Photo by Wonderlane | flicker.com

When I was little, nothing excited me more than finding “hidden” places. One of those was my grandparents can house (root cellar). I remember the first time I saw it. One day when we were visiting, my grandmother asked my dad if he’d like some apple butter. I was maybe five or six years old at the time and she offered to take me to get it. She led me outside to a small small block building built into the hillside of their yard. I’ll never forget how cool it was inside and the shelves upon shelves filled with a treasure of colorful canned goods from gardens past: beans, corn, pickles, tomato sauces, and of course, delicious apple butter. There was easily six months of food there, preserved and protected if times got rough. The older generations, especially those who lived through the great depression, sure had a way of knowing what was important in life.

There was a time I worked to do the same. Living in my great grandparents old home place we raised a garden and canned some 80 quarts of green beans and 20 some pints of corn. We kept it all stored on the same basement shelves my great grandparents had used, along with several bushels of potatoes in the old tater bin. When I took a job in the mine, I let it all go. My father eventually took over the garden when I was working 50 and 60 hour weeks on rotating shifts, or months on end on the third shift. Then, we lost the house in a fire, along with all of our food stores. Ever since I’ve struggled to get back to that same place, but always end up distracted seeking a higher purpose.

For many folks out there, COVID-19 is a scary disruption in their lives. Many hope it will pass and everything will go back to business as usual. I disagree. For those living a purely economic way of life (myself included), what we are experiencing now should serve as a dire warning.

Has the economy brought us many technological advances? Yes. There’s no denying it. We have modern medicine to better combat diseases like this. But we are also weaker because of it. The majority of us are entirely dependent upon working for other people just so we can purchase the food necessary to feed ourselves and to pay either land lords or bank mortgages for shelter. As farmer Joel Salatin said so many times in his book of the same title, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.”

When you look at the bigger picture, only 10% of our population owns 76% of the wealth, including land and housing. That means 33 million people own the majority of this nation, leaving only 24% of the nation’s land and resources to spread among the remaining 296 million of us. And don’t confuse “home ownership” with actual ownership. Fail to pay your mortgage a couple of months on end and you’ll figure out who really owns your house.

The wealthiest 10% have made an art out of profiting from our most basic needs, and as I’ve said before, we are all back to living in a company town. Instead of owing all our souls to the company store, we owe our souls to the banks, the large grocery store chains, and well, all of Wall Street.

Only 100 years ago, the majority of rural people in this nation knew how to take care of themselves. Many built their own homes, grew their own food and stored it, and lived a somewhat simpler life. This was the life of freedom most of our ancestors immigrated to America in hopes of finding. But I won’t entirely romanticize it. Life expectancy was shorter and obtaining your own land and avoiding the trappings of debt was nearly impossible. Most people worked their short, often miserable, lives away. But now we have more knowledge about how to farm sustainably, we have better technology, and we have modern medicine. Now, if only we could get rid of the for-profit banks and get the land and resources redistributed to the people, instead of the greediest 10 and 20% hording it all for their own benefit and sense of status.

We need to be getting back to our roots. We need to stop being so dependent upon an economy that will only let us down, something that has happened before and is happening now. We need to reevaluate what our lives are about and what is most important to us. Personally, I think everyone needs to get their asses back into the garden and out of the factories, out of the mines, and out from behind their cushy desks. There are studies upon studies that show how time spent outdoors and in the garden is good for your physical and mental health. There are even programs to help veterans with PTSD get start into organic farming because of its therapeutic properties. The problem, I believe, will be prying people away from the manufactured artifice of a life that has been created for us by wealthy oligarchs and advertisers. It is a life and culture that has been taught to us in public schools and at universities, and impressed upon us by parents who have been stuck in the same economic dependency that we are now facing. Our values are completely out of whack, and as a first world nation, our insatiable desire for manufactured food and goods is destroying lives elsewhere. The higher you are, the harder the fall.

So here it is, right in our faces. It’s time for change. It’s time to realize that “Folks, this [really] ain’t normal.” Start thinking about where we are, why we are here, and who’s responsible for it. Then think of where we should be and could be. We need to think about our political decisions. Do we keep voting for wealthy people who protect the economy and its biggest benefactors, the same people who turn our daily lives into their profits, or, should we vote for people who are working to change the system? We also need to take a deeper look inside ourselves and begin figuring out if our desire for comfort and convenience is worth it in the long run. COVID-19 is just a test, a bump in the road compared to other issues we could face. I think we have an opportunity to take a few steps backward so we can all begin to move forward. A little bit of sacrifice, a little bit of hard work with our hands will sure make the times that we can enjoy a few comforts and conveniences all the more sweeter. What do y’all think?

Quick Note (3/26/2020): Not long after I posted this, I read an op-ed about how rustic individualism will cause even more difficulties as we face this virus. I agree. I do not, under any circumstances, want folks to confuse my suggestions of growing our own food again with rustic individualism. Raising our own food should always be a community effort. It was for generations past. Everyone pitched in up and down the hollow to help out in each other’s gardens, hog killings, and the like. Right now, we have to limit contact with each other, but moving forward, we absolutely have to build more community and disperse with the idea of rustic individualism. The more we care about each other, the better off we’ll be.

2 Comments

  1. My 91 year old, very healthy mother is talking about growing up during the Depression on an Appalachian farm. And I, too, remember slipping into Grandmother’s root/can cellar. Back then, it was big and dark and damp. When the new owner pulled down the house, i was startled at how small it actually was.

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  2. My 94 year old neighbor talks about the depression here in Preston County. She said, “We were poor, but we always had enough to eat because we raised our own food.” Hard to do in the city, though!

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