Appalachian Food Gardening

Living Off the Land – Then and Now

harvesting vegetables

“Yeah, we had a big farm up there. Oh, it’s so pretty, big bottom after you get up there. Some places on the mountain’s really pretty; after you get up there, it’s level, you know. Big fields, wheat fields, corn fields, fields of taters, and all kinds of vegetables. That’s the way they made their living. Had hogs, chickens, cows, raised their own meat, raised their own bread; thrashers would come every fall and thrash four, five and six stacks of hay or wheat to make flour. Took their own wheat to the mill, had flour mills, ground the flour; about as good a pure bread as you ever ate, from your own wheat you raised. People don’t raise it no more down here. A lot of them raise a little corn, but not everything like they used to. Had all their stuff made at home, didn’t have to go out to buy very much. Had to buy soda and salt to put in your bread, had your own buttermilk.”

(Lilly Wykle)

“Small farming has gone by the wayside with the changes in times and large conglomerates of agricultural products. The young people have moved away from the land. Very few still live there because you can’t make a living there anymore and they’re not satisfied with the lifestyle that’s accompanied by that type of life. When I grew up, and this may sound a little austere, but we raised most everything that we ate. We came to Boone just on occasion, and Grandpa would buy 400 to 500 pounds of flour and 100 pounds of salt, a couple hundred pounds of sugar for canning, and some coffee; and that was about the extent of our shopping. We didn’t come to Boone more than twice a year generally speaking, even though it was only fifteen miles from our house.”

(Charles Michael)

Excerpts from “Mountain Voices” by Warren Moore

The book “Mountain Voices” was published in 1988—the year I graduated from high school. Many things have changed since then.

Growing up in a family who always made a garden and hunted game to put up for winter eating lead me to follow the same path once I was married. Having the garden loom large in my life caused me to pay attention to others who attempt to raise at least part of the food that nourishes their family as well as to those that don’t give it a second thought and rely on grocery stores and the like.

Of course there’s many reasons folks don’t try to raise the food they eat. A few obvious ones that come to mind: they don’t have the necessary skills, they don’t have a good set up for growing food, harvesting game, or raising animals, they have health issues that limit their mobility, and the ease at which food can be procured from stores leaves folks wondering why they should exert themselves for something so readily available.

Since I started blogging back in 2008 I’ve noticed a resurgence in the desire to raise at least part of one’s food supply. A quick search for homesteading will turn up folks who not only have altered their lifestyle to ensure a more self-sufficient life, but are actually encouraging others to join their ranks.

I noticed the movement to grow your own food increase gradually from year to year until 2020. The pandemic supercharged people into realizing they need to garner the gardening knowledge that still exists in their family lines and put their hands in the good soil to gain the skills they need to provide food for their loved ones.

I believe the current back to the land movement is a good thing. There is a real joy in raising food to feed your family, friends, and neighbors. Not to mention the health benefits of eating real food and gaining much needed exercise by tending the growing plants and animals.

If you’re someone who would like to try your hand at growing vegetables but are intimidated by the process I’m encouraging you to jump into the dirt with both feet. There’s tons of information online for beginning gardeners to peruse, and the Good Lord gave us a real advantage. He designed plants to want to grow. Whether you’re planting a seed or a growing plant, its one purpose is to grow, produce, and propagate its next generation.

Last night’s video: Early Spring in the Appalachian Mountains | My Life in Appalachia 20.


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  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    May 10, 2022 at 8:04 am

    Coffee and Tipper…what a way to start the day, if you missed it yesterday, and then another cup of coffee. God Bless for all your words of wisdom. Give my best to the Deer Hunter, the Girls and Austin too.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 9, 2022 at 4:46 pm

    Tipper, hope you see this. Have you ever posted about “community assisted agriculture”? Participants sign up with farmers in such a program and get a box of fresh produce on a preset schedule, such as weekly. Typically, it is picked up at a central distribution point or points. For the farmer, the advantage is knowing how much to plant of each thing and having an assured market and not in competition with the big syndicate farms. Family farms get to survive. For the consumer, they get fresh, local produce, are a vital part of sustaining community and probably will make some dear friends. It is win for all around.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2022 at 7:41 pm

      Ron-I have heard of them, in fact I know of at least one here in Cherokee County. Such a wonderful way to support farmers and have good wholesome food too 🙂

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    My Pa was raised at the Thomasville orphanage where he did his share of working the gardens. When the Great Depression came, he lost his business but kept enough cash to lease some land – adjoining the Catholic Orphanage outside Raleigh – and buy a cow, a pig, some chickens and the tools he’d need to raise a garden for his brood of 4 that was soon to grow to 6 then to 7, 8 and 9 (me). I remember that he had a garden from as far back as I can remember – about the age of 4. He kept at it into the early ’50s, until after The War and rationing was lifted. He was in his early 60s by then.

