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September 3, 2005

“Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.”
Posted by Patrick at 06:34 AM * 375 comments

You know that involuntary little sharp intake of breath that we sometimes experience when a writer nails exactly the right telling detail?

John Scalzi on what being poor actually entails.

Comments on "Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.":
#1 ::: Jessie ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 09:12 AM:

Forgot one: Being poor means no change ever did you any good. Your people live in New Orleans for generations, seen and got over many floods and storms. They're familiar. Picking up and leaving town to go live among strangers? That's scary.

#2 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 10:14 AM:

Being poor means having no margin for error in any action you take.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 11:31 AM:

Quoting Chekhov from memory, and therefore approximately, "The rich take for granted the things we paid for with our youth."

Being poor means the only retail in your neighborhood sells worthless crap, fraudulently mislabeled goods, and half-spoiled food, and charges as much or more as you'd pay for better merchandise in a better neighborhood.

Being poor means the only clinics in your area are operated on a for-profit basis, have obviously incompetent doctors, and stick tests they never performed onto your bill if they find out you have insurance coverage; and when you phone them to say you're having an allergic reaction to the injection they gave you, have to set the receiver down and audibly rummage through the wastebasket for the discarded packaging the injectible material came in, because the clinic doesn't own a copy of the Physicians Desk Reference.

#4 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Been there, done that, got rid of most of the T-shirts from those days.

Jim's family was on welfare. Mine wasn't, but as Jim was a Catholic school teacher the first two years we were married, we lived right on the poverty level during the time he was teaching and I was in college. So I remember all of the things John Scalzi talks about. Not having a car. Not having enough credit to get a credit card. Not eating out for months at a time (except, maybe, for a pizza). I had surgery at one point, and while our insurance covered it, we had literally no spare money for a time because I could not work for six weeks. When I told a relative that I had to take a bus home from the hospital, he handed me $5.00 so I could take a cab home. Five whole dollars! It was an amazing sum of money for us at that time.

I often say that while money truly does not buy you happiness, it does buy you choices. Just about anyone with any means got the hell out of New Orleans last week, leaving the poor, the sick, and a shockingly holey safety net.

#5 ::: claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 11:53 AM:

I didn't start crying until I got to the Goodwill underwear. That, I think, was the line in my family...

--claire (who grew up in NYC Hell's Kitchen and came from poor)

#6 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 12:02 PM:

Being poor means living in the state park for months and always having to change your camping spot because you're only allowed to camp there for a couple of days. It also means not realizing that meant you were homeless because you thought camping out was groovy.

#7 ::: Christian Griffen ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 12:54 PM:

Thank you for sharing--that's a very poignant post. The last thing anyone should do in this situation is blame those who were already disenfranchised, and who now have even less than that.

And also:

Being poor means getting locked into a disaster zone by your government because they're afraid of you.

#8 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 01:37 PM:

I look at that list, coming from what is the richest country in the world. Ones that stick out are all the medical and schooling ones - a Welfare State is a Good Thing. Also the thinking that $8/hour is good money - it's very close to our minimum wage. Finally, the payday loans are something I keep having to ask "are they for real???" despite having seen repeated references to them. *shudder*

The car based ones stick out as well as a Londoner - but that is also partly to do with both public transport being better here and with petrol (gas) prices being higher here.

Still, I've always had a total of one definition of poor:
Being poor is not planning for the future - not because you don't want to, but because you need all the planning you can do to make it through the present.

#9 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Francis, I don't know about the UK, but in the US, many jobs open to the poor simply do not pay minimum wage (which can vary by state; there is a federal 'floor'). Working any job for tips, like waiting tables, means you don't get minimum wage. And there are plenty of employers who ignore the law, because they know damn well you can't afford to quit and find another job, or risk reporting them to the government because ditto.

Oh, and being poor means you don't complain about sexual harassment or unsafe working conditions.

#10 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 02:14 PM:

The law in its majesty prescribes mandatory evacuation with your own vehicle and means for the poor and the rich alike.

#11 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Growing up poor means being able to joke about waiting in line for welfare food -- and finding out it wasn't normal for all of us.

Growing up poor means taking non-academic jobs if they pay enough, even if it means that you're sabotaging your academic career

Growing up poor is not knowing how to cook expensive meat and fish, but you can make a chicken stretch to a couple weeks of meals.

#12 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 02:55 PM:

Poor is knowing where they set out the bread after it's been on the 'day old' rack ... and looking forward to it.

Poor is knowing many, many noodle recipes by heart, but very few that use meat or many spices.

Poor is not going to your family's house on the holidays, because you can't afford to bring anything.

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 04:04 PM:

If that didn't make you feel crappy enough, Nick Mamatas has a list of what it means to be even poorer.

#14 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 04:19 PM:

Avram: If that didn't make you feel crappy enough...

It didn't make me feel crappy. Truthfully, it made me thankful for my own hardscrabble background. Not quite poor, but not quite struggling working class either. My mom, a single parent, had a stable job which provided good benefits (no dental though - I could use some ortodonture) and a modest, barely sustaining income.

When I think back on what we ate, I realized that she pinched every penny, but there was always enough, even for unexpected guests. It never felt like we were as marginal as we were, although we did eat a lot of pasta, soups and rice and beans.

We also lived in decent places that others would sometimes disdain. For instance, for several years we had a nice, spacious apartment over a store in a slightly rundown building that had once been a hotel. Today, I wouldn't consider such a situation, but back then, it was great.

I try not to forget that I'm doing far better than most, although not as well as many. I also don't hesitate to remind people, when they're moaning about the price of gas that they can at least afford it.

I can't say that I know what it's like to be poor, but I can see that most of us don't have far to fall to find out.

#15 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 05:06 PM:

Francis, I got a large postcard in the mail today from a "payday loan" company. Fortunately, they only know me as "current resident."

#16 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 05:17 PM:

John said: "Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor."

When I was emancipated and my younger brother's guardian, we frequently had popcorn the last few meals before payday. It's pretty cheap. And one day, with the last of the popcorn, I opened the wrong hatch on the salt cylinder and poured a third cup or so of salt into the popcorn, making it unusable. My brother still brings it up.

My brother is now back in the US after being a missionary for another year and because he hasn't had a paying job for a year, they couldn't rent a place to live. A church organization is letting them live in an apartment owned by the church. When we spoke on the phone the other day, he was talking about school starting and being short of money for school clothes for his kids, but when I recommended thrift shops, he laughed as if I was making a joke. I guess it's a good thing he doesn't know that most of his school clothes during his last two years of high school and first two years of college came from thrift stores.

#17 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 05:31 PM:


Poor is not going to your family's house on the holidays, because you can't afford to bring anything.

We used to always scrimp to get the $1.99 (or, if we were lucky, almost past its sell date and $.99) bag of potato chips and take that as our "passing dish."

#18 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Teresa, afaik everyone (well-off, poor, with insurance, without insurance) is at risk for being charged for drugs, procedures, etc. they didn't receive if they go to a hospital.

If you're poor, you've probably got fewer resources for challenging the overcharges.

#19 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 07:42 PM:

Bellatrys has a superlative rant here about southern poverty.

#20 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 09:23 PM:

How do you answer folks like Neil Boortz ("Capitalist Robber Barons R Us") who seem to think that all it takes to stop being poor is to get out and do something about it?? I feel like I know intuitively it isn't as easy as that, but I'm not sure how to marshall the arguments.

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 09:44 PM:

How do you answer folks like Neil Boortz ("Capitalist Robber Barons R Us") who seem to think that all it takes to stop being poor is to get out and do something about it?? I feel like I know intuitively it isn't as easy as that, but I'm not sure how to marshall the arguments.

Neocon Republican philosophy like this can't be answered, because they literally don't understand where the rest of us are coming from. (These are the same folks who brought us 'trickle down' economics, remember.) They think that having won once, they are guaranteed future wins, world without end, amen. Also there's the New Calvinism: wealth and power show that God loves you (see Pat Robertson and the 700 Club). (My Calvinist great-grandfather would be appalled, if he were alive. And probably is anyway.)

#22 ::: Harriet ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2005, 11:10 PM:

When I try clicking on enjay's link to the Bellatrys rant, I end up on a Microsoft error page [there seem to be too many http://'s in the link]

Try this instead.

#23 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 02:27 AM:


Poverty: Theory and Practice I. Theory

Relativity: Before my then-boyfriend, now-husband, took me to meet his family, he kept warning me that "We don't have much money." When we got to his house, I was close to awestruck. A few months later he visited my home and got another view of "We don't have much money."

Distribution: I'm not about to talk politics, but sometimes I think that if God let everyone on Earth have a magic yard (tag, garage) sale, with the stuff that people *don't want or don't notice* going to those who need it, there might be enough to go around. Or at least we'd be closer.

(Rules: Keep the item if you like and/or use it. Otherwise, it goes. This applies to yachts and also to fingernail clippers.)


#24 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 02:35 AM:


II. Practice

I live in an affluent suburb. Both my husband and I work 40+ hours per week with good salaries, and I have a pile of clothes and shoes the size of a small desk that I haven't gotten around to donating. It's a noticeable chore to get the stuff from the 2nd floor closet down to the car and then to a thrift shop during the hours that a staff member can give me a receipt.

The public part of a Goodwill store here (a.k.a. GCF Community Foundation) is the size of a large supermarket. It's stuffed with racks and racks of clothes on hangers, e.g. three feet of red/rose/pink blouses adjacent to five feet of white/cream blouses, and so on. One day the door to the back was open, and I saw a stack of unsorted clothing on the floor that was the height of an average room and wider than it was tall. I was appalled. Then I realized that even if the clothes had been processed instantly, there wasn't room for them on the sales floor.

When visiting my mother I read a newspaper feature about two teenage girls who had been given $15 each to shop at a (different) Goodwill store. The article profiled their finds, showing how they had scored hip retro clothing. The managers of the store hoped the students would spread the word to their classmates that shopping at Goodwill produced cool fashions--the managers were trying to create a market for their merchandise.

In other words, there is plenty of supply and plenty of demand, but the geography doesn't match. It would require noticeable effort and money on someone's part to ship the contents of my town's Goodwill store to a less affluent or even disaster-stricken part of the country. I can't afford to do it. Now what?

#25 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 11:29 AM:

John Scalzi: Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

That can work the other way, too. When I was 12, the area I grew up in crashed, hard. I had to do the same thing, except that I was the only one not getting free or reduced price lunch. I got accused of "showing off your poppa's money". After a month or so of that, I started bringing my lunch. (My kids' school has gotten around that. Everyone uses a lunch card to buy their milk or lunch. Nobody but staff knows who's getting free/reduced lunch and who's paying full price.)

But we lived in the house my dad grew up in, my mom shopped the day old racks, the sale racks, the thrift stores, drove a car older than I was, made a lot of our clothes, and stretched her budget like her mom had done during the Depression. I wore Goodwill underwear (ok, St Vinnie's). Now that I'm running a household, we still live on about half the income many of our neighbors do.

TNH: Being poor means the only retail in your neighborhood sells worthless crap, fraudulently mislabeled goods, and half-spoiled food, and charges as much or more as you'd pay for better merchandise in a better neighborhood.
That's one of the advantages (if it can be called that) to being poor in the country or a small town. Nearly everyone shops at the same stores anyway, unless they've really got money, and then they shop at the ritzy stores in the city.

#26 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 03:01 PM:

I posted my list on Scalzi's site, but I want to add here that for me, not being poor is a matter of very careful planning, discipline, and luck. I managed to get through college. I managed to get and keep jobs. I managed to save money so that I had a cushion to fall back when the car - or my teeth - needed fixing. I am aware that this was due to both both luck and skill, and plenty of people have neither.

I wish I knew how to teach some of what I know. I wonder if some poverty today is complicated by the lack of the Depression-era survival skills my father taught me. For example, I use a tea-bag twice because he did.

I've thought of writing a book, but the sort of people who need the skills the most can't afford books, some of them can't read, and library budgets are being slashed all over the country.

#27 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 03:04 PM:

hmm, I use tea bags twice because I'm too lazy to go get a new tea bag every time I want a cup.

#28 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2005, 03:53 PM:

Magenta, you just hit on one of my top ten reasons why NPR pisses me off. When I listen to fundie radio stations, a lot of the time, they're doing shows on how to manage your money for lower and middle class (that is to say, working class) people. On NPR, I get stock market analysis, how to afford that summer home, and, I suppose, getting a jet ski for each foot.

It's a sad day when public radio doesn't serve the vast majority of the public.

Oh, wait--this is a sad day.

#29 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:14 AM:

What interested me was how many behaviours from the list and the comments have been in my family for at least two generations of non-poverty. Bending down to pick up change, filling pockets with free sugar, making do and mending, a relaxed attitude to mould and best-before dates - my parents both grew up in what passes for affluence among the working class and raised me in middle-class luxury, but the behaviours still got passed on.

#30 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:17 AM:

enjay -- I read all of bellatrys's rant I could stomach, and wasn't impressed.

I don't know nearly enough history to argue convincingly how the South turned out the way it did. The observation in a recent Smithsonian that the first colonists of Savannah insisted on slaves because the work was too hard is just one marker, and countered by their later article on Jamestown (which appears not to have been the collection of lazy fortune-seekers described by prior histories). But somehow they got stuck in a sort of feudalism (or manorialism?) when that form of society went out of favor over most of western Europe. It is not the North's fault that ambitious young Europeans mostly brought their imagination (and even copied technology) to the North; if they made a conscious decision, the more egalitarian society was the place to go. Pointing out that the North also profited from slavery may be dramatic -- Rutledge in 1776 is just the most obvious among many who do so more coherently than bellatrys -- but doesn't alter the fact that the North was also trying to abolish all slavery. (All right, only specific Northerners -- but then only specific Northerners were profiting from slavery. Live by the collective, hang with the collective.)

As for letting the South secede -- that ignores the fact that Britain (the South's main supporter) did not have the interests of the Confederacy at heart; what Britain was looking for was (a) cutting down a rival, and (b) getting another colony. An independent South would be lucky to be as well off as Kenya, and could only dream of being like India.

As for -"the North should have finished the Reconstruction"-: yes, it should have. But the South bought itself out of Reconstruction by throwing a Presidential election (Tilden v Hayes).

I usually don't agree with Graydon's argument that the entire Southern ruling class should have been hanged as traitors -- but from here it looks like the South's biggest problem is its own ruling class. And I suppose all the above can be read as reactionary blaming-the-victim -- but there is a big difference between the desperation for ]mere[ survival that makes individual improvement difficult for the poor, and the attempts to maintain privilege and power that destroy other people's attempts to rise.

#31 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:28 AM:

But somehow they got stuck in a sort of feudalism (or manorialism?) when that form of society went out of favor over most of western Europe.

Have you met Albion's Seed by Fischer? It lays out the regional differences in a way that explains probably more of the last two or three centuries than you really want to know. (And makes me think that the Shrub combines the worst features of New England and the South.)

#32 ::: Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:21 AM:

Re:Bellatrys's Rant:

Maybe the north would have let the south secede in peace if you guys had bombed fricking Fort Sumter.

#33 ::: Gita ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:05 PM:

Being poor means taking abuse from a boss because you have four bald tires and the rent is due.

Being poor means agreeing to clean chitlins before the restaurant opens, and you can't control your gag reflex.

#34 ::: David Moisan ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:42 PM:

Being Poor: When asked what you do for a living, answer "consultant"

Being Poor: Not EVER talking about money. Ever.

#35 ::: miranda ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 03:50 AM:

David: "Freelance Writer" works as well as "Consultant." I'm disabled, and I have done some freelance, so it's my default answer whenever I'm unable to work and someone I've just met asks me what I do for a living. (Frankly, if you say, "Nothing right now," people will giggle and say, "Oh, you're so lucky!")

The flip side of "Not EVER talking about money," is "Doing nothing but talking about money." I think it just depends on things like how anxiety-prone the speaker (or not-speak-er) is. In my family, where everyone grew up poor & has OCD tendencies, you always know when someone is doing badly financially because they do nothing but yammer on and on and on about money. When they don't bring it up, they're doing pretty well, but they'll still have the tendency to describe modest goods as "expensive," even goods they have no problem affording.

