Tips from the Great Depression on how to surviving hard times

This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest By Rex J

I’ve had the benefit and privilege of knowing several people, including family members that survived the “Great Depression”, and of hearing how they did it. Most of my family knew how to farm, hunt, fish, and trade.

Today, however, I want to talk about one man’s experience and the advice he gave me concerning surviving hard times in general.

This man lived just North of Arcadia, Louisiana. His father owned a country store that he later took over. Money and many food items were hard to come by along with some fuel items. Mr. Perritt began to trade with the people in his community. He would trade something he had and someone else needed for something they had and he needed.

The community was mostly farm and ranch. Not everyone grew the same things and Mr. Perritt got them to bring their crops to him. He had a gristmill and could produce cornmeal from the corn grown in the area. One could come there and trade beans and peas for corn and potatoes and such.

Everyone in the community was better off during these hard times because of his efforts. Times were hard enough on some that they would trade some land for supplies. Being a good and honest man, Mr. Perritt would give them a contract allowing them seven years to pay their bill plus 1.0% interest and get their land back. Some folks did and some did not.

The advice Mr. Perritt gave me for surviving hard times was this: “If a man owns at least five acres of land with a descent home that is paid for, he has at least $1000 dollars, he has a ¾ ton truck with a flatbed trailer, and he knows how to farm, he can not only survive, he can come out of the hard times in better shape than he went into them.”

Mr. Perritt also suggested having a ½ to ¾ acre pond so my family would have fish to eat. He was assuming I knew how to plant, grow, harvest, and can various produce for my family to eat at the time and during the winter. Some of this produce might also be used to barter with others. The reason for the truck and trailer was that there is always someone wanting something moved or hauled and that could mean cash money or serious barter for something I really need.

He also suggested if I were to have only one firearm, it should be a 12 gage pump shotgun with 28 inch, modified choke barrel. This would handle buckshot well enough and rifled slugs quite well for defense and large game. It would also handle number six shot for taking small game.

Most in the community had chickens and a milk cow, so eggs and milk weren’t a problem. Many raised cattle and some raised hogs, (folks in those days knew how to can meat in jars that would stay good for a year) so meat wasn’t really a problem either.

Times are different now and for the amount of space and feed used, there are some things that could be done differently.

  • Six to twelve chickens (with a rooster) will produce all the eggs (and then some) that a family would need.
  • One milk goat (with a Billy of course) would produce all the milk needed and is much healthier than cow’s milk. Plus, you’ve got a young goat each year to slaughter.
  • Rabbits take up little space and produce more meat per pound of feed than a calf or hog. Rabbit meat is also higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than skinless/boneless chicken breast. Another rabbit advantage is you can breed and slaughter them as needed as apposed to being stuck with 200 to 500 pounds of meat at one time to have to try to preserve.
  • Pigeons are another consideration as they take up little space, little feed and taste much like dove.
  • One other suggestion was that raised bed gardening would require less space, less equipment, less maintenance, and a quarter acre could produce as much produce as an acre of row type gardening.

I guess this article is getting a little long in the tooth, but you get the idea. My parents and grandparents along with Mr. Perritt’s family and many others survived the great depression (which was one of the hardest times in American history) quite well.

Remember: The future belongs to those who are prepared both Spiritually and Physically. Please add your comments and suggestions in the comments below. Till next time, Rex…

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:

This contest will end on January 11 2012 so get busy…

Comments

  1. charlie (NC) says:

    Great article. Good “FOOD” for thought… pun intended.

  2. i enjoyed your post. thank you

  3. I think this is such a good lesson to listen to others that have been through and made it no matter what it is.
    In fact this was down right cute, and informative in this vein.
    I do know that it will be harder this time around if things are even in the same ilk as the “Great Depression”.
    We have a lot that don’t even know how to accomplish the basic things for just getting by now. They will sure be surprised when there ain’t nothing to get by on.
    With the population as large as it is, your guess is as good as mine at how this is going to work.

  4. I has such respect for folks who lived during the Great Depression. When I hear about people like Mr. Perritt, I am reminded of the values that this country was founded upon. Thanks, Rex, for the reminder. Excellent article.