    I’ve grown ‘patches’ from time to time, but at 80yo a full garden is beyond my ability. I do have a number of pots and boxes growing herbs among the flowers. There was a ‘back to the land’ movement in the late 60s and early 70s that coincided with the hippie movement. It petered out but I’ve seen another one start recently.

    Perhaps the knowledge will not be completely lost as long as generations to come see the need or feel the urge.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 9, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    I’m going to pick some strawberries today if I can. I’ll send you a picture!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 9, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    We all live off the land! The problem is that a vast majority of people don’t live on the land they live off of. Most people don’t have any idea where their food, clothing and shelter comes from. They have no idea the processes involved in getting those necessities to them or how fragile the supply chain is. It is true that the “back to the land” movement has gained momentum but has it kept up with the increase in the population? What worries me is, when city dwellers find grocery store shelves bare, will they make forays out into the countryside looking for food? Will we have to take up arms to defend our gardens and barns, not from deer, rabbits and squirrels, but from wild animals of the two legged kind? Will it again become legal to shoot a human being who is stealing your chickens, raiding your root cellar or pilfering your smokehouse? It could happen, you know! We are not nearly as civilized as we think we are when we are starving!
    “Oh no, not me! I wouldn’t shoot someone just for stealing a couple of chickens!” But what happens when they tell their friends that you caught them at it and did nothing? Then it will be your family that is starving! It’s a lot to think about.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 9, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Finally planted our garden late yesterday. It was still a little too wet but we needed to get it planted now. I am trying hard to stock a good pantry with as many home canned goods as I am able. And with the goods we have to buy so that we never have a food-type emergency.

    I love seeing the veggies come up so much. It’s hard to have to thin them out but we have too–I tend to be a planter of many extra seeds, especially when I have older seeds. Later on when it gets so hot, I always wonder why I have gotten myself into this.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 11:23 am

    Finally we are getting some warm weather and I will be planting vegetables later this week. I am excited about getting seeds and plants in the ground.
    First you made me hungry for my Mother’s turnips in greens and next you had me again longing for my Mother’s Banana Pudding. I can make that thank goodness:) Oops, I should have started with what Matt was having for breakfast. We always called it milk gravy over cat head biscuits – that was one of Mother’s specialties too. Lots of good memories.
    Thanks for taking us along on your walk. I love the creeks and little springs along the way. It was beautiful. Great singing Paul and Corrie on a song I had not heard before.
    And somehow I went down the rabbit hole and ended up at a pressleygirls video talking about Katie’s upcoming trip. I’m sure she is having a fabulous time. The twins have that love of family that I always felt for my people. Praying protection around Katie and her friends.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 10:14 am

    A lot of this describes the way we lived during my childhood in the 50& 60’s. We did not grow wheat for our flour and we did not have cows and ate very little beef. I never knew what it was or ate pizza until I was 17 years old.. We did have a milk cow for a few years of my early life. Without realizing it, we were doing a lot of the organic and free range that is suppose to be healthier now. Not trying to start trouble, but there was never a free range chicken cooked for Sunday dinner. Any of the Sunday dinner chickens were put in a 8×8 coop with a wire bottom raised off the ground and ate nothing but corn. If anyone will spend a little bit of time watching free range chickens you will soon learn how they got the nickname of barnyard buzzard. They will eat any and everything. Now that I am grown and look back on this coop , I now call it death row. It did have sides tall enough for the chickens to run around and there was no more than about 6 or 8 in it at a time. It did have a place for them to get out of bad weather and it also had a tin roof.