(Being poor: Target is a fancy, expensive store.)

#36 ::: Luke Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 12:02 PM:

that's the truest Essay I've ever read "Sad But True"


#37 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 01:54 PM:

I've lived most of Scalzi's list. But Goodwill hardly ever sells underwear. I'm just saying.

Marilee said:

I guess it's a good thing [my brother] doesn't know that most of his school clothes during his last two years of high school and first two years of college came from thrift stores.

This is none of my business, but how come he didn't know? Does he think the clothes just magically appeared in his closet?

#38 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 10:38 PM:

It feels good to listen to other poor people talk about being poor... why does that make me feel better? lol I'm a 1st year law school student and let me tell you, from an outsider looking in, it sure feels like "we", the "poor" weren't meant to make it that far. I look around and 98% of my classmates drive around in brand new B.M.W's and Saab's, typing away on their $2,500 laptops... and all the while I'm trying figure out if I have enough gas to make it home! lol P.S. being poor means having to choose between books and every other damn thing you need.

#39 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 01:51 AM:

Being poor means being the only National Merit Scholar in the district is completely ignored by the counselors because they're too busy with pregnant teenagers and gang warfare.

Growin' up poor is remembering fondly the first pair of store-bought pants at the age of sixteen, and still remembering it thirty years later. They were cargo-pocket hip-huggers. And they were mine first!

The humorous side to growing up poor is threatening my mother with my autobiography called "365 ways to ruin hamburger." I did not learn to cook from my mother. What's fun is she is now learning to cook from me.

Actually, I never felt we were poor. Just broke. I do know now that we were subsidized by my grandmother, but only to the extent of easing desparation. We had meat (see "hamburger" above), but did the day-old bread thing. I still do the day-old bread thing. The day after you buy regular bread, it's day old anyway. But I grew up in a middlin'-to-poor neighborhood, which is why I knew my family was only broke. I did most of the things on the "being poor" list, but not all at the same time. Really being poor means doing almost all of the things on that list almost all of the time.

#40 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 03:40 AM:

It's a while since I read Scalzi's list - I looked at it when Teresa first put it up - but what struck me then was how many of the behaviours I took for granted growing up, and in some cases still do. Like Nick Kiddle, I don't believe I grew up in poverty, or anything really resembling it. But my family never ate out; the leftovers were kept and re-used; I would never have friends over, and wore (and played with) hand-me-downs from my brothers and sisters.

I think this means I grew up with few of the financial deprivations but a lot of the social markers - perhaps, then, we were moving up the scale. I still find myself thinking $8 is a good wage, although I know it isn't and I'm glad I've not had to live on anything near it for three years. (Although that has meant taking a new job - and moving to a different country - every year. On the other hand, I've just moved to the US, and it's the land of opportunity, right?)

Oh, and because I don't want to spend the money on even an $800 car, I can't even *get* to the two local Goodwill stores unless I cycle a few miles, and then I can't bring back anything but what I can fit on my back. This isn't me citing poverty - but this is surely a problem for people who really are poor.

But all I wanted to say is that I find it strange that I now own a $700 laptop - the most expensive thing I've ever owned in my life, incidentally - and although I've only been in the US three weeks I know where all the thrift stores near me are. Some habits are hard to break, I guess.

Oh, and the National Merit Scholar thing made me remember one of my favourite recollections: when I graduated from high school, all of the students in my town who had got into Oxford or Cambridge got their pictures in the local paper - except me. No-one thought to check whether anyone had been accepted from *my* school...

Now, a couple of my brothers and sisters I think really are poor. Mostly I try not to think about it.

#41 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 08:34 PM:

Bng pr s hvn 7 sblngs nd wndring why yr mmm hvn nthr bby

#42 ::: Stefan Jones sees Nordic Trolls ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 08:50 PM:

The name has changed but the song remains the same.

#43 ::: Sylvia Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Being poor is taking a job and getting paid way less than market value and your boss saying you should be grateful that you have this job.

Also, being poor is believing in a gov't that says tax cuts will actually benefit you and then this same gov't shutting down on you when you need them most and you see the gov't helping others that don't even live in your country.

I though Charity starts at home, then it spreads abroad. For everyone else other than the poor, this saying is true.

#44 ::: MD ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2005, 08:14 PM:

"The rich take for granted the things we paid for with our youth."

Being poor is feeling insulted when the one you live with and love leaves money for you on the table in the morning, before going to work.

Being poor is beeing asked casualy by your neighbour on what street you've been working because he only sees you go to work at night, as elegantly clad as you can afford.

Being poor is knowing how to cook instant ramen.

Being poor is not daring to say your optician you can't afford the insurance anymore than you should afford the glasses themselves.

Being poor is buying brand product for the effort relief of a third world country catastrophe while you buy the cheapest of the cheap for your own familly.

Being poor is waiting for your old parents to die.

#45 ::: lauren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 09:26 PM:

we werent stupidly poor but poor enough to be on benefits living on a council estste.

being poor is not being able to tell the difference between you and you older brother in pictures as toddlers because you are wearing the same clothes.

#46 ::: lauren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 09:29 PM:

being poor is when you when you are happy that you got a pair of trainers for 3.99
and being poor is knowing that those 3.99 trainers have to last at least a yr

#47 ::: john in aj ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Amen and Amen...the $6 short on the utility bill is perfect and the 6 hour wait in the emergency room...need to add "being poor is asking the doctor for samples of childrens tylenol becuase you used your last $3.00 for gas to get to the hospital and you have no gas or bus fare to get to work" "being poor is also saving every prescription medicine for months afterwards just in case...and then using it well after the expiration date"

#48 ::: hollie-ATL ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2005, 03:21 PM:

Poor is being totaly devistated when they stop making the $.25 bread that you always bought at the day old bread store.

#49 ::: Lesley ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2006, 12:08 PM:

Being poor means going to the hospital to have induced labor because you have had a miscarriage and then being sent home by the doctor for a few hours to wait for the induced labor to begin and praying the car doesn't run out of gas on your trips there and back to the hospital.

Being poor means that after you have a miscarriage someone makes the remark that you couldn't have afforded the child anyway.

#50 ::: K. Green ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2006, 12:45 AM:

On being poor, Being poor is being on SSI ,which means you are extremely low income , of course I live with a roommate who is like a sister to me, but due to health problems and job layoffs,we've been forced to leave our apartment, have no job security and have no credit.(I went bankrupt after having extremely good credit and was working, but due to the things I mentioned earlier, financial hardship forced me into bankruptcy.. So much for financial security... When my roomate was laid off, the company actually fired 250-300 people so they could get out of paying unemployment. (they contested everyone) Now that my roommate is back in a job, her financial security is threatened by job loss because she is having some health problems.. She was fired in the past for taking care of her ailing parents who needed her several times...even though it was short term.. One time she was fired from her job , just for taking the day off to take her mother to the emergency room... who then had to have surgery. Being poor is being forced to leave your apartment after your roomate has lost her job and the apartment management smacking you down with 2000.00 in penalties because you didn't give 60 days notice of breaking the lease (HOW COULD WE?)We had to leave because we could no longer pay the rent. Being poor is being devastated becuase you have nothing to fall back on if you do lose a job or get sick, no home or anything. And being poor is having limited resources and access to help... Being poor is like trying to dig yourself out of a hole with no hope in sight. Where is the justice? there is none. The rich get richer, while the Government gives billions in subsidies to wealthy corporations (Corporate welfare) and cut back on programs for the elderly and disadvantaged and our troops, on education and medical care. The real problem basically lies with what our Governmnent is doing these days.. It is an injustice to those who are struggling with little resources to help them. If the Government wasn't so busy giving handouts and big tax breaks to the rich who don't need them. We would have more to invest in our inner cities, more to invest in better job training and education for the poor, a better safety net for the most vulnerable , our elderly, disabled and sick. We don't need to cut into programs that benefit the needy, we need to cut into the unfair advantages the rich have over us. Why do they need subsidizing and handouts when they are profitable and can make their own way.. It says something about the current state of politics. "Give to the greedy and take from the needy."If anything the big corporations are more responsible for sucking our system dry of money and resources ,than the poor could ever be accused of doing.One thing is to really need help and support and not get it or have very few resources to get it, than for a wealthy Corporation to take tax dollars to subsidize them when they don't need them. Corporate welfare? How ridiculous...It really says how screwed up our government's priorities are.

#51 ::: K. Green ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2006, 01:21 AM:

I could speak plenty about the poor, because I've been there for a long time... it means because you don't have the advantages of higher education you take menial or lower paying jobs that work you to death and offer little reward. It means that even as you struggle finacially and have health care ... it is still too high and out of reach because of being in a lower income bracket.. It means as gasoline prices and the cost of living rise,and you are trying to keep your head above water, struggling to pay your bills and still drowning. Often the poor are looked down on and blamed for the hardships they have..."They aren't trying hard enough" or for other reasons. I've had friends and know of other people who struggling with the same issues, they are basically honest, trying to do the right thing, but circumstances in life keep smacking them down. I've know some of my friends who were fired for health problems because they couldn't always make it to work everyday and were really ill and bedridden on days when they couldn't. I've had friends who needed my help because they had no transportation and were severely disabled and on SSI and had no way to get to the grocery store, or Walgreens to get meds and couldn't even afford taking a bus.I had a friend who was severely disabled and had no transportation,who lived in an apartment with no air conditioning with only a fan blowing hot air on her in sweltering heat of over a hundred degrees, she was also diabetic.. One of my friend's daughter didn't even have a coat for winter. And trying to help them get the help they needed was hard because churches, and other organizations said sorry we just don't have the resources or the funds. I even looked to churches and organizations in the more affluent areas, and they showed very little interest in helping someone on the other side of the tracks. Churches and organizations(Even food banks) in the poor sections of town often have very limited resources to help their own. Such is the plight of many of our poor. Their anguish is real.And what does our government expect them to do? Make it on a minimum wage paying job even though they have families to support, many are working two, three jobs but still can't get ahead. Those in a higher income bracket and the rich can own beautiful homes, get great educations, wear the best clothes and are afforded the better opportunities in life. Must be nice. Especially when our poor are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and often can't. They often don't have the resources,help, money or opportunities , the job training or education to.

#52 ::: K. Star ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Being poor is crying as I read all of your posts, because I'm there right now. I have a graduate degree, I have a job and transportation, but I'm broke, and I'm sick of it.

#53 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 10:52 PM:

Being poor is sitting in the library to type up your term paper, and having to rush because the bus system, won't pick you up for free if it's after 5pm.

Being poor is crying when the cats are so starving they manage to steal your last pop tart from you.

Being poor is watching other people eat at mc donalds and digging in the trash for their left overs.

Being poor is walking 10 miles to the store, to buy 10 dollars worth of groceries that have to last you all week, (in the year 2006).

Being poor is having to decide between toilet paper, and a pack of ramin noodles.

Being poor is....being me.

#54 ::: Adele ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 11:59 PM:

Being poor is not understanding why you can't have the 75 cent bag of M&Ms, and why your mom looks like she's going to cry when she says no.
Being poor is bread and butter sandwiches for lunch everyday.
Being poor is eating nothing but english muffins and tuna fish for 6 months straight.

Being poor is losing your relationship with your only living grandparent because his trip to costa rica is coming up so he can't help your mother with a $500 mortgage payment so you're not homeless when he gets back.

Being poor is the people who paid the $12thou downpayment on your house still sneaking $10 bills into your coat pockets whenever you see them. And never letting you pay them back.

#55 ::: Fran F. ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 04:20 AM:

Being poor is living on SSI in your fifties,and having felt forced to give up your beloved Cat you had for 8 years to the local SPCA Humane Society because she needed medical care you coulnd't afford.
Poor is being told by the Humane society a month after relinqishing her,that you have to pay at least $550 to possibly over $600 something or more to get her back.Poor is feeling sad when told by the same agency that you your cat may possibly need an operation in the future and that I should give her up for good because I could never afford the $1000 to $2000 operation because I'm too poor and Vets won't work out payments.
I have NEVER felt the sting of poverty so intensely due to my inabilty get my beloved cat back.

#56 ::: Gore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2006, 12:29 AM:

no, being poor is living in the woods just outside of the city, killing squirrels and
rabbits, and sometimes if your lucky you find
a freshly dead roadkill deer.
bring watter to your makeshift lean to hut with
old 5 gallon paint cans, and cooking your road
kill deer and rabbit soup over a fire in a Nash
hubcap you found in a junkyard.

thats poor

#57 ::: buglet ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 09:51 AM:

Paying 50% of your income for student loans and doing that for 10 years. When I paid them off finally, I couldn't believe how rich I felt, and how amazed my friends with the same income could be in so much consumer debt.

#58 ::: dv ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 07:54 PM:

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#59 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 08:13 PM:

Re: 58

You didn't actually read a damned thing in this thread, did you? There was an intelligent, thoughtful discussion going on, which you made no effort to engage in. You just wanted a platform to spew your sanctimonious superiority.

I chose, and continue to choose, voluntary simplicity (by definition). Poverty is not the same thing.

#60 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 09:01 PM:

I'm so sick of people whining about being too poor to buy the ridiculous capitalist shit I wouldn't buy if I had the money.

Good thing none of that was going on in this thread, isn't it? I'd hate to see someone get sick.

#61 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:40 PM:

Who is this Dave person? I'm not impressed.

#62 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 12:04 AM:

It ain't me.

#63 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:07 AM:
Who is this Dave person? I'm not impressed.
I don't know, but since he put his work address on his post (assuming it's his, of course), it shouldn't be hard to find out.
#64 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:25 AM:

Not impressed with dave (lowercase d) either. I'm not sure most of the people are sobbing into their pillows over their lack of name brand clothes or other consumable goods. Lost time, lost loved ones, lost childhoods, lost relationships--poverty takes a toll on these too, and it's alright to mourn those lost opportunities, the times you spent trying to scrabble for life or love because your poverty hung round you like a millstone.

That said, I've been seeing a lot of real heart-wrenching things boyfriend has an apartment at the edge of a less-desirable neighbourhood in SF, and every day, I see things that just tear my heart out. I couldn't be a god, because there are so many sparrows falling here, and I'd go insane trying to keep track of them. But....

Being poor is learning to walk on a broken leg, because you can't afford medical care.

Being poor is huddling in a plastic bag, hoping to keep the rain off.

Being poor is being unable to check books out of the public library because you are homeless and have no address to give the library. Being poor means you have to read all your science fiction in the library. (There's one homeless guy who reads Bujold and Weber and all kinds of science fiction, but he can never take the books home, because he hasn't got a home to take them to. He almost never asks for change, merely for leftovers, and he's always polite if you don't have anything for him. I don't see him often, but when I do see him, it's invariably by or in the library.)

Being poor is asking people for their leftovers, and diving into the trash for their discarded food.

Being poor is having the police prod you awake in the morning, because they want to make sure you didn't die in the night.

Being poor is a long line outside the local food kitchen.

Being poor is the clink of the recycling bins in the night.

Being poor is having the people behind you in line grumble as you try to sort out the food stamps for three gallons of apple juice, three cartons of milk, and three jumbo bags of unsweetened cheerios.

Being poor is having people wonder if you are about to hustle them for change should you smile at them or wish them a nice day.


The broken leg thing is one of the things that makes me realise how lucky I am to have a nice job with good benefits. In the last six months or so, I've seen more people walking on obviously broken or broken-and-healed-crooked legs than I have the entire rest of my life. I lost track after I'd seen my sixth or seventh person in such a condition.

#65 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 04:07 AM:

After three life-threatening illnesses since 1999, each of which involved a long time off work, two of which also involved major disfiguring operations and months of treatment with major side-effects, plus three deaths close to me, people have looked oddly at me when I say how lucky I feel. One of the things I mean is that I'm in Australia, in a large city. Treatment and support was available, and at prices that didn't bankrupt us. (My big financial struggles are from another source.)

Not that we don't have our problems — Healthy food too expensive for many (Sydney Morning Herald, December 14, 2006, by Julie Robotham and Kerry Coleman)

#66 ::: demitri tyler ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2007, 08:05 PM:

Being poor is knowing what your future will be and not being able to change it.

