Too Poor

Our community has always had lots of poor people, by which I mean people with little money and few possessions. People here were poor in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was growing up, and people here are poor now.

But what it means to be poor has changed. In many ways poor people today are better off. Overall, poor people now have more possessions. Things we would have considered unattainable luxuries in my childhood are now regularly available to nearly everyone it seems. Some of that is attributable to easy credit and the loss of our cultural aversion to debt. Some of it is attributable to the fact that things are just a lot less expensive now than they used to be. Regardless of the reason (and acknowledging the fact that there are still plenty of poor people who have neither possessions nor money), it seems clear to me that, as a group, poor people aren’t as bad off now as they were a few decades ago.

But in at least one very important way it seems to me that poor people here are worse off now. I recently learned that people in our nearby city of 50,000 spend over $1 million per month in food stamps (SNAP). I’m confident that we’ve never before been so thoroughly dependent on others for food. When I was growing up, poor people kept gardens, chickens and (if possible) livestock. We hunted and fished. We may not have been able to buy movie tickets or stylish clothes, but by and large people were able to feed themselves.

Of course sometimes we all need a helping hand, and I’m happy to live in a society where people don’t have to go hungry when they’re in hard times. But when we have to depend upon others to give us food, in perpetuity, then we’ve become far too poor.

I wonder how many of the people who are now food-dependent are even aware that they have the ability to grow food themselves. Sadly, as a society it seems we’ve lost the basic knowledge of food production–the most fundamental of all human skills and the one that has assured the survival of our species for thousands of years.

I’m hopeful that the tide will soon turn. I like to imagine a future filled with backyard, community and rooftop gardens–a future in which even people who are poor, are not too poor.

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19 comments on “Too Poor

  1. Unfortunately the vast majority of people these days (certainly here in Greater London) are so dispossessed from the land it wouldn’t even enter their heads to grow their own food. Most people that rely on handouts are time rich but motivation poor, and if you can’t grow pizza or fried chicken on trees why bother? Some sections of the community consider it their human right to sit on their a+++ all day and be given money and food. Sorry to be so bleak but that’s how I see it. I much prefer your version!

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    • Susan says:

      Oh, I so agree with your point of view. I’ve listened to people around here that say they don’t WANT to eat vegetables and fruit. They literally DEMAND McDonalds, and processed foods.
      And not to degrade those that contribute this stuff at “Food Drives”, but ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese are LOUSY things to donate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill says:

        We have to reeducate people. As a former junkfooder myself, I know how seductive it can be. And an obscene amount of money is being made by selling this crap to people and calling it “food.” As for food drives, that deserves a post of its own. Far too often I’ve seen people giving food to “the poor” that they wouldn’t eat themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      But London (and the rest of Great Britain) did an amazing job of urban food production during WWII, as we did here in the U.S. with our “victory gardens.” It can be done. Part of our mission is to persuade people to give it a try. Sadly, there are very powerful interests that prefer us to be “motivation poor.” We’re up against an industrial complex that prefers people to be dependent upon it. And they have lots of money and power. Our advantages are that we’re right and that their system isn’t sustainable. So it’s just a question of when we win, and how much unnecessary suffering comes first. Or so I choose to believe. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Scott says:

        Many folks in WWII could remember fresh in their minds the motivation it took to work a diverse farm and therefore be fed, or still were doing so. Now, (as you alluded to) that idea of physical work for food, yeah, folks have heard of it….
        Powerful interests is right.

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      • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

        I appreciate your optimism, but I am not sure I share it. The cultural shift has been so great, and the sense of “entitlement” has replaced the pride and independence of previous generations. I’m not sure how we can get that back, even with plenty of education and encouragement.

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  2. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, our country has become a society of entitlements. In 2013 statistics from the Census bureau says that 49% received some government assistance. I would be considered one of that 49% because of receiving social security. Add in all the government employees and there is a huge segment of our population that use government money to live. This city I live in does allow chickens and gardens but there are some Neighbor hood associations that don’t in the surrounding subdivisions. I have to agree that the connection to the land and where food comes from has mostly been lost. The last two generations couldn’t grow a garden even if their life depended on it because they have no interest in doing it. I keep trying with my grandson but no break through yet at 11 years old. I have to say though that at 11, I didn’t really have an interest in gardening all that much. Now farming with driving tractors and pickups in the fields yes. Yes, I did drive tractors and pickups when I was 11 years old but it was a different time back then. Tractors were much smaller and had less power. The city I live in is very willing to let practically anyone have a garden on city owned vacant lots just to keep the weeds down. It’s rare for them to find anyone to take advantage of that willingness. Physical labor other than in the construction industry has been reduced down to a minimum. Even a task like mowing the grass has become a struggle for the younger generation. Sweating has become an indicator that the work is too hard and should never happen. Really? I always thought a good sweat every day cleaned out the pores and kept me healthy and made the shower really feel wonderful at the end of the day.

    Yeah, you can see that you really got me started on this post. Sorry I took up so much space but I see the qualities that built this country slipping away in today’s world. I can only hope that if the need arises that the younger generation will step up to the task and survive as we have in the past.

