The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Influences of poverty on African-American gardens

Poverty rates in the U.S.Perhaps the most important factor influencing African-American gardens in the rural South --- and the hardest to disentangle from other potential factors --- is poverty.  If you were born black in America, you are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty as if you were born white.  Many of the "unique" aspects of African-American gardens are ones I grew up with in my own area, since Appalachia is nearly as poor as the so-called "Black Belt" further south.

Working outside under a shade treePoor people tend to have smaller houses, so it's no surprise that their yards act as an extension of their living space.  Even though most of the families in Westacott's study now have electricity and running water, many continued to use the back porch and/or the area around their well as a center of cooking and washing.  Anyone who has cooked in the South in the summer without air-conditioning can understand why you might want to can, make soap, or even fry up your dinner outside over a fire rather than heating up the whole house.  And if you've been crammed into five hundred square feet with five other human beings, you might choose to shell the peas outside under a shade tree too.

Westacott noted that "piles of temporarily discarded or recently-acquired-for-some-unspecified-use-in-the-future materials are commonplace on most small farms and rural properties."  See, that trash heap by our barn is just a sign of frugal ingenuity!  The author explained that similar piles grace most of the properties he visited, for use in building animal pens and fixing other objects around the farm.  The families he visited even used found art to brighten up their front yards, lining their paths with colored bottles and tacking hubcaps to the fence.

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This post is part of our African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I can relate to the trash heap on the back of the property to re-use later. And growing up and living in the deep south most of my life, most of the things that have been described in this series, I have definitely either seen or had over the years... like the tires as gardens, the yard being the center of social life, and so many others. I think in large part, the Creoles and African-Americans added much to the culture I know as my own. As a former slave state, it's not to hard to understand how the cultures have melded. There is still some segregation around here which is unfortunate. I think the late 20th century saw a re-divergence in cultures.
Comment by Shannon Thu May 13 12:24:42 2010

We certainly have a bit trash heap, and I'm glad someone understands it. Every time my mom comes over, she looks at it, horror-stricken. But the truth is that Mark takes bits and pieces out of all that junk machinery all the time.

I like your point about the melding of cultures too.

Comment by anna Thu May 13 15:41:24 2010

I think that most family farms have some sort of junk heap stashed somewhere, because you never know when you might need that odd-shaped bit of metal or that tail end of the chicken wire or that left-over bit of tin-roofing. Personally, I think it's a great plan (although I am enough of a neatnik to try to keep our pile hidden, heh), because it both saves money and keeps stuff out of the landfill; that's one of the three "r"s of environmentalism, right? "Re-use?"

Anyway, I've been very much enjoying your various lunchtime "lectures" on different types of gardens around the world! My favorites were about cottage gardens (since that tends to be the way my own garden leans), but I've gotten lots of ideas to try and just interesting information from the others - thank you!

Comment by Ikwig Thu May 13 15:59:03 2010
I'm so glad you've been enjoying our lunchtime series! I was hoping they weren't too dry and long for folks.
Comment by anna Thu May 13 20:00:56 2010

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