Being poor is using on credit card to pay off the next.

being poor is sugar water and mustard sandwhiches for dinner.

being poor is no dinner at all.

being poor is wishing you were never born.

being poor is looking at everything you want from behind the glass.

Being poor is working two jobs to make ends meet.
Being poor is choosing between gas and rent.

Being poor is knowing your children will have it worse.

Being poor is not being able to afford children at all.

Being poor is living to work and working to live.

Being poor is not going to the mailbox because you know it's only bills.

Being poor is scraping off the mold to eat the bread.

Being poor is not having a tombstone when your dead.
Being poor is a cardboard box and a family without a chance.

#67 ::: Jacqueline ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 10:00 AM:

Being poor is only buying the specials & marked down products.

#68 ::: Simple soldier ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2007, 07:22 PM:

Great illumination on the experience of being poor for those more fortunate who seek to understand. I would add this. It seems to me there was an air of hoplessness to the post by John. I related to more than one of the comments, actually most of them brought back memories tucked away in my " don't want to relive that box" but I remmembered before joining the Army that I would be willing to do ANYthing to leave that life behind. I agree that being poor can bring about a sense of hoplessness, but I also believe we all have the choice to leave if we want. It's a matter of what am I willing to do to get where I want to be. I did what I needed to" worked my way up" and I have made a nice place for myself and my family because of it. All because I promised myself way back when that my kids will never know what it means to be poor! Just a thought..

#69 ::: Max ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 06:28 PM:

Well, if you're willing to spend a year or two in a war zone to leave poverty behind, it's doable.

But I don't think that's a better option than 'staying' poor. I can't speak from experience, but I doubt I'd be willing to trade living in a car--or tent, or blanket--for going to Al Anbar and a chance to acquire skills that would keep me out of poverty.

The potential physical damage--and the almost certain psyhcological damage--would outweigh the benefits. Going by what I've heard and read from disillusioned Vietnam veterans, at any rate.

#70 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:01 PM:

If I were a suspicious kind of person, I'd think #68 sounds a lot like a thinly disguised recruiting pitch.

Or maybe not so thinly disguised, given the name links directly to

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:36 PM:

Thinly yes, disguised no.

#72 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Have you seen those "If your kid wants to join the military" commercials? Disgusting. I talk back to them. "What do you think?" says the kid on the screen. "I think you're going to get sent to Iraq," I reply. "I could be part of an environmental response team!" says the other kid, and I reply "No, you're gonna get sent to Iraq." "I can get money for college!" "Yeah, but that won't do you any good if you get killed in Iraq."

I understand they have to recruit. I just wish they'd stop lying.

No one should join any branch of the military right now unless the Persian Gulf is on their "must see" list. Navy has the best chance of keeping you out of the actual sandbox, unless you're a medic like all my Navy friends.

#73 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 11:02 PM:

Have you seen those "If your kid wants to join the military" commercials?

Yep. They sound pretty desparate.

I just wish they'd stop lying.

heh. The military has a long and glorious history of lying* for recruiting purposes.

*For those who wish to object on semantic reasons, replace "lying" with "telling a sufficiently incomplete truth that people can reasonably be expected to infer something untrue"

They don't neccessarily "lie". It's just that when the kid on the commercial says something like "I could go into environmental protection", they mean "could" as in "1 in a million possibility that you could"

What you won't hear the kid in the commercial say is something like "And they'll guarantee I will go into environmental protection or they'll give me an honorable discharge."

I know a guy who signed up with an occupation guarantee, failed the eyesight requirement, and got the lousiest job in the military as a result. If they say "guarantee", it'll usually have a footnote like "you will go into this job unless you fail a physical or intelligence testing requirement, at which point, we may consider your second choice, or we may simply ship you to whatever job we need to fill most."

#74 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 03:23 AM:

"...or unless we really, REALLY need more line infantry." It's in there somewhere.

#75 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 04:37 AM:

There's a counter-list "Learning from Being Poor Is . . . " at the poor_skills LJ here:

As I posted there, it seems to me that quite a few of the items in the first list weren't about poverty; they were about being ashamed of being poor. Or about blaming poverty for things that aren't inevitable parts of being poor.

#76 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 04:38 AM:

I can't speak from experience, but I doubt I'd be willing to trade living in a car--or tent, or blanket--for going to Al Anbar and a chance to acquire skills that would keep me out of poverty.

If you were poor, you wouldn't be doing it to 'acquire skills'; you'd be doing it to get housing, food and health care, not to mention benefits for your family.

Of course, if you're poor, you may very well be 'unfit' for military service.

#77 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 07:34 AM:

Well, if you're willing to spend a year or two in a war zone to leave poverty behind, it's doable.

Actually, read some of the recent entries @ about the treatment accorded to wounded vets:

Sgt. David Thomas, a gunner with the Tennessee National Guard, spent his first three months at Walter Reed with no decent clothes; medics in Samarra had cut off his uniform. Heavily drugged, missing one leg and suffering from traumatic brain injury, David, 42, was finally told by a physical therapist to go to the Red Cross office, where he was given a T-shirt and sweat pants. He was awarded a Purple Heart but had no underwear.
That sounds like poverty to me.

#78 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 07:54 AM:

Hi there, "Simple Soldier" (#68)!

Who would have thought that the US Army would need to resort to comment spam to get troopers? If you happen to stop back by, perhaps you'd like to come over here to tell us about what it's like working in a recruiting command these days.

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 10:38 AM:

From the AP, today.

Many of the hometowns of the war dead aren't just small, they're poor. The AP analysis found that nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.

So let's add another one.

... being poor means that joining the Army in the middle of Mr. Bush's War sounds reasonable.

#80 ::: Enok ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2007, 12:29 AM:

Being poor is using credit cards with 27% APRs to pay for college tuition while living out of an early 1980’s van (the proverbial $800 vehicle) for a year because you’re the only student that can’t pay rent. Lying to others to cover the fact that while you’re attending a good state university, you are also utterly homeless and always at the mercy of the police or thieves.

Trying to build a future while stacking an elaborate house of cards that could tumble at any moment.

Tenuous and no margin for error.

Knowing that if you screw up, it’s back to south tacoma way, meth labs, suicide, unemployment, to die. in the rain…

#81 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:22 PM:

Poor is: not having access to the internet.

#82 ::: kooolaidred ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2008, 07:41 PM:

From the woman who is constantly patching up an $800 car to carry her three children around in - thank you.

It isn't so much the lack of things I personally don't have, it's what I can't give my children. It's watching my 14 year old daughter slowly become hardened and saying she doesn't "want" to take art classes even though she loves art. It's trying to grab her and hold her down to keep her from making the same mistakes I made at that age.

It's struggling for the past four years to finally put myself through college to leap over the wall that separates the poor from everyone else even though no one ever wanted to let me over in the first place because I "don't fit in."

It's being thankful every morning when the car starts one more day and crying like your dog died on the day it leaves you on the side of the road because you have a negative balance in the bank.

It's not having a pet because you can't stand knowing you can't afford to feed it regularly.

It's being thankful that you at least have a singlewide trailer in a trailer park even if it is only two bedroom. It's being thankful that the trailer is your's and there isn't one sonofabitch that can come take it from you.

It's being angry because the world said "You fucked up and this is what you get, get over it" and the world believing your children deserve to live on shit and never have shit and wear shit clothes because you fucked up.

It's the world saying you never should have had them in the first place, but I did and they're here and I'm damned determined to show them a different way.

It's trying not to ever feel sorry for yourself because their are people so much worse off in the world and at least you have that singlewide and your mom will let you go "shopping" in her kitchen.

It's wearing your pride like a hat because that's mostly all you've ever had that no one could take from you.

#83 ::: Element 22 ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:26 AM:

I read this and every now and then my chest just seizes up. But mostly I feel a cold anger that sickens me.

The land of opportunity. This is not what people died and are dying for.

There must be a better way.

#84 ::: Crystal ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 09:24 AM:

Being poor is stealing your friends food off their plate at lunch because you haven't eaten in two days and you don't want your provider to cry their self to sleep because there's no money for food this week.

Being poor is being excited that your family gets to go to "family councilling" at your church because while they never actually solve any of your problems, they do serve juice and cookies.

Being poor is getting excited that you get to wear your best dress on the class field trip to the opera... only to have your classmates laugh at you because it's the only dress you own.

Being poor is not understanding why your mothers screaming at you for telling your teacher that you didn't finish your homework because the lights were cut off and you couldn't read the papers.

Being poor is chewing on one side of your mouth for three months because your rotting tooth finally broke... but you're still paying for your sons dental work and no one will let you make a payment plan.

People deserve better than this. What is wrong with our country. :(

#85 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Being poor is exactly how those at the top want everyone else to exist. I am certainly not into conspiracy theories; this is simply how the system has been set up. Our subcultures are flooded with liquor and drugs, so we can't get anywhere before destroying ourselves. Those who go to school in an attempt for a better life often become drowned in school-related debt. Our media shapes information to further suppress us. We are told our cars aren't nice enough, we need better clothes, or we're not pretty enough. We are conditioned to value prominence, youth, and beauty--all of which are fleeting commodities. But luckily, money can solve our troubles, and if you aren't poor already, you will be. It seems that every aspect of our society is a tool by the rich upper crust to suprress us, the proletariats. We do not wear physical chains and shackles, instead we are enslaved by our system of money, so who cracks the whip?
Iphones and Ipods fly off the shelves in record numbers, yet our nation is becoming poorer as a whole. Does this not make sense to anyone else? Right now, the academic community is abuzz with talk of how information is the new commodity. But a poor mother can't serve information to her starving children. Those who care, don't, and those who should, aren't even having the right conversation.
I do not know of any easy answers, but I honestly believe a better system of living must exist. As powerful as those who are the top of our economic pyramid, they only represent a minority. We are everyone else, the 90% or so below them, so surely we must have the power to shake them off like fleas.
I am not saying that you have to accept everything I say, but please at least think about some of the implications if I am even remotely correct.

#86 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 12:06 PM:

Being poor is being 8, and knowing it's a lie when your mom says she's not hungry at dinner.

Being poor is the look of pity on your 5th grade teachers's face, when you say you can't write an essay on your first dentist visit, because you've never been to a dentist.

Being poor is your shoe sole falling off, and your mom having to borrow glue from the neighbors to fix it, because you can't even afford the glue.

Being poor is leaving the table hungry, so your younger brothers will have more to eat.

Being poor is starting smoking at 11, and no one saying anything, because at least now you eat less. (stolen cigarettes)

Being poor is being a 14 year old guy, giving blowjobs to a 16 year old, because that way you can sleep over at his house, where it's warm, and there's plenty to eat.

Being poor is your mom finding out, and crying, but not telling you to stop.

Being poor is using your first paycheck at 16, to buy groceries.

Being poor is knowing the only thing in your favor is that you are the best looking of your brothers.

Being poor is you and your girlfriend taking turns staying up all night, while the other sleeps, to make sure the rats don't get at the baby.

Being poor is getting a scholarship to the local college, and then dropping out, because your P.O.S. boss changes your hours mid semester, and you can't lose that job.

Being poor is calling your mom crying, because the health department condom broke, and your girlfriend is pregnant again.

Being poor is hating yourself for feeling releif when she has a miscarriage.

Being poor is carrying her to the hospital to have that miscarriage, because you don't have a car, and then watching her faint in the waiting room, because she's been sitting there bleeding for 5 hours, without seeing a doctor yet.

Being poor is getting hurt at work, and having to sell your pain medicine to buy food, because you aren't getting paid for the days you have to miss.

Being poor is your neighbor feeling sorry for you, and running an extension cord from his house to your's, so you have electricity again.

Being poor is your younger brothers coming over, because they're hungry

Being poor is people you knew growing up, are dead before they turn 20.

Being poor is you and your 3 best friends chipping in to buy your son's medicine, and still being 2 dollars short.

Being poor is being 24, male, and afraid you'll lose your looks, because sometimes you have to go out and sleep with other guys for cash, just so you can pay the rent and buy groceries for your son and girfriend.

Being poor is being grateful you at least look good enough to be able to sell yourself, so your family can keep a roof over them.

Being poor is knowing there's always someone who has it worse than you, all you have to do is look at some of your friends.

Being poor is seeing your nephew buried in a plastic coffin.

Being poor is being expendable.

Being poor is never finding a way out, but praying your son will.

Being poor is being too ashamed to post this any way but anonymous.

#87 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:31 PM:

It is obvious John Scalzi has never been poor.

Being poor is actually NOT knowing how much anything costs.

For many people this is a large factor in why they are poor.

They don't understand the cost of food, utilities, cigarettes, alchohol, partying, cable & pay television, brand labels, automobiles, etc.

They don't understand usery, and interest.

As simple example is food:
For a large majority of poor people they never actually compare the cost of growing their own food and buying it at the grocery store.

It is almost free to grow more food than you can eat, even if you use the neighbors yard, and if you sell a little of the excess then it is free.
This includes almost all vegetables, some fruits, some nuts & seeds, and chicken.
Yes chicken it requires a very small plot of land and is easy to clean.

Poor people do NOT know the cost of anything.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:41 PM:

You don't live in a city, do you?
Because if you did, you'd understand that you need space to grow your own food, and poor people, really poor people, can't afford that kind of space. (Neither can a lot of other people with more money, the one who live in high-density housing and mobile-home parks.)

#89 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:49 PM:

John @87, Scalzi had you covered: "Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so."

#90 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:51 PM:

Dear John @ 87
I'm sure you felt a warm smug glow when you wrote that. Tell me, having solved world poverty, what's your next trick?

PS the phrase "even if you use the neighbors yard" assumes that 1 - there's a yard, 2 the neighbours aren't poor and 3 that food just sitting in the ground won't get stolen. That's three massive assumptions you might want to revisit.

#91 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 09:03 PM:

Hey folks, don't feed the troll!

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 09:38 PM:

P J Evans, #88: Not to mention that in most urban environments it's illegal to keep livestock, hence no chickens.

Do people still raid pigeon nests for squab? I know that was one popular source of free meat during the Depression.

#93 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Lee #92: Not to mention that in most urban environments it's illegal to keep livestock, hence no chickens.

In some cases, you can keep chickens, but no roosters.

#94 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:45 AM:

Brooklyn's been known to have free-range roosters.

#95 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:02 AM:

This is not for the troll, but for those who might be seduced by the apparent logic of his comments.

Most places will allow a small number of hens, but no cocks.

But... feed costs money, so does a henhouse (and the space to keep it). One has to defend against predators (an opossum will take one every so often until the are gone. A raccoon will take one a night, two raccoons will kill them all, and leave the carcasses). Those eggs, they cost at least 2.00 a dozen.

To eat chicken requires feeding it (at 15-25 dollars the bag), for six-ten weeks before it's able to be slaughtered. since one can't keep a cock, the pullets have to be ordered from someplace like Murray McMurray, which costs a couple of bucks a piece. Add the feed and it's coming up at least as pricey as storebought, and more hassle.

There's a reason the proverb goes, "when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is unwell".

And food's not "free" to grow. It takes space, and seed, water and tools. It takes time (and a bit of knowledge) Once the food (which is seasonal) is ripe it has to be eaten right away, or stored. That means canning (which takes equipment, time, a bit of knowledge). The storage takes space.

Since it takes about half an acre to get that many vegetables for a family of four. It's an impressive neighbor in the poor parts of town who can lend that much space to someone.

If one actually reads how the poor live, (I commend, "Unequal Childhoods" by Anne Larreau), you will discover the poor know precisely how much things cost, and are mostly screwed because the things they can buy, cost more where they live, and the means to get ahead are limited, or kept from them.

And yeah, they don't understand usury, but neither do a whole lot of comfortable people who sneer at them for it.

#96 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 02:09 AM:

Also, Sam Vimes' boots. EVERYTHING costs more when you're poor; that's one of the ways in which rich people make sure you STAY poor.

#97 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 08:18 AM:

And the various "fines" levied for poverty -- overdraft charges¹, "small account" fees, extra parking and "broken light" tickets, check-cashing fees, et pluribus alia.

