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31 2 2.TheTraditional Family Farm A Personal Account I was born in 1929 on a small, fifty-one-acre farm in Greene County in the valley of east Tennessee. My father had inherited the farm from his father in 1918, when he was eighteen. He borrowed money to build a good all-purpose barn and a small tenant cabin and then rented the farm for several years to a sharecropper. His net income from the farm was minuscule. He lived with a sister and her family and, at the time, had no interest in farming on his own. Instead, he spent a short time shucking corn in Iowa (a great adventure) and then, in the early 1920s, spent almost two years as a hired hand on a rather large farm in southeastern Iowa. He practically became a member of the farmer’s family and kept in touch for the rest of his life. Sadly, the owner lost the farm in the Depression . After farmwork, my father spent two years working in automobile factories in Detroit, returning to Tennessee in the summers during retooling time at the factories. But when my parents married in 1928, he decided to try to make it on his own as a farmer. He idealized farming then, and he always would. My mother, eight years younger than my father, had grown up in the same small community. After high school, she completed one quarter at East Tennessee State Teachers College and had planned on a career in teaching. However, a mix-up in her high school credits forced her to drop out, and she went to work in a rayon factory in nearby Elizabethton . She had grown up on a farm and was not anxious to move back to a small farm and a less-than-adequate house. But in 1928, it seemed that one or two good burley tobacco crops would easily pay off the $500 32 A Revolution Down on the Farm mortgage my father had obtained to build the existing house and barn, which would then allow him to build a decent house.Then my parents could enjoy the independent life of freehold farmers. My birth did not alter these plans, but the stock market crash that would occur just as I was born (late October 1929) would place their farm at risk and lead to five years of almost desperate poverty. Tobacco prices fell to such low levels in 1932 that our crop scarcely earned enough money to pay the hauling bill to get it to market. For a short time, my family reverted to a near subsistence form of agriculture.We had goods to sell on the market, but at prices too low to cover the cost of production. Everyone in the village suffered from this lack of demand.And it is this pattern of life in the village during the Great Depression that I want to describe. Profile of a Farming Village Aided by geological survey maps for 1937, I counted all the farms in my community, as defined by the location of the Bethesda Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the graveyard behind it.The people who lived around this church and attended it (if they attended any church at all) and those who chose to be buried in its cemetery made up a rather cohesive neighborhood.The village was further defined by the upper watershed of a creek and a highway that connected Greeneville with Kingsport, each seventeen miles from the church. Most children attended the two-room schoolhouse in the center of the village, except for those who lived on farms across the nearbyWashington County line. Of course, these boundaries are a bit arbitrary, but I identified eighty-two families that lived in this rural farming community in the early 1930s. I included two permanent tenants but did not include a few temporary sharecroppers.With the exception of one absentee owner, all the local farmers knew one another, exchanged goods and labor, and more often than not met in church on Sunday.As a boy, I knew all the local owners and most of the tenants. My village was in a former mixed farming area, but in the early twentieth century, burley tobacco became the main money crop. For frugal and efficient farmers, the tobacco check that came in December or January was by far the largest monetary income and the source of any savings. But tobacco, a very labor-intensive and challenging crop, took up only a...


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