  5. Tinfoil Hat says:

    Great post! Enjoyed it very much! Thank you

  6. Copperhead says:

    My DH’s family has a cookbook with the front few pages written by his mother about when they lived in WWI and the Depression. VERY interesting…they had no electricity, no gas, no refrigeration and they still managed. They lived on a farm, so had their own meat, milk and eggs. They grew corn and she told how her dad would take the team and buggy through the sandy roads to get it ground and then they would eat it 3 times a day…for breakfast it was made into pancakes, fried for lunch and mush for supper. They would have sandwiches made of lard and sugar (ick!). She tells a lot about the way they lived then. Her story is so interesting…I would write about it but do not think there are enough words to make it fit in here.

    • Last weekend the wife and I had cornbread pancakes, link sausage, and duck eggs for breakfest. Mighty fine. We had extra pancakes that just seemed to vanish little by little the rest of the day.

      • SaratogaPrepper says:

        We call them “Johnny Cakes”. First had them on a trip to Williamsburg, VA. The wife makes them for me at twice a month.

  7. Copperhead says:

    Oh, forgot to write how much I enjoyed this article. Thanks, Rex J, for sharing with us.

  8. you wouldnt believe how many perritt still live in arcadia. i live to the west of that town,in a town about the same size. its why i feel like ill do allright if the S does hit the fan. its still country with lots of old folks who remember the old ways. my next door neighbor is 83. i visit her every day when im not on the road and i ask lotttttts of questions.ive learned alot from her and her husband before he passed. this was a great and timely post. if you know some old folks,ask lots of questions. the knowledge they pass on was learned over generations of trial and error.

    • bctruck, I left that area in 85′ and as I remember it, it seemed everyone in Alabama Community was either a Woodard or Perritt or married to one (except for the Fields & Cox). I’m now the 3rd oldest member of my family still living and 75% of what I know in these areas came from the older (known as the greatest generatiion) people I was trully blessed to know. Maybe you and I could figure out a way to converse or even share a cup of coffee sometimt. Until then, be blessed.

  9. Sounds like the stories my Great Grandmother told me about the period after the Civil War (in the South) and during the Depression. These people were tough and had real staying power which they coupled with self reliance. Thanks for stirring the memories Rex.

  10. SrvivlSally says:

    Rex J, you should have gone on with more about what you have learned. Good information and Mr. Perritt was one smart cookie.

  11. Plant Lady says:

    I have always spent a lot of time with my grandparents, great-grandparents and all their siblings. My mom’s parents lived 1/2 mile down the road one way and her grandparents lived 1/2 mile down the road the other way. And my dad’s parents lived 6 miles away. My mom’s dad is 93 and in very good shape. We bought the mini-farm from him and granny and have been living “next door” (1/4 mile down at the other end of the property) for the past 29 years – and spending every minute of our vacation time with them at our camp in remote northern Canada. Great training for off-grid living, as we spent most of our time hunting, fishing and hiking in places Search & Rescue won’t go! And spent the last year with Gramps living with us so I could care for him. Gramps and my dad’s parents said they didn’t even really notice the Depression in this area except when they heard about it on the radio. Learned an awful lot from all my elders…that is probably why your post is our plan! We are pretty darn lucky to already have our rural land and a goodly part of what we need to live mostly self-sufficiently and do plan to be the local trading post once TSHTF – just talked about this here recently. We have these things because we listened to the people who had already been through hard times – our own elders and through reading history. When I can, I much prefer to learn by others mistakes and successes…not nearly as traumatic (hehe).

  12. I had an older friend that talked of being somewhere in the south and being completely without during the depression. He mentioned that the only thing they had to eat one winter was apples and potatoes they had picked in the fall and had in barrels in their basement. He said that they would occasionally snare a rabbit and they went fishing. But he remembered it as a good memory because no one in the family had a job and they got to spend so much time together.

  13. mountain lady says:

    Great post that brought lots of memories back to me, also. My mom told me many stories of how they survived the depression, and during the war she still made some of the “we are out of food” things that they survived on. Thinking on it now, it filled up the belly, but not the most balanced diet that we now enjoy. I was a little kid and I liked pretzel soup, lol. I can also remember having soup and crackers for dinner once in a while. I am sure this was all very hard on my parents, but we all survived in pretty good shape.

  14. Great to hear from my home state. Excellent post.
    We don’t do it so much anymore, but I remember slaughtering our own beef and pork, shelling peas and butterbeans, canning, even churning butter. It’s been 40 years, but I can still remember the taste of homemade butter. Thanks for the post.