¹ The Federal rules on this are changing in a few months -- I'm letting my overdraft "protection" lapse, because rather than being silently charged $36, I'd rather (1) find out the account's flat, and (2) have the chance to pull out my credit card instead! Let alone when checks and such cascade....

#98 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 10:32 AM:

Terry Karney @ 95: And yeah, they don't understand usury

Or, worse, they do, but only the usurers are willing to lend them the money they need right now.

David Harmon @ 97:

The bank that I don't use any more because they were going progressively more evil but haven't closed my account with yet has taken to sending out mailings urging us to sign up for "overdraft protection" because it's such a wonderful and convenient feature to have. I threw them away, otherwise I'd quote you the absolutely dishonest bilge in them, but the gist was that it was useful in emergencies or even if you needed a small, short-term loan. Faugh.

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 10:43 AM:

The really poor probably don't have bank accounts, anyway.
(To understand bank accounts and banking in general, you have to have a past where there's enough money to put it in a bank.)

#100 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:02 AM:

Wal*Wart wants to get into banking, supposedly because they think a LOT of their customers don't have bank accounts.

I've had a bank account since I was 12, or some such. Well, much earlier if you count a savings account.

#101 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:12 AM:

ddb @ 100:

I think they're right. Having a bank account from a young age is a sign that your family has money to spare. Having a bank account is a sign that you have money to spare. Even credit unions tend to need a minimum balance of $25 to keep an account open, and they're a much better deal than most banks.

I'd say that if WalMart thought they could make money from serve a particular market, they're probably right.

#102 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Being poor in Glasgow.

#103 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:33 AM:

The job I got when I was 15 (1969) paid by direct deposit, as have most jobs I've had since then. One of them, later, actually gave me a free bank account with the job (I think it made it easier for them, in the early 1980s, to do nation-wide direct deposit). Not having a bank account hasn't really been an option.

I recall bank fees and minimum balances to mostly have come in well AFTER I got my first checking account, which must have been around 1967. That account rarely had as much as $20 in it, until October of 1969 when I got my a part-time job.

#104 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:34 AM:

The credit union where I work will open an account with $5; you'll want more than that to keep it open, but it's a employee-based CU.

Once upon a time they had school savings accounts, where kids could deposit a little money each week and actually get interest paid on it (back when savings accounts collected it at 4%), with a passbook and the whole bit.

#105 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 11:42 AM:

I never had a "school" savings account, but my parents opened a regular bank passbook savings account for me at a very young age, long before I got myself a checking account.

Rex Stout came up with a "school banking" scheme that it sounds like he did pretty well with before he turned to writing Nero Wolfe novels.

#106 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:11 PM:

ddb: It's great that your folks (or you), could afford to get you an account. It's not an option for most poor people today.

I don't know what the minimum to open an account was then, but it's about 100 dollars now. Then there are the minimum balance requirements. Those can have vicious side effects.

I had, when I was young, an account at BofA (late 1980s). I was working for Domino's, delivering pizza (back when all the sold were pizza and Coke). I was a college student. I'd try to keep the balance above the $100 minimum, but usually didn't quite manage it, something would come up and the balance would dip just below.

It wasn't the $5 charge that triggered which made me leave them, it was the 25 cent transaction fee to use the ATM. I would, you see, put my tips in the bank on the way home. There was the month I dipped below the threshold, and every night, when I put my money into the bank they dinged me. I had something like $18 worth of fees, almost all for deposits; because it wasn't a fee charged while the balance was below minimum, but a fee charged during the billing month.

When $50 for Pop Warner takes scrimping, and Sizzler is the "good restaurant" that one splurges to go to, having an account which charges 10 a month to be open, unless one keeps more than $250-500 in it, isn't worth it. The vig is ruinous.

#107 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:41 PM:

Terry@106: My point is that, WHEN I DID IT, it was not a sign of financial soundness to be able to open a bank account (it may still have been a marker to WANT to open an account, or to even think of it). I wasn't charged any fees. That was a change in the banking industry that came along later.

#108 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:59 PM:

My local credit unions all require a minimum FICO score to join. It's not a high score -- something in the 500s -- but high enough to eliminate some poor people with no adverse payment history but also with no credit history.

The banks do a credit check and have higher requirements than the credit unions.

WalMart's moneycard is not necessarily the best deal, unless it's better than any other deal available to you.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:21 PM:

ddb @107:

Out of curiosity, what was your first job?

I ask because my first few jobs (mostly in law offices in San Francisco) all paid by check.

#110 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:49 PM:

abi@109: Programmer for a local college. So far as I can tell, they paid their secretaries and food service workers and clerks and janitors and grounds people the same way they paid me, by direct deposit. That was before outsourcing, so all those people were direct employees of the college.

My third job paid by check for a while, but that's the only one. That was 1977-1980 I think.

#111 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Geez. My first job paid in cash. But I remember having to open a bank account so I could get paychecks cashed. This was back in the days of free checking, no minimum balance.

#112 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Chickens aren't cheap unless you already have a decent amount of space or infrastructure. For the rural poor, maybe. Anywhere else... Well, there's a running theme on the backyard chickens forum that the first egg is $800.

#113 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 02:34 PM:

My parents opened a savings account for me when I was (I think) about 12. I got my first checking account when I went to college, and from then on I was never without either until I moved to Texas. I was unemployed at that point, had no regular income, and was living with someone who did; therefore I had no pressing reason to have a bank account for a while. When my father died and I started receiving money from the trust fund*, I opened accounts again to make the process easier.

* This makes me sound much richer than I am. The primary reason he set up the estate as a trust fund rather than a bequest was that he didn't trust ME with money. The actual distribution is not much above poverty-level, and he set it up so poorly that I can't even request a COLA change.

#114 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 02:46 PM:

I still stand by the comments I made in the poor_skills thread I linked to yonks ago, but I have to admit some unexamined privilege that someone pointed out to me recently.

I live in a town where, unless the weather is dangerously cold or extremely windy, it's possible to conduct your entire life on foot. You have to live and work in the right locations, but it's doable. Even with small children in tow. I had no idea how rare that is in the rest of the US.

#115 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 03:22 PM:

ddb: Again I am confused about what you are trying to say. If it was, "the poor were less shafted by banks in the past," it's not what came across.

What came across was, "if someone wants a bank account, they can get one; why look, even a child was able to do it."

But I recall my first bank account, in 1974? It took a minimum to open. I don't know that the sum was ruinous, but it was there. I was a child, so don't know what restrictions there were on the money, but I find it unlikely there were none.

And checks cost money, so apart from a place to park money one isn't using (of which the poor have little, to none) what was the value of a bank account, when the bills were cash, and saving hard to manage (because yes, saving ten bucks a month adds up, but what does 4 percents on $110, in a year, really mean, when the total after expenses is 30 bucks a month [with some back of the envelope adjustments for wage/price change)?

I've been at the stage where there were months I was broke. Days to any sort of income, three bucks in my wallet; nothing in the bank, and the cupboards bare. If I'd had ten bucks in savings from the month before... it wasn't going to stay there.

Which means the only way to get that account, is to have some spare money, all the time.

#116 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 03:34 PM:

Oddly enough, I have some colleagues who refuse to be paid by direct deposit. For some reason, a check is "real" to them while an electronic transfer is not.

#117 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 04:59 PM:

116 steve c. on check vs. direct deposit
well, a check is a tangible object that is passed from hand to hand. with direct deposit you only have someone's word for it (possibly a machine that doesn't actually know) but if you hand it to a person yourself you're a witness to the transaction.

#118 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 05:07 PM:

The places I've worked where I had direct deposit (including where I work now) handed out printed stubs with the [voided] check attached, proobably because it doesn't feel like you're really getting the money without something actually being handed over.

#119 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 05:48 PM:

Terry@215: Yeah, a lot of it is that the particular bank situation is a relatively recent problem; it's not a universal and eternal truth, it's a local truth. Local truths are very relevant to current and short-term policy, but don't have to be taken as constant for long-term policy.

Given the number of times I've heard of people going to buy money-orders (and pay for them), I'd think that checks would be very desirable. Paying your bills by mail is much easier than paying in person with cash. And of course running around with cash all the time is high-risk (and one reason poor sections are actually good targets for muggings).

#120 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Steve@116: I'd imagine some places would simply be unable to accommodate that.

#121 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Writing checks assumes you know what and how, and if you've never had a checking account, and your parents didn't, there's the need to learn all of that, and also about what happens when you don't have enough money to cover that check you may be about to write.

Some school districts have tried teaching this as 'money management skills', in high school. I don't know how well it's worked.

#122 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 06:12 PM:

ddb: Right now, money orders are cheaper than checks, for almost every one.

In the time I've had a checking account (so... 1984 to present), there has been a fee. That fee has been waived if a certain balance was maintained (IIRC it was 500 when I got my BofA account, but 250 with Valley Savings and Loan; whom I went to after BofA screwed me, and 250 with Wells Fargo, though a Direct Deposit would waive that).

The most I ever paid for a money order was $.50. When I stopped using Wells Fargo the fee for a checking account was 8.95, per month. So I'd have to get 18 money orders, per month; or have the $250, lying spare, or an employer who would direct deposit, before I broke even.

Add the "courtesy" of overdrafts, and the problems of cascading fees, I am really not sure that, in the past 20 years, a checking account is the best of bargains for someone who doesn't have disposable income, every month.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:25 AM:

ddb @119:
Yeah, a lot of it is that the particular bank situation is a relatively recent problem; it's not a universal and eternal truth, it's a local truth. Local truths are very relevant to current and short-term policy, but don't have to be taken as constant for long-term policy.

Depends how long-term you want to view it. A more historical view is that bank accounts—particularly checking accounts; "post office books" have been around for somewhat longer—for everyone are a brief blip in the history of a business that generally makes its money from the well-to-do. In much of the world, for much of the time, lack of access to banking has been an enormous obstacle to the poor. And there's no guarantee that that situation won't return to the US.

Because banks aren't charities, and the poor don't have a lot of money to add to the bottom line. So, absent attention from the powers that be, they'll focus on the customers who give better returns: ones who can afford the fees, ones who purchase additional products (overdraft protection, premium accounts, etc).

In other words, I think it does have to be taken as a constant for long-term policy.

#124 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:47 AM:

abi, #123: "Has been"? Try "is right now". And the primary reason is account minimums and fees. The poor are shunted off to "payday loan" usurers (often owned by the same interests that own the banks) and pawnshops. Banks are for the privileged.

#125 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:49 AM:

Heads-up to the mods -- I just had a comment held for review. I suspect I know why; it probably hit the keyword filter.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 05:09 AM:

Lee @125:

You're absolutely correct, and indeed, the existence of that keyword in our spam filters underlines your point.

#127 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 11:08 AM:

The way to get a bank loan is to prove that you don't need it.

#128 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 01:21 PM:

Jim, that is SO [intensifier]ing true.

#129 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Working as a mid-teen programmer is itself a very privileged situation, ddb. It really doesn't bear much at all on the situation of people who can expect to be doing at best semi-skilled labor, generally on the whim of their employers, and subject to a bunch of constraints you aren't.

I don't actually know for sure how common direct deposit was before the '80s-'90s, but I know that it was very unusual in the experience of everyone I knew who was working. It was really rare before the mid-'80s, at least for us.

#130 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Power of banking over the public -- and "Why We Don't Save"

Credit card interest run from 12% to 20% APR for preferred customers. Yet the same bank offers an APR on interest-bearing accounts that range from 0.01% to 2.9% APR (and the "high" yield is for instruments that are going to be untouched for 2 years or more.)

Except for the havoc that is wrecked upon the public at large, I'd be sitting back and eatng popcorm watching /R/o/m/e/ /B/u/r/n/ the financial industry implode.
And lets face it, the poorer amoung us cannot afford to have anywhere from $2,000 to #15,000 laying out of our reach for that length of time.

#131 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 02:33 PM:

I got the feeling that ddb is saying that the banks are acting much more as the financial institiutions were allowed to act before pesky people like advocates for the public-at-large get all those silly consumer protection measures on the books. You know, those silly Johnny-come-lately do-gooders from 1909 or 1915 or so.

Now, in the wake of Reagan Revolution and The Bush and Shrub Years, banks are able to gouge consumers much more publicly, and able to pretty much do as they please (even to the level of getting bucket shops exempted, *by name* from regulation ("Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000")

"..“This Act shall supersede and preempt the application of any state or local law that prohibits or regulates gaming or the operation of bucket shops.”..

Now, *that,* baby, is chutzpah.

#132 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 03:00 PM:

Bruce Baugh@129: That job paid me minimum wage, and was part time. In the context of my income level and banking practices, it is not relevantly different from working fast-food or digging ditches.

(From many other points of view relevant in other discussions it's very much different of course; but the discussion here is about banking practices and income level.)

That job and all the other regular jobs at that college, janitors and building maintenance, grounds maintenance, food service, clerks, secretaries, the mail room (and those were all direct employees in 1969, they hadn't outsourced any of those yet) and faculty were all paid by direct deposit.

My second job, which I started in 1974, also paid by direct deposit. It was at a bank, and was perhaps a special case for that reason -- they gave you an account and deposited your pay into it. What it does show is that they really preferred direct deposit, and were willing to go to considerable lengths to be able to pay that way.

In my third job, in 1977, I was finally paid by check. No job I've held since then has paid other than by direct deposit (next job was 1980).

I'm sure there was some geographic tendency in how common direct deposit was, and some tendency by income level, and some tendency by industry. If enough people say so then it may well be that my first experience, which set my expectations, was actually unusual for the time and place.

What it was NOT is special in any way because of me.

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 03:19 PM:

Where I work it's still possible to get paid by actual check, mostly because direct deposit isn't set up in an instant. I suspect that some employees prefer getting the money in their hands, for reasons which may not always be entirely aboveboard.

#134 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Craig, 130: I have long thought that the point you bring up is vitally important to understanding current financial conditions.

I remember 20-odd years ago, when I was in my late teens-early twenties, making a few hundred dollars in interest on the money market account I had my money to pay tuition in (which my mother opened for me). I have a bit over half as much saved up today, and how much interest do I earn? Under $2 last year.

It forces even the most risk-averse among us into the financial markets in order to have any return on investment at all.

#135 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 03:36 PM:

For those who don't know, a "bucket shop" (aka "boiler room") is a variety of fraudulent business scheme in which customers invest in commodities or stocks, but no transactions are actually made in any exchange. Instead, the trades go "in the bucket."

#136 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:23 PM:

ddb: The first job I had to offer direct deposit was in 1990. I knew of jobs which offered it in the late '80s, but they weren't minimum wage.

First job I had direct deposit for was the Army.

I don't think the special nature (and I do think it was special, since direct deposit wasn't something I knew of until the early '80s, and that was something exotic) was directly related to you, but I do think it (and any number of other things) has shaped how you think of the world. We take what we know to be the norm.

What we come to know when we are younger is even more strongly seen as normative. I was given a passbook account when I was 7. I thought having a bank account was normal. It didn't occur to me that having the 10 dollars to have one opened was something a lot of families couldn't do.

I've been, in terms of having that sense of privilege pointed out to me, "fortunate" to be poor. It made a lot of things I took for granted much more tangible.

It made it a lot easier to see the glossing of hardship which those who (through no intent, and no real fault) map their experience to that of those who aren't. "making it."

Some of that gets chipped at, when something like Katrina happens, and we are made to look at the problems of the poor, but it slips, and we go back to the narrative that they choose to be poor, that if they "really wanted to" they could avoid the loan-sharks, the lack of health care, etc.

Example. I had a guy in my poli-sci class, who went on about how health care for all was a bad thing; because his family had been poor; with no medical insurance (used poultices from garden plants, etc.) but he made it, and he had insurance now, and so could they.

It's not that he was a bad person, but he couldn't imagine that someone else might not be able; through no fault of their own, to do the same thing.

I don't think you are in the same category, but what I keep seeming to see is that you are prone to map your experiences (which are atypical) as being normative, which a lot of us take issue with, because they seem very much the exception to the norms we grew up with, and which some of us live with even now.

#137 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:47 PM:

Re. banks: I didn't see ddb as indicating his experience as being the norm - just a data point.