    Have a great day on the White Flint Farm..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      I continue to be impressed at the great work you’re doing there to demonstrate how urban gardens can exist and work. In my mind you’re one of the heroes of the movement!

      Let me encourage you not to give up on that child. I can tell you that at age 11 I wanted nothing more than to get out of here and go live in a city. You’re sowing seeds in that young man (as my grandfather did with me) that may take a while to germinate.

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  3. ain't for city gals says:

    My mother tells the story of the great depression when she was a child. She says they always had enough to eat and even to help other people because my grandfather raised all the food and cow and chickens etc. And of course my sweet grandmother canned it all and worked so hard. So I try to take a lesson from that…

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    • Bill says:

      My grandfather had to quit school after the third grade to become the head of family after his elderly father went blind. He saved the family farm during the depression and went on to eventually buy a farm of his own and raise a large family. He worked hard every day of his life as long as he was able to do so.

      I hope to always remember something he once told me: “Back in the Hoover days, nobody had any money. But we always had something to eat.”

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  4. Dani says:

    “We may not have been able to buy movie tickets or stylish clothes, but by and large people were able to feed themselves.” I, too, have wondered if modern (wo)man don’t suffer from a case of misplaced priorities? Movie tickets, restaurant meals, stylish clothes and the latest technology are all luxuries in my book, but it would appear that modern (wo)man feel that they are entitled to them, and will buy them before they buy food.

    As you say, being able to grow vegetables, or plant a fruit tree in an otherwise ornamental garden should be the norm, not the other way round. I love some of the pics I have seen of people in America who have turned their urban pavements into “free” food gardens.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m encouraged by the urban farming movement. We have friends who are doing great work helping poor people learn to garden in our nearby city. One of the interesting things they discovered as they worked to change the laws (which prohibited urban gardening) is that those laws had been enacted to force working class people to buy their food from the local grocery stores, which were of course owned by the powers that be.

      I remember being ashamed and embarrassed by the fact that we grew our own food. I wanted to be like the “rich” people who could afford TV dinners and canned biscuits. I used to be happy when the cows ate wild onions so we had to buy “store-bought” milk.

      It is bizarre to this formerly poor ignorant redneck that homegrown food is now considered a privilege of the affluent and “fast food” (which we couldn’t afford when I was growing up) is now considered the food of the poor.

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  5. When I read “Grapes of Wrath” it impressed on me the Joads need to do everything and any work possible to keep the family together and survive until the next day. Fried dough.

    I’ve been poor and very, very poor. Reduced to 136lbs for my 6’2″ frame. I wish someone would have suggested food stamps at that point in my life while I was working a graveyard shift for 468$ a month and going to college on a scholarship. My shared apartment ate half my income and I had no car.

    Growing food takes an investment of time, space, energy, and know how I couldn’t have afforded. I like being comfortable now and having the financial opportunity to build a farm and focus on sustainable and healthy methods. I try hard to judge not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Well said.

      I’ve been poor like that too (under very similar circumstances). And I’ve been poorer still, in ways I’m still too ashamed to admit. I’m glad there are safety nets in place to help people when they need it.

      An important part of our mission, that is to say what motivates us in life, is to reform the food system. In this country our food stamps program is linked to our “Farm Bill.” When our Congress votes it can only get one if it accepts the other. Big Ag gets its subsidies only if poor people get to eat, and vice versa. When an effort was made to vote require separate votes, Big Ag went ballistic and so the unholy alliance remained. Big Ag told the farmers who questioned the relationship that all the money spent on food stamps would ultimately come back to their pockets. They’re right about that.

      I’m convinced that we don’t need to be so poor that 1 out of every 7 American households gets food stamps. We shouldn’t be that poor. I don’t know about the rest of the world but I grew up poor in this community and while we couldn’t create money out of thin air, we could create food. Our mission is to persuade people to grow their own food whenever they can. It can be done. We did it for thousands of years. More recently we did it during WW II. The Cuban people did it after the collapse of the USSR. I believe with all my heart that nearly all of us can become food self-reliant. For those of us who are unemployed (in the conventional sense), it should be our priority and can be fairly easily accomplished.

      Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see how the current system is sustainable.

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  6. Scott says:

    Amen, Bill. Here’s to re-skilling instead of handouts!

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    • Bill says:

      I think most people would prefer self-reliance to dependency. These days I think many people aren’t aware that they have the option. That needs to change.

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  7. dilipnaidu says:

    Nice article Bill. It is my observation sometimes monetarily ‘poor’ people are more happy than the rich. They lead a simple life and stay healthy in mind and body.

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    • Bill says:

      Once basic human needs are met, studies have proven that more money does not result in more happiness. It’s quite easy to be both wealthy and miserable. It’s also possible to be impoverished, but not food-insecure. I think we’d do well to encourage people to become as self-reliant as reasonably possible, regardless of how much money they may or may not have.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. dilipnaidu says:

    Spot on Bill the basic needs are mandatory for survival. Thanks.

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