By Gene Hall
Some believe the answer to future food needs is for many people to grow their own food. As a nation, as a species, we once did that—nearly all of us at first. Now, more than 97 percent depend on those who work the land.
Could it be that way again? Sure. Growing up on the farm in the late ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s was an experience I would not trade for anything, but I left it willingly. Since World War II, most of America has done the same.
Our East Texas farm was not large, but we did grow some food! I can still remember Sunday meals, often with our pastor or visiting clergy. My father was very fond of saying, “Everything on this table was grown right here on our farm.” Our visitors were always impressed. Even then, in the ’60s, that sort of thing was becoming rare. The fare was a home-cooked delight. We had pot roast from beef that was corn-fed and raised a few yards from the back door. There was fried chicken that scratched the ground only hours before.
New potatoes, fresh tomatoes, turnip greens, green beans, squash and dozens of home-grown vegetables were regular things on our table. Cornbread with hand churned butter, homemade ice cream or peach cobbler—all of it grown on the farm or squeezed out of our jersey. Dad may have fudged a little on the sugar in the desserts, the iced tea or sodas, but it was darn close. Last week, I asked my dad how much of our own food we grew. He said at the height of it—80 percent.
Yes, it is possible, and the secret is a home-grown labor force. Ours was my hardworking father, mother, two grandparents, my brother and two sisters. My other two younger sisters were not old enough for most of it. I remember the wonderful food, but I also remember how hard we worked. We had various cash crops, but most of it was consumed by the family.
I don’t want this to sound like The Grapes of Wrath, but we worked very hard. At 10, I scratched potatoes out of the ground behind a “middle buster” plow.
At 12, I baled hay and hoed Johnson grass out of vegetables and half an acre of sweet corn. It seems like we built or patched fences nearly every day. Livestock had to be fed. Corn was grown, worked and harvested to feed them.
The work did not hurt me, and it’s actually quite pleasant to look back on it. But we could not sustain it. My college-educated dad took a good job off the farm. I left for Texas A&M and television news. My brother took a job in Colorado. The farm was sold in 1977 and family land nearby became a smaller one.
Today, even professional farmers depend on the grocery store for much of their food. Growing your own is possible with great planning and the cooperation of Mother Nature. It also takes hard work. Even harvesting more calories than you consume in the process requires skill.
Some folks can’t grow their own food. Some, like me, don’t want to. I’m grateful for the efficiency and expertise of modern agriculture and state-of-the-art grocery stores. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes miss the way we “grew our own.”