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Living on a Family Farm
during the Depression

Barbara Marie Ashwood
Industry Junior High School, Industry

In the early 1900s, the average family farm near Industry, in western Illinois, was about eighty acres and was farmed entirely by the family. Those farms produced small surpluses for sale, but the majority of the crop was used by the family. The only exception for outside help for the family farm was during harvest time. During the harvest, neighbors formed harvesting crews. The neighborhood women made large meals to feed the crew. Horses served as the tractors. Machinery consisted only of a plow, a harrow, a harvester, and a mower. These tools were simple enough that the farmer could repair and maintain them himself.

My grandmother, Carman Kost, lived on a small farm during the Great Depression. One out of every four Americans did not have a job at that time. Many people did not have a home. My grandmother's family believed itself fortunate to have both. Their farm was located outside of Vermont, Illinois, and had a railroad track adjacent to it. When my grandmother was young, hobos jumped off the train and went to her house and offered to work for food. My grandmother would serve the food to those people. A special plate was set aside in the cupboard and used just for the hobos. Hobos marked the houses that would give them food.

My grandmother recalled how she and her brother used to sell cream in town. With the money they earned from selling the cream, they bought necessary supplies, like soap and shampoo. Prices varied from area to area. Her mother bought a special kind of soap that usually cost seven cents a bar. They frequently bought vanilla-scented shampoo from a traveling salesman. My great-grandmother never washed her family's clothes in homemade lye soap. She did not like it because it faded the clothes. Of course, many other people used lye soap since it was cheaper and more readily available.

Since my grandmother lived on a farm, food was not as great a problem as it was for some folks in the city. My grandmother's parents canned fruits and vegetables produced from a large garden. Many of the fruits were from orchards that they maintained. They got meat from butchering their own livestock, and salt-brine cure was used to preserve it. In the 1930s my grandmother remembered hearing about people who danced for money. Couples would spend hours and hours dancing until they almost dropped to the floor. The longer they danced, the more money they would get.

The Depression is a memory for some. Yet, it is not difficult to capture a sense of what it was like by talking with those who lived through it.[From student historian's interview with Carman Kost, Jan. 9, 1993.]


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