  15. Excellent article with many great learning points. I have spoken with my grandfather and grandmother several times about the Great Depression. They both were younger during those lean years and married shortly after WWII. Both grew up on farms and stated that, while they didn’t have much, they always had food to eat and were warm during the cold Michigan winters. I also remember when I was a teenager, my great-grandmother told me about about being married for a short time before my grandfather came along. The Great Depression hit just a few years later. She would get up real early in the morning with her husband and gather eggs. Then they would load my grandfather, his little brother and the eggs into a wagon that they drove several miles into town just to sell the eggs 2 for $0.01! It was worth it to hitch a horse to a wagon and ride all of those miles year around just to collect 5-10 cents a day. Kinda of hard to even fathom doing such a thing.

    • My grandparents did pretty much the same thing and as a kid, I would gather the eggs twice a day. However, they would clean the eggs and place them in a large box. This box had two sides and each side held a dozen 24 egg flats. 576 eggs per box.
      They only went the 7 miles to town once a week and only with full boxes of eggs.

  16. Excellent post and ties into the barter post from before. Really gets those of us with limited means and land thinking on how to maximize our survival power by getting barter goods while still available. We have a little farmers market that started up by our house recently so I’m going to go take a look and see if I can make any connections before the other shoe drops. I’m one of those who think that it already hit the fan. Prayin’ for all of you and yours.

    • Very good idea Mexneck. I manage our local Farmers Market and have not had to purchase any fruits or veggies (that I don’t already grow) for three years! The farmers/vendors are wonderful people…volunteer to help whenever you can…either with set-up or clean-up…ask if they ever need a hand on their farms…before you know it you’ll never have to buy an egg, honey, cheese, bread or any fruits and veggies.

    • Plant Lady says:

      Rather than buy a limited supply (limited by $ and storage space) of “barter goods”, learn how to make a few things that will be in high demand/low supply and invest in the knowledge/equipment/supplies to make those things. It is best if your raw material is something you can grow/harvest from your own place. Then you don’t have to worry about running out of barter goods or the supplies to create them!
      From family lore (great-grandpa was one of the biggest bootleggers east of the Mississippi) and history realized alcohol in all its forms will always be in high demand. So rather than buying what little beer, wine and liquour we could afford, we invested in a complete home brewrey, a complete home winery, lots of bottles, caps & corks. Three yrs. ago planted 13 fruit trees, a wide variety of berry plants and white grapes. This yr. I got a big old cider press/crusher and planted 20 more asst. fruit trees and some hops. And bought some two-row malting barley seed to plant next spring. Picked up what I need to keep various yeast strains propagated. And have been picking up various books on beer, wine, cider and liquor making. As an added bonus, we will have more than enough fruit for our use and very useful for barter, as no one around here has an orchard or big berry patch or vineyard.
      Rather than try to store enough cheese (in powder form – yuck), I picked up all the equipment, supplies & books I need to make cheese…and god willing, will be getting my dairy goats in the spring. Already have all the fencing/posts needed and a suitable building (with some work) for the does. Our forest keeps trying to take over the 4 acre open area, so have plenty of browse for food – and a lot less work for us in keeping it the brush cut back. And just planted a nice pasture for winter feed under the new orchard.
      I think it is better to invest in skills and the equipment needed whenever possible – you will always have them. And the more you can grow/produce for yourself, with hopefully an excess to barter, the less you will be dependent upon others for your needs. That is true freedom.
      And a nod to the wise…from the way folks here stock up on toilet paper…having the ability/natural materials/equipment to make good toilet paper when TSHTF would probably end with you as emeperor of the world (hehe).

      • Amen.

        Around here a plant called ‘lambs ears’ make good toilet paper. But we do have alot stocked for bater. I also have a supply of cheap wash cloths to use if needed. Colour code for different family members.

  17. Digital_Angel_316 says:

    Good topic and article!

    My how times have changed though in many ways. My how they have stayed the same! What would have become of the Gulf coast when hurricane Katrina hit without government intervention? What will happen if the refineries get cut off? Can a nation survive on Casinos and Lottery ticket sales and other contraband for long?