He's right in as much as bank charges are not universal. I (in the UK) have never had an account where I had to pay fees, or to pay for any transaction, in (ever) or out so long as I was in credit by even £0.01. I was appalled when I first heard that in the USA you had to pay fees for an account and had to pay to use a cheque. And it used to be possible to open an account for a child with £1 (not sure what the limit is now).

That's not to minimise in any way the problems of lack of access to (affordable/any - delete as applicable) banking for many people. And even if it's theoretically available, I'm sure that if you've grown up in a household which didn't "do" bank accounts, you'd be less likely to have one as well - more so with the charges like you describe above @106. And I'm still annoyed when I think about the fact that it's in the poorer areas that you're most likely not to find an ATM which doesn't charge for withdrawals. And of course, people using them are likely to be taking less out, so the charge is a greater percentage, and they can less afford it and...

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 04:56 PM:

dcb: Britain, at least, had some major changes in the recent past. I don't know when they changed the two penny tax (gov't) on cheques.

#139 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 05:00 PM:

By contrast, Dutch bank accounts all charge fees, but no one writes checks.

Non-cash payment is almost always by bank transfer, even for quite low amounts. I did a transfer of just over €3 to a* vendor to get the trolls that appeared in the Boomderedux video.

I don't know how lower-income people in the Netherlands deal with banking. I haven't the Dutch to investigate properly.

* The reason ebay hasn't taken off here, and also why Freecycle struggles. It kind of covers both sets of bases.

#140 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Terry Karney @ 138: I don't know when they changed the two penny tax (gov't) on cheques. Huh? Never heard of it - and I've been writing cheques for more than 25 years. I just checked with my husband and he's never heard of it either - more information please?

#141 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Just how much has banking changed? I did some quick web work, and looked at the actual current terms for new accounts. One thing you can't do today, it looks like, is keep an account very low and idle for free. That's something I did from about the time I was 12 until I was 15.

However, it's not too bad. It doesn't have most of the nasty features that, reading the comment thread here (until the recent post from England), people seemed to be agreeing were standard today.

I checked the terms to open a brand-new bank account at TCF Bank, the people my current account is with.

There's a $25 minimum initial deposit. The monthly maintenance fee is waived if you have $100 in direct deposits, or a minimum balance of $500, that month. Otherwise, $10. There's a student variation with similar terms, but $100 minimum balance, and $5 fee if the conditions for waiver aren't met. Also a senior (50+) variant with the $100 minimum balance.

And currently (and for the last umpteen months) they're giving you $50 cash if you open a new account.

No fee for deposits, check use (you do pay to purchase the checks), or use of their ATMs.

In other words, most people with a job can easily have this account for free. Well, not exactly "for free"; actually they come out $50 ahead. Any student (or over-50) with $100 they can let sit can have this account for free (and they really only need $50 since they get $50 for opening the account). (For a joint account, either one of you having a job paying by direct deposit would do. Or any other source of direct deposit income. Today, that's not rare. Or having $100 to sit, if you're a student or over 50.)

I'm sure there are worse deals in this area.

These people deal with the inner city, and with poor people. TCF isn't a suburban outfit, and they have the second-largest ATM presence in this metro area. There's a TCF ATM in the gas station at 1st Ave. and 31st Street, for example (a fairly poor area).

No, I don't think every poor person can qualify for this, of course not. And I understand that there are people who don't know how to use a checking account, and don't read well enough to find out on their own.

I do find this a convincing "existence proof" that things aren't actually as bad as people seem to me to have been saying. At least not here. This metro area does consistently get high livability ratings, and this may be the sort of thing that's better here than elsewhere (though I wonder if it's directly measured in the livability numbers).

Terry, the US Post Office charges $1.10 for a money order. Western Union seems to charge $5, but I think that's primarily intended for larger long-distance person-to-person transfers, not ordinary bill payment. Googling around it looks to me like money orders cost more like $1 today in general.

I should add that I'm not totally clear that most of the people without bank accounts would be better off with them. I don't really know, and a significant part of it is an individual question.

I'm reacting against the claim they "can't have them", which seems to me to be false in many cases; but that doesn't inherently mean they should have them.

#142 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 06:08 PM:


I've been quietly following the resurrection of this thread and croggling ever so gently.

$500 idle money might not be that grand a sum in the great scheme of things, but it's more than one (closer to two) after-tax 40-hour paychecks to me. If I were single and trying to live on my own income (as I did for a decade before moving in with my other half) it was very unusual for me to have more than a week's net pay hanging around in the checking account. I was fortunate that the bank I used at the time did not have minimum balances on checking accounts; I scraped the dollar mark more than once.

It's less "can't have them" than "more trouble than they're worth, even as inconvenient as not having one is".

#143 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 06:09 PM:

ddb: from what you're saying re. fees vs. minimum balance/direct deposit, and what other people have said about scraping from one month to the next, I'd suggest those terms -do- put at account out of a lot of people's reach. If your job doesn't do direct deposits, and you can't afford to keep $500 in the account... And that $10 fee - what about when it's that (for the previous month) which keeps putting you below the $500 for this month? There's been a lot of flak over here about charges levied when an account goes overdrawn by even a tiny amount, and it's the charges which keep the account going overdrawn. Seems like in the US it's the same only worse, since you have to remain that $500 (or whatever) in credit.

#144 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 06:37 PM:

Some time ago I had one of the pre-paid cell phones from AT&T. You buy a card for cash to add airtime minutes, you use the time, you're good to go. No credit card required, no credit check. Pretty nice.

They charged $0.10 per text message sent or received.

If your account dipped below ten dollars, they'd send you a text message as a courtesy, to remind you to buy a new airtime card.

The text message cost $0.10.

They'd deduct the cost from your balance, and send you a text message, as a courtesy, informing you of your new balance. And charge $0.10.

Which would be deducted from your account. And that would trigger a new text message....

Which meant, in practical terms, that the instant your account dipped under $10, in just about no time you'd have a hundred text messages that you couldn't read because your prepaid account had bottomed out.

Malice, stupidity, unintended consequences ... you decide.

(Incidentally, this message too was held for review, because the words "no credit check" are also spam keywords. You can figure out who the targets of that spam are.)

#145 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 06:41 PM:

Craig, #130: Yes, and that savings APR represents a steep plummet over the last 20 years. In the late 80s and early 90s, my regular savings account offered 5.5% to 6% interest, and CD instruments 8% or more, sometimes as much as 10% for the long-term variety.

ddb, #132: It sounds as though that first job of yours was an outlier because of your employer. IIRC, my last full-time non-contracting job, which I started around 1985, offered direct deposit, but I had not had it as an option until then.

ddb, #141: I don't know anything about that part of the country. Is your bank one of the larger ones, with branches even in economically-disadvantaged areas? And are they typical of banks in your area in offering accounts which would be less of an obstacle for a poor person to obtain? It seems to me that if I were trying to set up an account (especially for the first time), if the first 2 or 3 places I went to -- which are going to be the ones nearest where I live -- have an account structure that makes it impossible, I might very well just give up altogether. Remember that the poor are accustomed to being told, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, that the alternatives available to those of better means are simply not available to them.

#146 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 07:06 PM:

#88 PJEvans

Apparently PJEvans you don't really have a valid concept of how much space is really needed to grow enough food to feed one family do you?

Check this out: Dervaes family (search: Dervaes urban homestead) small city yard grows enough food to feed the family and pay the bills.

There are other groups who go around the area, walking or driving, and garden other people's yard for either a small fee or a percent of the yield.

Yes I live in Dallas, Texas. I think that registers as a city (several million people).
And lived in high density housing much of my life (second and third floor was my preference).

As for the basis of my original comment...poor people do not know how to evaluate costs properly to make accurate still accurate.

And BTW I grew up on welfare, free school lunch programs, wearing handme downs, and taking hand-out from charitable organizations like Christian Churches. We're older now and no longer on welfare but my family still makes jokes about our mother counting the rice kernels out for each child. Now she didn't really do that but we use it as a joke. She did however do other quite frugal things. And yes, she didn't have the understanding to know how to evaluate the true cost of items very well. What she did know very well is that we had to keep eating to stay alive.

#147 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 07:07 PM:

dcb@143: I don't think it'd be feasible for people who didn't get paid by direct deposit, no (at least one of the couple, if it's a joint account) (I don't know if various government benefits can come by direct deposit). I don't know if there are many of those any more.

If you encounter the fee, then it's not affordable for anyone at all poor of course; sorry, I took that as a given.

Also, if you're a student or 50+ years old, the minimum is only $100.

And yes, there will still be some people who can't afford it, or at least shouldn't.

I think you're assuming direct-deposit is rare in low end jobs, and I'm assuming it's common in all jobs. No doubt at least one of us is wrong.

Jim@144: That's not even performing to specification, so I vote for "incompetence". (It only dips below $10 once in that example, so there should only be one message sent.)

Lee@145: Could have been an outlier of course; no idea. I don't see any reason to assume so.

Yes, TCF, as I said in the message, serves the core city. Fairly densely even, including their branches in Cub Food stores. They're relatively local (MN), but quite big locally; as I said, they have the second largest ATM network in the metro.

A quick check of Wells Fargo (which was Norwest Banks; they bought Wells Fargo and took their name because they wanted a less regional name) shows somewhat less good terms -- higher initial deposit required, and no $50 incentive. But no minimum balance. I don't actually believe that, but I've been over the page a couple of times and can't find any statement of monthly fees. (They appear to have different terms in different states; I just checked MN since we're comparing to another MN bank.)

It looks like USBank will give you a no-fee account with a $50 initial deposit (or $25 for a student).

#148 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 07:10 PM:

Just to get a data point, I just checked what my bank (PNC) offers locally. They do have a free checking account, with a minimum of $25 to open. There are no monthly fees, no minimum balance and no fees for writing checks or using their ATMs. (There's no interest, either, but these days that doesn't miss you out on much. There's a fee for ordering checks, but you can get them cheaper from a third party if you want.)

You will get charged for using someone else's ATM (unless you have an account that requires a substantially higher balance). And if your balance ever drops below $0 the fees can get pretty nasty pretty fast, so if your balance is low you really have to watch your available funds pretty carefully (especially since the bank has some discretion over the order in which it processes transactions).

Their ATMs aren't hard to find (they're in every Wawa convenience store around here, as well as in every branch). While they tend to have more branches in affluent areas, they have a few in "inner city" locations as well. It's a pretty big bank in the mid-Atlantic region.

I don't know what screening they do on checking accounts, though I gather that lots of places won't let you open one if you have a history of bad checks.

So, at least in this case, there doesn't seem to a big barrier to using a bank if you have an unblemished record. But a slip-up can potentially be very costly, or lock you out, if you're poor.

(That's often one big difference between the poor and the non-poor; many slip-ups that someone wealthier can shrug off can be disastrous for the poor. As other folks have said in this thread as far back as #2, poor people have much less margin for error.)

#149 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 08:02 PM:

Lee @ 92:
Do people still raid pigeon nests for squab? I know that was one popular source of free meat during the Depression.

It was clear back in 1964, but shooting pigeons out of his window was what kept H. Beam Piper in meat in the last few months of his life. And this despite a railroad pension and considerable success as a writer (but the checks were still in the mail :-(

And yes, people still eat pigeon in the city. Tastes better than rat, I think.

#150 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 08:55 PM:

Our secondary bank (BB&T) has a brace of no fees accounts with the std. version requiring no more than a $50 deposit; the student version also waives foreign ATM fees. They have good coverage across the suburbs (which in practice here means "not DC itself"-- the inner "suburbs" are in fact essentially urban). At the moment we keep our main accounts at Chevy Chase mostly because of the ubiquity of their ATMs; they aren't as common as they once were, but there was a time where there was a CCFSB ATM in every Giant Food and pretty much every public place. They have a free account too, which we use for my checking (there's often only a couple of dollars in it).

re 145: Lee, historically the interest rate paid on deposits was 3%; mortgages were around 6%, and checking didn't pay a cent. Interest-paying checking is a function of the '70s interest spike, which also marked the intrusion of the S&Ls into the main banking business. Competition being what it was, and regulation (which on S&Ls was a lot less restrictive) being what it wasn't, someone offered interest, and pretty soon everyone offered interest. Having computers to figure it all out didn't hurt.

Paper payroll checks are still pretty useful at a job site where there's no internet connection to feed things through.

We went through an insanely frugal period at my parents when there were four of us in private school and my parents were considered well enough off to pay the full ticket. The apex of this was the Summer of the Tomatoes. My father had gotten a bunch of tomato plants from a friend of his who had a greenhouse. He put them out a little too early and they got pretty frosted, so he went back and got more. He did not remove the damaged plants, though, and they all survived. Meanwhile I was working at a local nursery transplanting (memo: there is a pay level below minimum, and it's called "part time piecework") where I found a discarded tomato seeding on one of the houses and took it home. It turned out to be a monster beefsteak which cranked out as much as three of the others put together. We had ground-beef-pasta-and-red-sauce for dinner every day, from July to September.

It is possible to live that sort of frugal, but you need to be a bit crazy and obsessive. My mother was up to it from growing up on a farm in the 1930s (followed by being made a foster kid when her father died). I certainly am not, because it's as much work as work is.

#151 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 09:32 PM:

Massachusetts law mandates free basic checking if you are under 19 or 65 or over. Doesn't cover everyone, but its a start. Banks must allow people without accounts, but suitable identification (perhaps provided by the bank), to cash Social Security and Pension checks without a fee.

Mass law also requires employers to provide an accessible place where you can cash your paycheck without charge, and employers cannot insist on direct deposit.

#152 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 09:37 PM:

Just so we've all got some notion of the scale of what we're talking about:

Acccording to the FDIC and the Census Bureau, 7.7% of US households are "unbanked" -- that is, nobody in those households has either a checking or a savings account. So figure about 92% of US households do have a bank account of some kind.

I think about 12% of US households are at or below the poverty level. If we assume that the "unbanked" are all at the poor end of the scale (there might be the occasional bank-distrusting eccentric with a mattress full of krugerrands, but probably not enough to be statistically significant), that implies that about a third of households at or below the poverty level have one or more bank accounts.

I'm sure it's actually much more complicated than that, because people fall into and out of poverty over the course of their lives. Apparently, nearly 60% of Americans will experience at least one year of poverty at some point in their adult lives. (Statistic from Wikipedia, citing The Great Risk Shift by JS Hacker, 2006.)

#153 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 10:02 PM:

John, I know exactly how much space and how much work gardens entail, having dealt with them for most of my life. Gardens are labor and time-intensive; they don't take care of themselves, but need constant attention. I say that two people working full-time would have a hard time following your plan, assuming they have enough space available for a garden (which is very much not a given).

Also, check your zoning laws, because a lot of places restrict livestock including chickens, and some restrict vegetable gardens.

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 10:46 PM:

John 146: Apparently PJEvans you don't really have a valid concept of how much space is really needed to grow enough food to feed one family do you?

Check this out: Dervaes family (search: Dervaes urban homestead) small city yard grows enough food to feed the family and pay the bills.

No, the problem is that YOU don't really have a valid concept of what 'urban' means. No one in Hoboken NJ (where I live) has a yard anywhere near that big. NO ONE. I share a yard with five other apartments, and it's a fraction the size of the one the Dervaes family is working with.

Moreover, the soil here is toxic (and toxic waste dumps are disproportionately in neighborhoods where people of color live, even allowing for income disparity); it's contaminated with chromium. To grow food here you'd have to keep containers of soil carefully separated from the ground soil and water, an expensive and space-consuming proposition.

Yes I live in Dallas, Texas. I think that registers as a city (several million people).

Not if that's a typical yard it doesn't. You could call Alaska a city too (and it has a smaller population than Brooklyn, NY), but that doesn't mean the interior environment is urban in any real sense.

More seriously, I think we have an East/West disconnect here. We have profoundly different ideas of what constitutes a city, even more an urban environment, and people in one area make assumptions about living space that just don't hold true in the other.

