Food for the Tree Army – FDR’s CCCPosted: May 22, 2012
It’s a casserole – no it’s just a lot of food piled on one plate. Who cares, it tasted great. That’s what C. H. Brown had to say about the food he ate while working at a Civilian Conservation Camp (CCC) in the early 1940s. After planting trees all day he didn’t care how the food was served: pile the potatoes, green beans, squash, meat and apple pie all into his small camp kit. It was the best food ever!
Three hots and a cot; and all a young man had to do was be willing to work. The CCC was the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s alphabet soup agencies.
The CCC was formed to combat the effects of a national disgrace – America’s lands had been neglected for so many years that a country with over 800 million acres of forests had dwindled to just 100 million. Three generations of water erosion, wind erosion and other poor farming practices had taken its toll on the land; to add to the misery the Great Depression had left 2 million people wandering aimlessly. FDR acted quickly to rescue the teenage tramps of America and the land. He gave the boys of America a chance to work.
Formed to plant trees and fight forest fires the CCC evolved into a “life” training camp for the youth it hired. As Mr. Brown said “I learned to be a man.”
Whether fighting fires or building roads and buildings these boys of the CCC needed food and lots of it and they ate locally. In Michigan workers recall plates of fresh blueberry muffins but here in the South fried chicken was an expected meal –every week. Cookies were staples at some sites: oatmeal, molasses, ginger, and sugar. Energy was needed to plant more than two billion trees, build 13,100 miles of foot trails, restore historic structures, build fire lookout towers and fight forest fires.
It wasn’t just the CCC workers who gained, William Jamerson http://www.billjamerson.com/ has interviewed many CCC alums and tells stories about camp food being bought on Saturday afternoon as the farmers’ markets were about to close. A farmer would receive payment for the vegetables and sometimes as a gift gasoline for his truck as well. When one camp announced it would pay for any deer or other large animal that had been killed by a truck – it was inevitable. One farmer showed up every two or three weeks with his “road kill” (deer and even bear) yet there was no damage to his truck. The animals more likely died from the bullets found in the bodies than any truck crash.
With so much good food being provided changes started occurring in the CCC. Health of the workers improved and it is estimated the average weight gain for CCC workers was 18 pounds.
I started to say that I couldn’t eat as much as they did and gain weight but that’s not true. I could easily gain the weight and more but I’m not doing the work they did so my weight gain would be just another opportunity for my Doctor to discuss my health.
Annually a group of CCC alums meet at Vogel State Park in North Georgia. This year 10 gentlemem arrived. All, at least 90 years old, declined to help with the trail clearing being done that morning. I also declined and I’m a few decades short of 90. We all enjoyed the potluck and conversation in a hall built by the CCC plus we had a chance to tour the CCC museum, a new building which was constructed from the trees planted so many years ago by the CCC.
Unlike their camp days, for the reunion meal the boys didn’t have to mix their squash and meat. There were even separate plates for dessert.
If you know someone who was in the CCC and have stories to tell – please leave a comment below.
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