    This is just something I think about, is it the way food is grown or the way grocery store food is preserved that makes it unhealthy. Back in the times this is talking about about the only things used was salt, vinegar, sugar and maybe a few other things I don’t remember.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 9:28 am

    There is nothing like homegrown produce. Grocery store produce comes nowhere near it; tomatoes taste like cardboard. There is also nothing like getting outside and “playing” in the soil and seeing the miracle of a tiny seed turn into a vegetable, fruit or flower. I believe the garden was God’s original plan for us to pursue since that’s where the creation of man began. I am glad to see there is a movement of folks growing more of their own food and I hope it continues; it is a much healthier lifestyle in more ways than one. For those that don’t have much space I recommend the Green Stalk planters.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    May 9, 2022 at 8:44 am

    This morning’s blog was the most encouraging yet soothing blog YOUVE written in my opinion. I was practically lulled into a trance thinking of hard working Americans tending to their own children, home and provisions without the need to mind others business. It’s a lovely vision of people getting back to the human life experience. Since I started gardening, I just don’t have time or the desire to go much anywhere unless I have to. Gas and food and utilities are totally out of control and we have reached a point we cannot rely on the government system anymore for anything. If you don’t grow it, you may not eat and that’s the facts, Jax! I’d like to see bartering and trading goods and I will GUARANTEE BETTER ITEMS THAN WHAT ONE BUYS. A whole economy based around people’s needs could be established in local rural communities.

    • Reply
      Patty Hansen
      May 9, 2022 at 3:43 pm

      I’ve been ruminating on the whole bartering thing & wondering how to get something started in my own area. I sort of like a “1x a month bring something free” event idea. Maybe people could bring x amount of free items, 1 for every participant and people could just bring one of everything home. Like a cookie exchange? But I can’t wrap my head around how to do it so that people would be satisfied with what they got. Ex: If 12 people wanted to sign up & commit, I would bring 12 jars of jam, maybe another person would bring 12 pints of blueberries, another 12 bars of soap, 12 knitted something or others, etc… Got any ideas to make this work? I’m depending on you Margie G!!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 9, 2022 at 8:35 am

    One of the products of “subsistence farming” is self-reliance. And self-reliance spawns independence. Can’t push people around who do not have to have what somebody else wants to insist on their taking. King George found that out.

    I could get started if I let myself go. Suffice it to say a garden patch grows a whole lot more than food. Every effective “farmer” (even if in pots) becomes in some degree a practical ecologist. Besides that, there are spiritual lessons even in weeds. I heard a preacher tell one time about how he was struggling to get a tough-rooted runner grass out of his strawberry beds. He asked, “Lord, how come this grass has to be so hard to get up?” The Lord said, “Think about it.”

  • Reply
    Mary W
    May 9, 2022 at 8:33 am

    I love your statement that God blessed us with food that WANTS to grow. My potatoes sprout in a dark cabinet, seeds try hard to burst open and reach for the sun, flowers and stems lean into the light. We can provide for ourselves but for so many reasons, we have lost that art and it is utterly sad. I’m never happier than relaxing after working in my garden, sitting on my sit’n stump and overlooking God’s rewards. It is beautiful to see all that he blesses us with when we garden, the colors, smells, tastes, rewards for simply providing for ourselves. I learn so much while gardening, especially the value of things not like myself – creepy crawlers, stingers, nibblers, weather, rain.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 8:24 am

    I love reading the stories of how people lived off the land. I watch fishing shows and homesteads raising their own meat animals and shows of those that hunt for their meats.
    I didn’t come from a family of hunters or fishermen, in fact my dad was more of a hard working city man, but he taught us good work ethics. My mom grew up as a gardener. My mom grew up in the Hollar of WV, so she grew up working with the land and around the coal fields. She could grow anything she planted. She canned, froze and dried vegetables from the garden to preserve them. She baked from scratch just about everything while raising five children. She stopped canning when I the youngest of five got old enough to help, so what I’ve learned about canning I learned on my own. My mom sewed our clothes when we were little and thankfully she did teach me the joys of sewing. My mom kept the cleanest house out of anybody I’ve ever seen. She taught all us kids to cook and clean. Spring and fall were deep cleaning time from baseboards to ceilings. Everything got cleaned before getting a fresh coat of paint each year. She could build things when she put her mind to it and she was a very determined woman, so she built a lot of things around our home and they actually looked good.
    It would have been nice to learned about fishing, hunting and raising farm animals, but I’m thankful for the parents I had and for what they taught me and all my siblings.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    May 9, 2022 at 8:18 am