#155 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 10:59 PM:

John @146:
I look at your reference and see a luxuriously large yard in a very favorable climate with a year-round growing season. I see a highly motivated very educated family with a knack for marketing and lots of other skills doing this for a lark. Think "broke" rather than "poor" (per Scalzi). They (gently) solicit donations. They exploit a narrow niche market that won't tolerate much competition before the prices would collapse (they get by by selling vegetables as luxury goods).
I strongly suspect that they are healthy.

In my corner of America, poor can mean no yard (public housing block, row house, tenement); or 200 sq ft yard (triple-decker), sunlight optional, shared between three to six families). Growing season mid-May to Mid-September. A much smaller market for luxury vegetables that is well supplied by high-density hydroponic greenhouses in the off season, and small (struggling) farms during growing season.

Have you ever filled you stomach from a garden hose to stave off the hunger? (broke, not poor - there was undoubtedly food in the house, but it didn't pay to wake the Ogre).

The lower end of rural poor is migrant worker. No fixed abode. The kids sleep in the (beat up old rusty) car. Adults sleep in a dormitory shack. Schooling is intermittent, and then the older kids have to miss school to watch the preschoolers. Driving between strawberries, lettuce, corn, apples, potatoes and whatever else.

#156 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Re: banks. In addition to TCF mentioned by ddb, there is the City County Federal Credit Union. Minimum to join is $5. You have to work or live in the seven county Twin Cities area. You need $50 to open a checking account, but with just the savings you can cash checks, I think. Lower fees than any bank I've run into, and higher interest, although right now interest is minuscule. There are credit unions many places, and they are usually worth looking into.

Re: gardening. Yes, we have a east/west and an urban/suburban/rural disconnect. People around here have started gardening in their *front* yards, as well as back. That tells me we are in a depression.

#157 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 11:44 PM:

jnh, #155: Very good point about migrant workers. No fixed abode = NO AGRICULTURE, period. The shift from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle is what marks the start of farming anywhere in human history.

Does John think there's no one else here from Texas, or what? If he's got a yard the size of the one in those pictures, he's in one of the RICH suburbs, like Plano. CWAA.

#158 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:02 AM:

A mid-50s lot in what was then a suburb of Los Angeles is about square feet, give or take a few hundred. That space contains the house, the driveway, and whatever patio. pool, etc, it's acquired over the last 50-odd years.
The houses built in the last ten or fifteen years have a lot less space than that. And they're going to cost every bit as much as John's example of 'how it should be done'.

Hell, in Los Angeles, land is valuable enough that there are wholesale nurseries under the high-voltage power lines, and buildings under the elevated sections of freeways.

#159 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:06 AM:

The Devaes FAQ says that it took them 20 years to build their "homestead" to this point. Their livestock animals are loopholed through local restrictions as pets, partially because three sides of their property are without residential neighbors who might call in complaints. This is not a project which anyone could instantly start anytime, anywhere.

Back in the 1990s, one of my food budget mainstays was the "day-old" grocery rack of wilted produce and slightly dented canned tomatoes. The grocery stores near me don't have those anymore-- maybe for liability concerns, maybe because of regional issues (I've moved to a different part of the country)-- except for one relatively high-end store whose discounted price for brown fruit is remarkably similar to ordinary supermarkets' regular price for the corresponding fresh fruit. I suppose I could still resume growing bean sprouts in a kitchen cabinet, but they're remarkably boring to eat after the first few steady weeks-- and I wasn't able to start doing that until I found someplace to buy a pound of dried mung beans to sprout from.

(Tangential grocery observation: the Safeway near my house has remarkably terrible prices for milk and eggs. Even their "sale" prices are considerably higher than Trader Joe's or Costco-- though of course to shop at Costco, you have to afford the annual membership fee, their bulk quantity of whatever you're buying, and the space to store it. And for perishables, have the ability to consume or preserve them before they perish. As for Trader Joe's, there needs to be more of them in more places.)

#160 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:36 AM:

I live in Iowa. I sent my gardening supplies to my family's home because I knew I'd be moving at least twice this summer, beginning of May and beginning of August. I could have made it work-- my garden is in containers because I started it living in a place where the yard and the parking area were the same soil-- but my current place has fifteen square feet that are unequivocally available, a balcony facing northeast. There's a patio just underneath; our neighbors use theirs for lots of plants, but I think this is technically against the apartment complex rules, as would be plants on the front porch. I do not have access to free dirt, in the sense that it's in the ground.

Even when I did, I never broke even with peppers. I grew vegetables for the same reason I grew flowers and houseplants: I like plants.

It was weird reading Cynthia Voight's Dicey's Song this year and realizing just how much food the family got from their own land and dock. It's been quite a while since then.

#161 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 03:47 AM:

John @146: stop being an asshat. I've farmed. I've kept chickens, and guinea pigs, and geese, and the lot. I've done it in an urban environment, and it's possible, just to manage high intensity agriculture in an urban environment but (and this is a really important but), it's a full time job, and the money is spotty. Should one have bet one's grubstake on it, that family is now homeless. If one is working two jobs to pay the rent, bills, food, etc. it's a question of where to find the full-time job worth of time to weed, water, tend, harvest, etc.

In short claiming this is something the urban poor can do, is facile at best.

Because one cannot do substince farming, for a famliy of four, on less than an acre, as a rule (though someone with water, in a three season climate, who practices milpas farming can manage it on an acre). The problem is, one has to have money, as well as food. Rent, taxes, feed, fertlizer (or more feed, for things like horses... which require more space), etc. will demand at least a couple of hundred in profit a month. If you don't know how, you won't make it.

Now, lets talk about the Dervaes family (the use of which is why I say you are being an asshat; though coming in and being pointlessly rude to people is also part of it). It's urban, sort of. It's in Pasadena; a well to do suburb of Los Angeles. It's in the better part of town. (I lived in Pasadena, I know the area, and I know the Dervaes shop). It's not a case of poor people deciding to make a living. It was middle class people who decided to try to turn a hobby into a money maker. They were fortunate in that they live in an area with lots of money (San Marino, to the South, is listed as economically disadvantaged, because there are almost no jobs in the city limits; mind you there isn't a house in the city which appraises; even now, at less than a million dollars).

They are not living by eating the results, and selling the surplus. They are commercial farmers exploiting a very small, if profitable niche. They sell to upscale restaurants, though one can go and buy directly, that's not where they are making their money. More to the point, they own their home. All they have to worry about is the property tax (and they've owned the home a fair while, so Prop. 13 is keeping that from going up; and it was a fixer upper, bought before Prop 13, and so the tax assessment is far below the market value of the property). No worries the about paying the rent. The own it, free and clear. No worries the landlord will decide it's a violation of their rental agreement/lease.

Three people, full time. They had the money to install solar power.

In short, they are not examples of people doing something "the poor" whom you are castigating are able to do. They are extreme outliers; and it's taken them 15 years to get to 60-70 percent self-sufficiency. Three people, full-time work, low costs, no rent, and it took fifteen years.

In short, as I said, and you ignored when you tried to (badly, and wrongly, correct P J Evans about) it takes more space than the urban poor have, and more time, energy and money then they can spare; on top of needing a lot of specialised knowledge most city dwellers won't have. When the cost of failure is so high; and the chance of failure almost certain, the gamble isn't worth it.

But you go on, certain that you have the right of it, and it's just that the poor are too stupid to figure out what things cost, and all it would take for them to improve their lot is a bit of initiative. You're wrong of course, but you just keep on thinking that, it will make it easier to sleep at night.

#162 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 08:34 AM:

I'm not even "poor" in the sense Scalzi means (I think I count as "broke"), and *I* couldn't do what John is proposing. I live in a turn-of-the-(20th)-century townhouse; my outside space consists of a 10x8 concrete courtyard with bricks and soil of dubious wholesomeness under it. Even if I had the energy to peel up the concrete and get rid of the bricks and have the soil tested and it turned out I could grow edible food in it, I couldn't support even my two-person household on that much space. I could certainly supplement our diet, but it'd take an awful lot of work for someone; I work full-time, Liam's got no interest in gardening, who's going to weed? Oh, and there's no outside water source, so watering has to happen by filling cans in the kitchen and carrying them out. A pint's a pound, remember.

I found this book a few months ago, and it about makes me cry. I don't have a quarter of an acre, much though I long to. It is unclear how many people you're supposed to be able to support on that quarter, too.

#163 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 09:24 AM:

Julie L (# 159)

Here in the Boston /Worcester (MA) area, there are some grocers who downprice a small selection the wilted veggies, so I think it's a matter of regional (or store) policies

I also tend to look for the meat and cheese "ends" -- those do well in salads -- or even in sandwitches in their own right.

Curiously, the only chain That I shop at that doesn't "remainder" either the veggies or deli item ends is Stop & Shop, and I have to idea why that is so.

But yeah, I can really imagine trying to do sustained gardening in the city where we are -- the usual lot size is 500' x 100', andwith mandatory curbside setbacks for structures it leaves a patch of about 15' x 30 ' available -- it it isn't already paved over. And never mind the critters such as skunk, racoon, rabbit and slobbering beast of a thief hedgehogs deciding that your future food is their current forage.

#164 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 09:56 AM:

On government checks and direct deposit. Yes, it's possible to get a governemnt check (Social Security, military retirement, SSI, paycheck) by direct deposit; Uncle Sam prefers it that way, in fact, as it's much cheaper than printing and mailing millions of checks, and for beneficiaries, there's less need to worry about having the check stolen from an unsecured mailbox.

In my experience working for the state of Tennessee, we all got paper checks when I started in 1983, sent out to the various offices and distributed by supervisors on payday. A few years later, we were offered the option of direct deposit, and then we reached the point where there was no other choice.

Direct deposit is an excellent system for a large employer who can expect to pay more or less standard wages to a fixed number of people; the cost and convenience issues are obvious. It's going to be a lot less prevalent among employers with a small number of employees, or those who have a work force that varies constantly or works irregular hours. An entity like a state or municipal government or a large hospital will, of course, have low-wage workers as well as some more highly-paid, so it's not the wages per se that will dictate whether you get direct deposit; it's whether or not such a system is more convenient for the employer. It's probably not as good a system for construction work, for example, and I doubt it's going to be common among temp services; whether you see it in retail is probably going to depend on the size of the employer.

Bank fees are something that's affected very much by different state laws, as well as the size of the bank--Bank of America or Chase have much less motivation to attract small-account customers than a locally-owned bank does, and much less concern with maintaining good feeling locally. This is why ddb found better deals among the local-to-MN bank. I have to say that I would take everything found on those webistes with a large grain of salt, though, despite regulations requiring good disclosure and all that, bank rules WRT accounts can change suddenly, and an amazingly large number have hidden stings in there somewhere.

It's also worth observing how many fewer locally-owned banks there are these days. While credit unions are typically more friendly to small accounts, even they can get testy with unstable accounts whish are the result of going through a bad patch financially, and their charges can also end up in a cascade of disaster.

It is, indeed possible to get blacklisted among banks if you have a record of bounced checks; this is one reason a lot of people end up without access to banking services, and are dependent on check-cashing services. If you mess up with more than one bank, you are likely to end up on everyone's bad-risk list, and there you are.

#165 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 10:58 AM:

It seems to me that "poor" means not being able to invest, in the very, very broadest sense.

So let's grow some tomatoes.

OK, first you need seeds. If you know where to look, you might be able to get a packet for a couple of bucks, but generally a packet of std. hybrid seeds in any place you are likely to find them is going to run about four bucks. Now you need to start them. This means a sunny window-- really sunny-- or it means lights. I use the latter, and you have to replace the bulbs every few years, not to mention the cost of fixtures, and we can set that aside right off, can't we? You also need pots, which you can probably scrounge or (if you have to) get some disposable cups (another few bucks). Next you need soil; you could use dirt from the ground, but you aren't going to get decent results that way. A bag of potting soil runs about five bucks.

So now you have a row of pots on your windowsill (which you started back in early March). They need to be fertilized for good results. Half a pound of Miracle-Gro (a pretty good and easy to use formulation) is $2.79 at your local hardware. You'll need a gallon jug to mix it in, but that's why we drink milk, right? Along the way it would be helpful to transplant into larger pots, but that step could be skipped.

So now it's past the date of last frost, and you need someplace outside to put your plants. You could use pots, but (a) you won't get a lot of tomatoes that way, and (b) now you need a lot of potting soil and some pots (the latter scroungeable, of course). Container cultivation is also extremely high maintenance: you practically have to stand over them with a hose. So we'll assume you have a little plot (how big? assume at least four spare feet a plant). You'll need stakes or something to support the plants (probably scrounged in the city) and whatever it takes to keep marauding critters away (bugs, fortunately, aren't that much of a problem). Again there's the issue of soil improvement, and you might need some lime if you get blossom end rot (another few bucks).

OK, so now you've got some tomatoes coming in. Man does not live on fresh tomatoes alone, and in any case you've probably spent as much up to this point to get started as you would on tomatoes anyway. What you need to do is put some by as sauce/puree/whatever. For this you need at least one pot, a stove, and containers to store the result. And you need some way to preserve the output. The easier way is to freeze it, but this implies (a) a freezer and (b) a big enough freezer to hold your sauce and everything else too. The other method is canning, but now you're talking real investment. You'll need a second kettle, and it's going to be big. You'll need jars, which you'll be tempted to scrounge but don't. Maybe you can get some from someone else, but more likely you'll have to get them new. You'll also need some tools (tongs in particular) and a supply of bands and lids. Bands can be reused a couple of times, if you are painstaking; lids have to be new each time. You'll need storage space for the jars too.

Canning is not something that returns on investment in a year; you have to reuse the jars over and over to make back your outlay. A packet of seeds is good for about three years. You can save money this way, but it is a lot of work and it takes years before the savings start to show. And that's if things go well, and the slugs or raccoons or rats or viruses don't take everything. You can save money by doing all these homesteading things, but first you need the equipment and the knowledge and the cussedness. If you don't have these things, you're too poor too poor to grow tomatoes for food.

#166 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Our lot in Minneapolis is 40 x 192 (feet); and of course there's a rather big building in the middle of it. There's significant front and back unpaved area, though; while our house (and neighborhood) dates from 1916, it was kind of a suburban development at the time, not as dense as closer in. We're in the City of Minneapolis now (not even at the edge), but the layout isn't much different than inner-ring suburbs like Richfield, we're just older. So far as we know it's safe to grow and eat stuff (we've done some of it, I hope it was safe).

There are certainly at least squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and opossums in the area.

There are a fair number of considerably poorer people with not too much less space than us (moving east and north from us for the nearest ones); but also a lot in apartments with little or no space that they can garden.

If you're working two jobs obviously you have little time to garden. You also may not have tools or skills. I think of getting a book from the library and learning enough to get started, but not everybody can self-teach from a book. And lots of people don't like gardening.

At some point it crosses over from "unable" to "unwilling", of course.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:03 AM:

C Wingate @ 165...

You also need pot?
Darn weed.
("No, Serge. It's pots, not pot.")
That's a completely different kettle of fish.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:09 AM:

At some point it crosses over from "unable" to "unwilling"

I get the sense that this exchange is going nowhere fast. I guess I might as well bale out.

#169 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Serge@168: I almost took that seriously. Noting the use of "bale" and especially that instead of "bail" I'm now inclined to the theory that it's more for the pun than the comment; maybe I'm missing something in the first sentence, then.

#170 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:47 AM:

167: ironically, your suggestion is probably about the only way for a poor person to be self-sufficient through farming in the city.

(How successful is the hydroponics business in London? We're exporting pot to Amsterdam. That's how successful it is. That's like sending coals to Newcastle from a country where it's illegal to mine coal. A triumph of British industry!)

#171 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:52 AM:

C Wingate: That's all pretty much true (caveats being the question of frost, WRT starting, and that std cost for seed packets is between 1.49-2.79).

I will point out that canning tomatoes is the easiest of canning, as it takes nothing more than boiling the jars, and filling them with hot sauce. Tomatoes are stable without any other prep.

Which is rare. Cucumbers require brining, or vinegar (and not all cukes will pickle). Cabbage takes salt, and space, and knowledge of how to keep the top from rotting and going off.

ddb: Yes, there is a point at which unwilling comes into it. But that's a point pretty far out on the spectrum.