    Much has changed since the time of the great depression. Much has stayed the same in the sense of government and the awareness of “We the People’. But look first at what preceded it. The ‘gay ’90s’ (1890’s that is) led up to World War 1, the ‘roaring 20s’ led up to the great depression and World War 2. The social system was still run by the one percenters and the people in majority still had no stable system of living apart from government or big industry interests other than the family farms.

    Personal preparation is proper and important, but prevention or at least delay of impending (man made) disasters is most critical. Take a look at some of the socio-economic factors we face today, escalated by time since the Civil War and the Great Depression:

    The 1930 U.S. Census determined the U.S. population to be 122,775,046. We have almost tripled that.
    Reference:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression_in_the_United_States
    (lots of interesting data, facts and statistics in the article)

    Social issues today, again are leading factors and indicators:
    * Federal spending — entitlements, schools, government unions, military, the federal reserve (world banking/finance) and the national debt, etc
    * Medical industry
    * Welfare
    * Immigration (note the wiki article indicates emigration was more than immigration in the early 1930’s with the government even encouraging a Mexican Repatriation program)
    * Imports, trade balance, taxes and tariffs (e.g. GATT, NAFTA, etc)

    Other social and moral issues
    * Population
    * Illegitimacy
    * Abortion
    * Divorce
    * Homosexuality
    * TV and Radio and Hollywood (media propaganda)
    * Sports and Music Industry rising up around the media
    * Banking industry
    * Fast food
    * Alcohol and tobacco, snack, candy and bottled beverage industries
    * Loss of family farms (beginning with the Civil War)
    * Bureau of prisons, courts, legal system
    * Environmental issues, over-development, from strip malls to traffic jams to the idea that the Clean Air/Clean Water Act has never since its inception been held to.
    * The rise of the 501c
    * The fall of Organized Religion

    The response to such things as we have seen for decades now is no longer ‘throw the bums out’ and voting for a new breed or gang of thieves in government. It does not work. The people need to wake up and do much more than pull a lever in a voting booth and then go on with their delusions. Sadly the ‘Occupy Whatever” movement has resulted but itself has little direction and is already under infiltration by the Unions/Organized Labor, but is a move in the right direction. A little tiny squeak in a giant mill of the grinding wheels of government and social institutions.

    A prepper/survivalist can still maintain OpSec and be involved at the personal and local levels by learning, understanding and discussing the above issues in hopes that some of the sleeping might be awakened and some of the dead might be quickened. Survival may indeed depend on our ability to cut and control the issues ‘bulleted’ above.

    On a more positive note, and in keeping with the opening post and some of the responses, I suggest looking into the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). That can start with the simple concept of asking your local grocer to buy only local foods and mark them as such in their market. It can go further to the concept of boycotting fast food. It can entail supporting farmers markets, joining a buying club/co-op, and then active although somewhat limited involvement in assistance in food production or maintenance activities of the local community farms.

    There are many other web links and research one could spend an evening or weekend afternoon on to their benefit, one link is:

    Community Supported Agriculture — CSA —
    http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

    Best Regards to you and yours … Digital_Angel_316

  18. Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

    It’s probably going to be a lot worse this time around. Fewer people know how to take care of themselves, but there are far more people in the world to take care of. There will be blood in the streets. Make sure it isn’t your blood, Wolf Pack. May God keep us from harm.

  19. My grandparents were alive during the depression.They were farmers in Kansas.They never talked about the depression however my grandpa always packed a lunch for work afterwards and they never did anything that would waste money.He joined the navy during ww2 and that got them out of Kansas.They settled in Novato California after the war and later in Cotati.They had a small farm in Cotati to suppliment there income by selling beef and sheep and once a pig.Pigs have too much personality unlike most steer he told me.They were frugal people ,savers and investors also.For instance he had a western auto 16 guage pump shotgun.He could have bought a 870 wingmaster but he sprung for the western auto.The depression definatly molded there later life.

  20. Wonderful article! I enjoyed reading about the way people connected to benefit each other. I am sure this will be not seen at the beginning of shtf….maybe after the worthless are gone. Those that have skills will be the ones that others look to for survival and sadly there are many who do not have skills to even have a job.

  21. ne1u1tme2be says:

    Nice article, Rex. It’s important everyone know how to barter and learn some skills that would come in handy when TSHTF.

