Common and Uncommon Ground

In writing about slave gardens, I realized how much my family farm lifestyle pulled from slaves and other tillers of the soil. A significant difference being the white family farm was chosen.

I need to pause here and recognize that Black farmers, after the Civil War and during the Great Depression, were swindled out of their property, land, and livelihood. In effect, they lost their “forty acres and a mule.” The Dustbowl era further destroyed subsistence farms—white and non-white—alike. The Great Migration of non-whites North (1916-1970) exacerbated the erosion of land ownership and lifestyles. Not until the late 1990s was agriculture credit extended to farmers of color, thus offering a slow return to farming lifestyles.  

My 80-acre family farm, produced tobacco, cotton, and hogs. We raised enough field corn to feed our hogs. We also planted a one-acre home garden. Both endeavors carried the farm through a full year. We bought flour, eggs when the hens stopped laying and molted, oranges, grapefruit, apples, and other fruits we could not grow.  Black-eyed peas, okra, butterbeans, corn, and my favorite, vine-ripened tomatoes, were raised, eaten fresh in summer and frozen or canned for winter months.

We milked our own cow and slaughtered a calf annually. We were not as fond of pork, so when selling the shoats, only bought back the chops and bacon from one pig.  We traded fall squash and pecans to the neighbors for their summer watermelon and cantaloupe. 

Town kids dreaded school starting as it ended their carefree vacation days. But, as a farm kid, I   looked forward to September and a return to school and less time for field work. Homework, no matter the amount, was preferred over the fields and, although evening chores loomed year-round, I considered them light duty.   

Over time, Mother stopped milking our cow, Pansy. Barnyard chickens were no longer raised. Gradually, the home garden got smaller, and cash crop allotments were leased out. Daddy focused on swine and corn production.

Later, Mother earned her teaching credential by driving sixty miles, from our farm to Tallahassee to attended Florida State University, three days a week.  She shared a ride with two other students—called non-traditional students in today’s lexicon—and graduated in two years. After graduation, Mother served as the American history teacher in the local, segregated high school. Not until I left my home community to attend college, was the high school integrated.

Autobiographical glimpses of that family farm seasoned with a healthy dose of fiction can be found in my short story collections and my novel. All are available through bookstores and community libraries near you.

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