Why? Because you are talking about hobby gardening (The $64 tomato). John isn't. This is what most of us are debating:

For a large majority of poor people they never actually compare the cost of growing their own food and buying it at the grocery store.

It is almost free to grow more food than you can eat, even if you use the neighbors yard, and if you sell a little of the excess then it is free. This includes almost all vegetables, some fruits, some nuts & seeds, and chicken.

Yes chicken it requires a very small plot of land and is easy to clean.

Having done those things, I say that John doesn't know the cost of what he's talking about, because that $64 tomato, while a bit high; for someone not worried about getting a contractor to come design/build the garden, does address some of the problems. Soil has to be improved/maintained. Drainage has to be right. Weeds and predators have to be dealt with, etc. It's time, and money, which someone who is poor has not enough of either to sacrifice.

He also, it seems, doesn't know the labor involved in chickens. "Easy to clean," is an interesting turn of phrase. If he means keeping the living space of the birds clean is easy... well no, esp. since, on a small plot, the birds have to be penned; or they will eat the vegetables, which will become bare dirt, and fouled with crap and feather; to say nothing of what the floor of the henhouse will look like; straw and chicken shit get heavy; and takes a different compost pile.

If he means the birds are easy to clean (i.e. prepare for the pot) he's never tried to pluck one.

#172 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:02 PM:

He's probably never seen one killed, either. I have - I had relatives with nearly an acre of land (bought in the 20s) who had the entire back half, or a little more, as garden and poultry coops. (They sold eggs for money, being otherwise low-income as a result of the depression in the 30s - and this was in the 60s.) Yes, fruits and veggies were canned; my mother canned produce, too, and froze stuff once we got a freezer.

Tomatoes have to be high-acid to not need prep; some of the newer varieties are too low in acid to be canned safely without a pressure-canner (which runs at least a hundred dollars, and might last a lifetime with proper maintenance). Corn and beans need to be pressure-canned oar frozen, because the risk of botulism is higher with them.

#173 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:04 PM:

I am amused, in a strange sort of way, to see this post live again. We've posted almost as many comments this time, as were put up the first time, and I stopped to look at the first batch.

God they are hard to read. This time we are discussing different aspects of being poor, and it's much less gruesome; if still not uplifting. It's much easier to be defending the motivations of the poor, than to be recounting being poor.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:11 PM:

ddb @ 169...

Me, going for cheap puns? Am I the kind of person who makes hay of anything?
("As a matter of fact...")

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:21 PM:

And that ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a strawman.

#176 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:30 PM:

Terry@171: I thought the strong claim John made was thoroughly exploded, and we were moving on to discussing whether any bits of it could be salvaged -- whether the garden could be a cheap source of some vegetables and greens in some circumstances. If it's just whether "most" (or even "many") poor people could easily feed themselves "for nothing", sure, that's been nonsense from the beginning.

One of my housemates apparently got significant food from their (parents') garden when young; very small town minister, space and time (with a big family) but no money.

Poor comes in a lot of flavors -- in particular, working-two-jobs poor vs. unemployed poor. One has no time, the other has lots of time.

#177 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:30 PM:

abi@175: Hooray!

#178 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:38 PM:

And "strawman" reminds me of this, which is not a straw dog, but is apparently a Komondor (according to Elizabeth Bear in her LJ).

#179 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:54 PM:

P J: I was glossing the slaughter.

A pressure cooker, 8 qt, deep enough for qt ball-jars, is about 8o bucks. Non-trivial. It's useful for other things, but not something one can just pick up, when one is poor.

That's the real problem with John's assertion. For someone who can spare it, the cost of starting a garden isn't that great, but the costs of making a garden into a self-sufficient way of life is immense.

It's one of the things the cheerleading articles about people like the Dervaes fail to mention is that, "urban homesteading" requires that one start as a stable member of the middle class, and be willing to give up a lot on the road to a different form of stability.

John seems to think one can just become a successful urban farmer in a season (which, even if true, does require being able to live on something else for that season). One wonders why the Okies ever had to hit the road.

#180 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 12:57 PM:

ddb@ 178: It is indeed a Komondor, jumping over a fence. It's a Hungarian breed of sheep guarding dog, of the kind who blend into the flock rather than the shepherd kind who guard from outside the flock.

#181 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:06 PM:

I don't have the time (or the strong urge to find the time) for having a dog, but I really do like the large dogs. (I like Miss Ista, too, who is not a large dog; it's not an exclusive thing.)

When I first discovered, many years ago, that the English Sheep Dog made its living hanging out with the sheep and was the one that actually fought the wolves if they came, I was very surprised and impressed. They look so harmless! (Of course no mammal that size is really all THAT harmless, if it puts its mind to it.)

#182 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:24 PM:

ddb: My apologies. Since John is still bouncing around, trying to sell us on the merits of urban farming, I didn't realise you weren't discussing that with your comment that at some point it's not unable, but unwilling.

#183 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Terry -- # 173 --

Part of the "ease" this time 'round in the thread is that there is shame associated with being poor.

For most it is unearned shame:

    - a child who does poorly in school because they are malnourished and sickly because of lack of access to food with the Stuph You Need, rather than the Stuph That Is Cheap And Filling
    The child who will outright be mentally disabled because of the lead paint in the old house/apartment they are renting
    the people who are homeless because the state refused to allow occupacncy for the family with the 5 year old because the apt has lead paint
    The family homeless because the formerly secure job went away when the multinational closed that factory
    the person kept in the low-end job because the fees for training or other education to learn the renumerative skill are simply not there (and also , even if the skill is somehow learned off-the-cuff, because the "learning" is not credentialed, either through work that can be detailed on a resume, or shown by the possession of a diploma that skill is useless for earning the living wanted)

We can become more engaged when we can look at the circumstances and limiotations at the distance, rather than the result itself,

#184 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 01:44 PM:

Terry: I clearly need better signaling that I'm not discussing the entire big issue, just a portion of it. I often end up in that position -- I often find one of 5 arguments used to support a position I agree with to be faulty, for example, and want to explain to people they shouldn't use that one (because of course opponents will frequently spot the weak point and attack the one faulty argument, ignoring the 4 good ones, and claim victory). Or one of 5 arguments used to support a position I despise may appear valid, and I want to find out if that one actually is or not (and if not WHY not).

I've tried a number of very explicit methods over the years, and people always seem to miss or ignore them.

No apology required, anyway.

#185 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:12 PM:

ddb: I am trying to read you better. Could you explain to me the antecedent to which this quotation applies "If you're working two jobs obviously you have little time to garden. You also may not have tools or skills. I think of getting a book from the library and learning enough to get started, but not everybody can self-teach from a book. And lots of people don't like gardening.

"At some point it crosses over from "unable" to "unwilling", of course,"?

Because for the life of me I can't see how it's not a comment on those poor people who have some space, and could make some time, and find the spare change to put some plants in, and choose not to.

And the rest of the context makes it seem a moral judgement.

#186 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Ginger @180: It is indeed a Komondor, jumping over a fence. It's a Hungarian breed of sheep guarding dog, of the kind who blend into the flock rather than the shepherd kind who guard from outside the flock.

Don't run around, baa baa
The Komondor's in town, baa baa?

#187 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:15 PM:

re 171: Terry, I wish seeds were that cheap. It is possible to get them that cheap if you are (a) lucky, (b) willing to settle for certain common old varieties which will give you second-rate results, and/or (c) have the Pinetree Seeds catalog (they sell smaller packets). I just looked at the Burpee website (probably the most common seed line to show up at the local hardware/garden store) and tomato seed prices are pushing $5 a packet. Seed prices have risen steeply in the past several years.

I picked tomatoes precisely because they are one of the easiest cases. If you have access to what I refer to as a yak freezer (because it will hold one) then green beans come into the picture. Dried beans require all that shelling time, which is not inconsiderable. People thinking about this stuff should make note of all the various devices in the backs of gardening catalogs for prepping food for preserving; it's an indication of who much time the chopping and destringing and pitting and so forth takes.

Of course if you live up north, tomatoes may not be that practical; if you live even as far south as Maryland cole crops start to become impractical.

#188 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Nichols Garden Nursery has tomato seed packets for $2 to $4 per; Kitchen Garden Seeds runs about $4 a packet. (Some hardware and garden stores stock Renee's.)

These have varieties that are different from Burpee, including short-season stuff. (Nichols is in Oregon, where it does matter.)

#189 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:49 PM:

C. Wingate: I can only go by what is on the packets I buy, and the most expensive are about 3.49. Most are 2.49, some are 1.49 (mostly things like dill, cilantro; which are problematic here, because they bolt so soon).

Those (unlike tomatoes) are a one time purchase (as with basil, broccoli, lettuces, etc.) because one can let some mature, and keep the seed.

Corn, tomatoes, cukes, etc. are a bit riskier, because they are so profligate. If one is willing to gamble on boring versions in later years, those too can be grown from seed (and for feed corn, you don't care if it's boring; because the chickens don't care).

I am also fortunate enough to have access to local garden clubs, which sell starts for $1-2 ea. It's a bit pricey, but you don't have to futz with starting, and the pots are useful for next year, when staring seeds. Since I have damn all luck at starting peppers, it's cheaper to buy them already going.

Shelling dried beans is easy. You leave the pods on the plant, pull them off, toss them in a bag (I recommend cloth, of some sort), and beat on it somehow (I use a rolling pin). A bit of basket chaffing and then they go into the larder.

#190 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:49 PM:

Terry, #171: It's just another version of "let them eat cake" "the poor only choose to be poor because they're too stupid and/or lazy to be otherwise". As you say, a way to sleep better at night because of course nothing HE has ever done has contributed to the problem in any way, nor is there anything he could (or should) do now to help. To which I say, he's calling the wrong people lazy.

At this point, I would call John a lost cause; what we're doing now is refuting the facile victim-blaming in hopes of perhaps waking up others who might come along later who aren't so married to the right-wing narrative. (It is no surprise to me that John lives in Dallas.)

Ginger, #180: That's an amazing shot; absent description from you and ddb, I would have thought it was just a pile of... something a little heavier than straw -- dead cornstalks, perhaps. There's no "dog" visible to me in the picture at all.

#191 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Terry@185: The point I was trying to make is that the line between "unable" and "unwilling" is somewhat unsharp; even one single individual will usually find cases that aren't clear in their opinion, and in a group there is nearly always a monumental lack of consensus on this one.

"Doesn't like to" is another point, further out on one end of the scale from "unwilling".

Now that you mention it, I suspect that was triggered by Carrie@162 saying "Liam's got no interest in gardening." It's nice for them, as it's nice for me, that I and they can largely avoid doing things they have no interest in; we can afford to make that choice.

#192 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 03:31 PM:

People who think that subsistence farming is easy have never done it or seen in done.

#193 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Lee @ 190: The photo of the komondor jumping is an old one and the resolution isn't so great, but I have seen it before and know where to look to find the nose (it's there). These dogs grow "dreads" of hair, although it's clear that much human assistance is required to develop truly photogenic dreads rather than huge mats.

Now, if Princess Kori'andr's sister, Komand'r, had been based on this breed, it might have been a much better story.

#194 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 03:51 PM:

Jim Macdonald@192: Without ever having done it, it was contemplating it as the best-possible outcome of being a survivalist (in a big enough collapse scenario) that discouraged me from getting seriously involved in survivalism.

#195 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 05:34 PM:

If one is mail-ordering specialty seeds from a catalog, I can maybe see $4-5 a packet, but if one is shopping at the local big-box retailer you're looking closer to $1.50-2.50 (USD) in this part of the country (Maine).

Tomato seeds can be saved if you want to mess with it, but it's a pain in the ass. That's where my cherokee purples and rainbows came from.

This year's tomato plants are "clones" - stem cuttings off a plant I had in a bucket for a couple of years that lost its main stem last winter. No fruit yet; I only just set them out a couple of weeks ago, but the starts were quite large so I've seen a couple of flowers.

Tomato gardening in northern New England is not impossible, but it's got its challenges; in this climate, containers are useful because you can haul them together and cover the plants up during the first couple of light frosts and extend your growing season by a few weeks. But there's the additional expense of buying potting soil, and the aggravation of cleaning the containers and storing them between growing seasons.

And my beans didn't come up at all this year. Last year, they were the only thing that grew. Go figure. Glad I have a paycheck I can eat; wouldn't want to try living on the fruits of my own labor unless I could devote myself to that full time, and then who's going to pay the mortgage?

#196 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:37 PM:

The Walgreens near me has seed packets 6 for a buck one week every spring, and I watch the ads for it. Potting soil for a buck a bag. Seedlings can be started in all kinds of containers - egg cartons work rather well. And I don't expect to subsist on what I grow, just cut my grocery bills a bit in the summer and fall. Farming is hard, gardening doesn't have to be.

But Minnesota is a lot different than New Jersey or Los Angeles. Many of the poorest neighborhoods here have at least some land around the duplex, fourplex, or small apartment building, and there are programs to let people get plots of land tucked in various places. Most of the high rises are for rich people; most of the "projects" have land for gardens.

#197 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Terry Karney – Minus the silly childish insults and incorrect statements (a half acre, that is 100x200ft, to feed 4 people..
You must be insane!)
A large part of your posts are about buying, buying, buying and that is the bane of being poor.
So unless you are going to start personally funding poor people directly and not just indirectly
through governmental taxes. Then maybe you should start considering how to help poor people
get around the lack of money, for example; growing some of their own food.
Who cares if gardening is hard work, being poor is much harder.

Starting my garden didn’t cost a thing. I started with seeds from the veggies I bought at the store and
farmer’s markets.
You know many seeds do actually grow in vegetables….it is an amazing thing.
I didn’t weed or till the garden. I’m lazy now; not poor. I just put down newspaper and let it alone for the winter.
In the spring I torn open spots and pushed in the seeds….not all grew but some did.
I just kept doing it…I traded, borrowed, thrift stores and went to yard sales for other seeds,
tools, etc… nothing to exciting or intense.
It’s been a few years and I have a nice little garden now.
It doesn’t take much work at all and the food tastes great.

Poor people growing some of their own food is just one example and laughingly an example
many of you folks really perverted with your replies.
And yes growing your own food is easy and free!

Andy Brazil…I’m not smug not at all …. why would I be… growing food isn’t my idea….I just learned how to do
it and cut my food costs tremendously….and I know, just as you do, there are many people who would
love to reduce the cost of feeding their families.

But the point is that poor people do NOT understand the true cost of things. Sure they, just
like you, can dumbly look at a price tag on an item at a store and determine if they have
enough pennies in the pocket to purchase it or not. But that is only a small part of
understanding and evaluating cost.
For example:
Is it better to buy name brand cigs or off-brands, neither because tobacco has hidden costs
in lowering health and increasing insurance, other’s perception of you, etc.
And saving little amounts of money (last time I was in ny,ny cigs cost more than $8 a pack) can add
up over time and that saving can get a better quality ‘something else’ that won’t break down or
need to be replaced as often.
This can often save more money for something else of better quality, and on and on.
That is a very basic example of understanding and evaluating true costs.

I had a friend that got a free was great. That year they took it to the vet for shots,
neutered it, bought it food, a little house, collar, leash, toys, etc…before the year was out that
free puppy cost them several hundred dollars. They really didn’t have that money to spend on a free
puppy but they spent it anyway. That free puppy expenditure could have been completely
avoided had they been able to understand and evaluate the true cost ahead of time.

Another indicator that poor people do not know the cost of anything is education.
Public education is free in the United States of America but many poor people wasted
their time in elementary and high school jerking around, cutting class, etc. Now they
pay the cost with low paying dead-end jobs for the rest of their lives.

For poor people state colleges and some private universities are free.
I know that’s how I got the chance and earned a college degree.

It took several decades for me to start learning the true cost of things but I got it!
Hard way, easy way it doesn’t matter today, I figured it out.
Now I sit back in a cushy leather chair on my small farm in Dallas typing
on blogs telling folks how they can work it out also... I’m laughing all the way
to the investment advisor and travel agent.

America is overflowing with opportunity for poor people but they,
like many of you, can’t tell which things are difficult and which are easy.
They evaluate and understand the true cost of things very poorly indeed.