  22. My grandparents rode out the Great Depression . They were some of the most frugal , resourceful people I had ever met . One thing they told me was that barter was king . If you had a skill , were able to make or produce anything , you could get by in a situation like that . In their case , they had a small ranch out in the sticks with several head of cattle . They were able to grow enough grass and hay to feed all the animals . They bartered beef for the things they needed . They liked to listen to the radio so my grandfather built a wind mill generator to power it .

  23. silversofttail says:

    Rex,
    I so enjoyed your article! I credit my frugality and self-reliance to my parents who grew up in the depression.

  24. Exile1981 says:

    My wifes grandmother lived through the depression, even up till a few years ago she was still canning down tons of food each year and saving everything to reuse. Most people have forgotten that lessen, I see people throwing stuff away that I can’t understand why.

  25. Thinking about how my grandparents and parents/aunts/uncles/etc lived during the depression (I’m nearly a depression baby), I’m kind of shocked when I think of ways to survive and thrive during the coming years.
    One way my grandfather and uncles kept their heads above water was cutting and selling firewood- homes were heated and food was cooked with it much more then than now, however. Grampa had the truck and tools, the kids had the talent to work. Today, one of my activities is cutting and selling firewood, with a list of customers who call each year. This year, there’ve been more ‘new’ customers than ever, so I’m sure more people are putting in wood heat.
    An adjunct to selling the fuel, is cleaning the chimneys and checking the stoves, insuring good working condition. Knowing how to repair a brick chimney, or install metalbestos chimney, and properly install a wood stove, are trades that can be learned now, before they’re needed, as well as being interesting hobbies. One facet of my ‘business’ is the minimal number of low-cost tools needed, with exception of the chainsaws, splitter and truck, few items cost more than $15, but the income from them has paid for the purchase many times over.
    So, add that 3/4 ton or larger, truck to your list of must-haves, and a chainsaw, some other simple tools, and get educated in their use.

  26. northcentral kansas says:

    My grandparents lived in bas times. The great depression and world war two, many people where on food stamps and you could only get so much. There was also posters against stocking up on food and supplies.

    I got a lot of information on how to live better and cheaper. Having land that is paid off and that is in your name that is out in the country is priority number one. It seemed to me that they wanted a decent size family to help with the house, livestock, gardening, fishing, and other projects. The chickens, firewood, and the garden have been the biggest projects for us since

  27. This is great. What I was looking for. Thanks for the info. Anyone know any books or films that address the survival strategies of those times? Rabbits and chickens and a 3/4 ton flat bed truck. Beautiful.
    My dad had all those even in off post suburbia. Gawd I wished I had listened to him more. But hey, it was the sixites-n-seventies. Fortunately most of my brian cells survived.
    Thanks to all of you for the additional ideas and stories.

  28. This is my first time visiting your site!!! I love it. The information on here is great, and I especially love this article. I too have looked toward past times in history and people who have survived it. I got the best information from my father in law who grew up dirt poor and had no other option, but to raise and grow and make everything they consumed and used. I am proud to be learning the ways of a hillbilly and enjoy that I look at it as more of a lifestyle as opposed to a safety net. This article I was pleased to read that I am doing everything that this man was and is doing to provide for himself, i.e. raising chickens, goats, rabbits ect… My hope is to encourage as many people as I can to do the same. Thank you so much for posting this and I look forward to visiting your site more and more.

  29. The greatest generation, many of whom were born in or lived through the great depression, are slowly but surely slipping into eternity. We should all learn from them while we can.

    Great article.

    Joe

  30. Clyde king says:

    M.D. love your site. Speaking of the depression, my folks didn’t know there was a depression. Born in 1916, my father hewed railroad ties with a broad axe. His pay was a box of shotgun shells a week. Why not cash I ask? Money didn’t buy much, a good shot could wild game on the table for a month! Pigs were .03 a pound, herd them home, fatten them up and wala, …sausage, smoked hams, and cooking lard. They eat everything but the squeal. My mother shocked wheat until her hands bled. I don’t think we will find many that could or would work that hard today. If ever those times return, god help us. They call them the “good ole times”. My father-in-law says he would never want to go back to that time, it was a hard life. His hired hands slept in the bunk house, got fed one good meal a day, just to work on the sawmill. They snaked logs from the woods with a team of horses. With out them, we wouldn’t be here today.