    I remember dad putting in a small garden when my sister and I were around 8 and 10 years old. I wasn’t too crazy about the process then, but now my husband and I put out a 30′ by 30′ garden each year. When our adult children were home we put out a 50′ by 50′ garden and I canned everything I could off of that garden. It definitely helped with the grocery bill when the kids were home. I still can and freeze everything extra off of the garden and we’re so thankful to have it. 2 of our adult children put out some sort of garden each year, but they’re so busy with our grandkids extra curricular activities they don’t have a lot of time to take care of their gardens. Like you I believe people do need to take care of themselves and grow what they can. Your own food grown at home is so much better.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 8:17 am

    There is definitely a big trend toward growing gardens with even apartment dwellers trying to figure ways to grow a few vegetables on their patios. With grocery prices soaring everybody is getting on the bandwagon, and I am very pleased to see this new trend. I got enough onion sets for the summer, as they are already getting hard to find.
    When I took part in the community garden it seemed many really lost interest as the summer went on. It is hard work and dedication. I managed a spring and fall planting until surgery caused me to lose my chosen spot in the surge of new interested growers. I had built it up with compost, so somebody will have a really fertile space. Maybe I will try again next year.

    Meanwhile, I have greatly decreased the size of my own garden, and I have been concentrating more on vertical growing. I had a surprise of about 60 volunteer tomatoes that seem quite hardy, and I cannot wait to see which heirloom they are. I always look forward to the Blind Pig’s gardening posts. I always found the hardest part was when the garden comes in and you have a limited time to get all that produce processed. I seemed to always overlook too many giant zucchini, and tomatoes seemed to always be in too many different stages of ripening. I hope to can some of Tipper’s wonderful pepper jelly. It is the only jelly I can eat since being jellied to death as a child. 🙂

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    May 9, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Loved watching yall work in your garden. May the Good Lord bless yall and give you an abundance of fruits for your labor ❤

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 7:31 am

    I’m with you, Tipper. Being able to grow our own food is healthier and more self-sustaining all the way around. One of my relatives lived in the city and she always had a big vegetable garden and chickens in the back yard (this was many years ago before homeowner associations ran the neighborhoods). The chickens supplied eggs and the fertilizer; scraps of the veg were fed to the chickens after peeling and chopping was done. It was a perfect circle. It wasn’t smelly and any eggs or veg left over went to neighbors down on their luck. It is a good life and I encourage everyone with a mind for it to do it. Thank you for the encouragements too.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2022 at 7:16 am

    Coffee, tend the chickens, start canning store bought zippers and, butter beans… My wife and daughter canned bread and butter pickles, yesterday… My turn to solo, today !!! Thank You Lord !!!

  • Reply
    Brad Byers
    May 9, 2022 at 6:58 am

    This reminds me so much of a story by Wendell Berry. He was recounting a narrative from people who lived much as described in this installment. The closing remark was unforgettable; “We had everything but money.”

  • Reply
    Patty Hansen
    May 9, 2022 at 6:57 am

    Spent Mothers Day moving strawberry beds to rotate something else in. Ate the first homegrown asparagus ever, from my own patch. We had never had any so delicious. The stuff from store tastes nothing like it. Of course I find this to be true of most of my homegrown things. Did you know, there is no “wild” asparagus. It was brought over by early colonists. If you find it along a roadside, it didn’t grow there naturally. Most likely, a bird deposited one of the berries it produces when left to go to seed. I dug all mine up from roadsides around my area & replanted at home. You would not believe the size of the stalks on it – hard to believe it came from a ditch! Rhubarb is ready for picking today. I can not explain the satisfaction I get from growing most of my family’s fresh food. And like the 2nd excerpt you included, I have been buying flour by the hundred lbs. to get us through what I think is likely to be another depression. Grow your groceries, folks, its worth the effort. I go to bed every night saying “job well done”.

    • Reply
      May 9, 2022 at 8:41 am

      AMEN !!!

  • Reply
    Patti Brockwell
    May 9, 2022 at 6:26 am

    I am trying it this year after a long hiatus! For years, we always had a small garden, but when I suddenly found myself a single mom, I decided I would have to raise children for a while instead of vegetables. Now that they’re older, I asked them for a raised bed for Mother’s Day this year and they are making it for me! I’m so excited! We’re just going to start with a few basics like tomatoes and peppers, etc., but I am looking forward to fresh produce from my own back yard again.

    It’s funny—when I told my oldest what I wanted, he said, “Oh, like Tipper, huh?”. They know I love your channel! Happy Mother’s Day, too, btw!!!

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