs. 

Excerpt from "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos," Iowa PBS, 2003


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