And so I say again …. Poor people do NOT know the cost of anything!

PJEvans – I have hand cleaned chickens and it was tough, but mostly because it was unfamiliar. Had
I kept doing it; it would have gotten easier. As for just picking up the eggs…that is quite simple.

#154 Xopher…..Last I checked Alaska is a state. Brooklyn and Boston are only a couple
small areas in this huge American nation. And there are poor people in every single town and area
coast to coast. That means there is a lot of available land around a large percentage of families in poverty.

#159 Julie
But the Dervaes started….and I bet they had a lot of hardships along the way. But they started….
And who says everyone has to be as successful at gardening as the Dervaes…wouldn’t a few vegetables
here and there help out some?
People in general seek the way they think is easy, unfortunately; the poor seem to make the
wrong choice more often than others.

#198 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:54 PM:

John: You've changed the subject. It was, "self sufficiency for free, heck even profit", now it's, "growing some of their own vegetables.

Yeah, anyone can do the latter, if they have someplace to put the seeds, but self-sufficiency... Have you tried it? Because I've worked at being significantly non-dependent on others for food; it's non trivial and takes time, and space; and yes, "seed money". Chickens aren't free, and while eggs cost less; they need an incubator, and feed, and all the things you glossed with, "I got my seeds for free."

I notice you failed to address my (personal) knowledge of the Dervaes, but made a half-hearted attempt to reply to someone else.

They weren't poor. They aren't living even after 15 years (in a climate with no seasons when food can't be grown), purely on the fruits of their labor, and they have access to a small, niche, and; for vegetables, highly profitable market.

And it's a full time job for three people to pull it off.

So yeah, you are still being an asshat; and no, the insult isn't childish, it may be petty but it's the result of a very adult frustration with someone abusing the downtrodden, and being smug about it.

#199 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 11:59 PM:

#196 Magenta Griffith
Thanks for one of the very few posts that
supported helping poor people get a
little more self-reliant.

Dollar General has vegetable seed packets
in the spring for 25 cents each and the local
feed store gave me three seeds from 5 bulk
containers of vegetables
for free last year. And I save seeds each
year to use next season. I try to never buy
seeds anymore.
A few plants here and there to help cut costs is
surely better than full price everyday.

Much focus seems to be on the extreme areas
like the inner cities. There are only a
handful of inner city areas across the
country and even in those
areas like you said have some open land.
But those areas constitute only a small
portion of the overall city.
And in smaller towns the available land goes
up dramatically. And there are a lot of
small towns around.

#200 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:06 AM:

OK, so John is going to move the goal posts every time we refute him. Sounds like a complete waste of time to me.

#201 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:09 AM:

Posting from different emails too. Just piling up the points here.

#202 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:15 AM:

I'd say he can either learn to answer the questions people ask him, without moving the goalposts or changing the subject, or we can turn him into a pinata. Or I can (figuratively) dump a 20-inch pot of container garden in his lap.

I was polite the first time: I didn't call him a troll, even though I could see it coming and really really wanted to do so.

#203 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Brooklyn, if it were a state, would be the 36th most populous; it has more population than the four least populous states combined.

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Or we could just, you know, ignore him completely. He'll either go away or start doing really obnoxious things to try to force us to notice him, and get himself banned.

#205 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:36 AM:

Xopher: I think so. I am bowing out of that chunk of the conversation. There isn't really anything more for me to say, and I am running low on charity.

It doesn't help that I am behind in a class, have two papers due in the morning: both of them on poverty in the US, and on the systemic structures we have which keep them poor.

Since a large chunk of the reading detailed exactly how aware the poor are of what it costs, details the lack of time they have in their lives, and the sheer amount of effort they perform just to maintain... it's hard for me to look at people like John, with his facile, "they need to get off their asses and do something, like grow some veggies" and not be irked.

When the follow up is in bad faith, well I'm a bit pissy.

#206 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:43 AM:

"Someone is WRONG on the Internet!!"

#207 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:35 AM:

Terry I did not change the subject.
It has been the same from my first post.
To make it explicit:
Poor people do NOT know the cost of anything.

Growing food versus buying it is just one way to demonstrate that point.
And if you think I glossed over the details of gardening here’s how I do it.

It’s not as difficult as you are trying to make it out to be.
At least not how I do it. Maybe I could get a better yield, but honestly I don’t
care to put in that much work into it. I use a knife, a small trowel, a shovel,
a plastic bucket and I have a hoe with a broken handle but I don’t use it much.
I get sticks and other stuff from the neighbors for poles to support the vine plants.
And tie them together with mason string (yes I have to buy that)
I garden about a 70x60 area. That’s huge! It’s not all planted at once though I add the plants in
through the season. Two tomato, three foot area carrot, one cantaloupe, one squash, one cucumber, etc this week
a similar mix next week, throughout the year. It’s all mulched thick in rotting newspaper, sales paper and has some hay.
There are very few weeds and I don’t till. I let the plants die where they are or cut
them and leave them to rot. It’s definitely not a pretty garden, but it is productive.

I water with one of those cheap oscillating sprinklers hooked to a water hose
that go back and forth and the water looks like a rainbow. It is on a cheap timer I got at
wal-mart that goes off once a day for fifteen minutes; I move the sprinkler each day unless I forget.

Those are my tools I just want enough to eat and put some up. We get excess but we don’t
sell it. We usually feed it to the 4 dairy goats. We have 3 young children.
There is nothing intensive or hard about it.

We could garden on a much smaller plot and still get all we can eat with excess!
In the off seasons that yield would be significantly decreased.

I didn’t fail to address your knowledge of the Dervaes family…I intentionally ignored it.
It is good to hear you are well acquainted with the Dervaes family.
Maybe they can teach you about home-scale farming and you can help spread the word
in the areas near you.

You seem to think that this is about getting to the extremes though.
It isn’t…it’s about understanding bad decisions and the adverse impacts it has on people.
Poor people are the worst at this understanding.
We all suffer from it to some degree of other.

The Dervaes show that you can grow your own food.
I, and apparently they, think it is easier than buying that food.

Not everyone can evaluate the cost of growing food versus growing it.
That is clearly demonstrated every single day all across this country.
Poor people each day spend money on something they can get for almost free…veggies and fruit…food.

Within a three mile circle around my house in other people’s yard and on the side of the road there
are many dozen pecan trees, a dozen or so pear trees, a few peach trees,
a couple persimmon trees, several berry bushes, wild black berry canes in the park, and one
small pomegranate tree. For many years I passed these things and never noticed them.

They are easily visible but each year none of these items are picked clean.
I get my share though.

I work toward self-sufficiency a little more every year.
Why not if it costs me less to do it..and I am enjoying it.
It isn’t as difficult or glamorous as you are making out.
It’s pretty basic and simple and not very exciting by modern standards.

A lady across town has an incubator and she let’s me put eggs in it. She also gave me some chickens.
I help her with some of the heavier work around her house.
Also a man gave me 16 chickens a couple of years ago…Rhode Island Reds and Production Reds.
They went the bathroom on the patio and his wife got upset
I bet the next week they went to the store for eggs….how funny.

We now have about 12 chickens.
As for feeding them I don’t…let them eat bugs, grass and table scraps. It cuts the egg production way down, but it cuts the
cost down also.

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:51 AM:


I am a moderator here on Making Light, and I think it's time I step in here. A few things that may explain what's going on:

On your manner of posting:
Don't change email addresses. It's the key to people seeing what you've posted here as a unified identity, rather than a series of drivebys. Since regulars get more respect than drivebys, if you're looking to be taken at all seriously, this is a good thing.

Also, what's with the line breaks? It looks like free verse and is kind of disruptive to read.

On content:
As a newcomer coming in against the grain on a sensitive topic, you're doing fair-to-middling. You're moving the goalposts and being the first in the conversation to be rude (talk to people in the second person, as people, rather than sneering). Neither is going to improve your reception here.

(Yes, I know Terry called you an asshat. You were rude to PJ Evans. It annoys us when people come in and are rude to members of the community.)

Congratulations on making gardening work for you. You're fortunate to live in a climate and a house where that's of use. But, like many of your circumstances, that isn't a universal thing. Not everyone has the land, time, initial capital (to, for instance, improve the soil if it's not good enough) and know-how to do the same. And not everyone has the land, time, etc (plus confidence that it's a good investment of land, time, etc) to acquire the know-how.

So generalizing your experience of gardening—or fiscal prudence, by the way—as a prescription for the world, or even the nation, comes across as the kind of glib solutionizing that's only one step away from "let them eat cake". Poverty is a complex collection of conditions, and like, say, a fever, can come from a variety of causes. Just because you cured yourself of your particular fever of poverty in one way doesn't mean that your solution works for everyone. People have listed some people for whom it doesn't work, and you've brushed that aside, but real life isn't simple.

And unfortunately, in your eagerness to prescribe your particular solution to poverty to the world, you've become contemptuous of others. That's really what grates in what you write: you think that because you've managed to get out of poverty, everyone can simply read your comments, follow in your footsteps, and be OK. And if they don't it's because they're stupid, or lazy, or feckless.

There are two problems with this. First off, your contempt shows. If I were in your target audience, reading your comments, I'd not be taking your advice. Even if I didn't take your attitude personally, poverty runs in families, and that could be my mom you're sneering at. And second, it adds to a pervasive narrative that poor people are always to blame for their own poverty, and thus can just be abandoned to it until they discover the magic solution. And that is not only false, it's also cruel and inhuman, and I reject it utterly.

And you should too, for another reason. We are all of us closer to poverty than we may want to realize. One injury and you can't tend that garden. One medical incident can eat up your hoarded savings. One job loss, one natural disaster, one act of God, and your resources will run out. It's not a comfortable thought, and many people use contempt of the feckless poor and the belief that hard work alone is enough to lift them out of poverty as bulwarks against that uncomfortable truth.

But there but for fortune go you and I, as the song goes. So it might be wiser to take a different tone.

Also, you'd be listened to more, and could then expound on your experience and teach people stuff instead of being argued with all the time.

#209 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 02:13 AM:

I did not change the subject. It has been the same from my first post.

This is in fact your difficulty. "View All" is instructive in this regard. You just keep saying the same thing about Those People and How To Fix Their Problems, over and over and over and OVER, pausing only to glance over the posts of others so you can periodically rearrange the goalposts, persuaded that if you just keep talking we will eventually realise that you know everything about Poor People and Gardening and stop debating with you all the damn time and just Respect Your Authority.

There are three small problems, here:

1) Many of us are, or have been, or grew up surrounded by, Poor People, and we are therefore aware that you are talking out of your ... ear.

2) Many of us are, or have been, or grew up surrounded by, fruit and vegetable gardeners and livestock keepers, and we are therefore aware that you talking out of your ... other ear.

3) You rocked up from nowhere into a closely-knit community of many years' standing, and you haven't actually got any authority, nor are your present actions calculated to build you any.

Poor people do NOT know the cost of anything.

Ah-heh-heh-heh. John, you are talking to a large number of Poor People, and recovering Poor People, and Adult Children of Poor People.

The next time you want to lay down the law about a topic on which you possess only a moderate understanding, may I suggest you first ensure that you are not surrounded by experts in the field?

#210 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 03:21 AM:

John, I have been struggling with my reaction to you. It's not so much that you don't listen to what is being said. It's not so much that you fail to realise that I, and the rest of the people here might have some knowledge of what we are talking about (look up milpas agriculture, and see what it takes to actually be substitent: then ponder that most of the country has but one growing season. Figure out how that relates to the need for space, but I digress).

I realised what it was you seemed to lack, that thing which griped at me, and made me angry; angry in part because I have been struggling with writing a pair of papers on the subject of poverty, and how the poor deal with things. One which points out the people who have no money, are painfully aware of what things cost, and they know that cost better than those who are not in their shoes will ever know.

What you seem to lack is two things, charity, and empathy. You came in an insulted the poor. You further went on to prescribe what they, the afflicted, needed to do to fix their lot. Well, that's fine. Insofar as they can, yes the need to work to improve their lot, but they are the bottom of the ladder. Dumped on by the world above them. Oppressed by systems meant to take what they have, and strip them of everything more than the barest they need to survive.

We, who are more fortunate, even if it's only a little more fortunate, have the incumbent duty to help them; and the first step, the one which cannot be avoided, even if we cannot spare a penny (not even so much as the widow's mite), is to not kick them when they are down.

The second, is to work on "Fixing the Jericho Road"

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administering first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting - an ecclesiastical gathering - and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1,200 miles, or rather 1,200 feet, above sea level.

And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2,200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?" Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

As Martin Luther King said, "what will happen to them."

To quote Micah: The Lord has shown you what is good. What is it the Lord demands of you? That you love Justice, practice Mercy, and walk humbly with your God".

As Jesus said, "what you have done to the least of these, you have done to me".

Kicking someone when he's down, saying it's his fault... that's passing the Samaritan by. It's failing to do mercy.

It's unjust.

And it pisses me off.

So, I've said my piece, and made my arguments. There really isn't anything more for me to say.

#211 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 03:38 AM:


Your first post was # 87.

I suggest you go and read one other post. Post # 86.

Then answer this. Do you really think that your glib answers would actually work to help him? Do you imagine he could set up a garden plot? Do you think you can find him enough cost saving measures and knowledge of the 'real cost' of things to change his life?

Are you going to blame him for being where he is?

Maybe you're trying to offer solutions for people. If so, that's good. But you can do it without smugness, and to people who could use your solutions. Maybe you should point out trees with edible resources to people in the vicinity that you think aren't making ends meet; or even walk or drive them out to these places. Offer someone barely your surplus gardening, or show them how to save seeds and newspaper and make a garden. Offer tips on places like Poor_Skills that are ALL ABOUT figuring out real costs, and real cost-cutting measures.

Without bragging. Without pride. Without telling them 'you don't know anything about real cost.' Without denigrating them for not knowing, when they genuinely might not have had a chance to know.

(Caveat: I'm not poor. I've never been poor. But I try to listen.)

#212 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:01 AM:

John at 197 and elsewhere:
And so I say again …. Poor people do NOT know the cost of anything!
the poor seem to make the wrong choice more often than others.

Taking these statements at face value and in good faith, and taking into account your knowledge and experience, what is it you're doing personally to help people without this knowledge to gain it?:

It took several decades for me to start learning the true cost of things but I got it!
Hard way, easy way it doesn’t matter today, I figured it out.
Now I sit back in a cushy leather chair on my small farm in Dallas typing on blogs telling folks how they can work it out also... I’m laughing all the way to the investment advisor and travel agent.

Poor people often don't have internet access, John. Even if they do, there is a good chance they may not be savvy enough to read wherever you're posting. So it still sounds like you're posting from a position of privilege, of "I've got mine!" and with a contemptuous attitude to people who are down. If you are also volunteering in some community project to spread your word, I take my harsh judgment back -- to some extent.

#213 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 09:30 AM:

Now that you mention it, I suspect that was triggered by Carrie@162 saying "Liam's got no interest in gardening." It's nice for them, as it's nice for me, that I and they can largely avoid doing things they have no interest in; we can afford to make that choice.

Damn right. I mean, he'd do it if it were that or starve, which it isn't, quite, yet. And at the moment I still have the option of not pulling up my concrete.

But you know, if I didn't own this place, I wouldn't even have that, and then where would we be? Container gardening is all fine and well, except you have to water the heck out of the containers and water costs money. Plus, despite the name, dirt is not in fact dirt cheap.

#214 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:03 AM:

John, #197: Now I sit back in a cushy leather chair on my small farm in Dallas typing on blogs telling folks how they can work it out also... I’m laughing all the way to the investment advisor and travel agent.

That says it all. John isn't interested in actually helping the poor; his target audience is people born to privilege who have fallen on hard times, and he gets his money by scamming them out of their last bit of savings to sell them the equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme, without ever mentioning the hidden costs and common obstacles associated therewith.

John is a PARASITE. And he just can't believe that any online discussion of poverty isn't made up of people who are just like him.

#215 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:37 AM:

Those silly poor people!

With just a few dollars worth of oil paint and canvas they can make paintings that sell for millions so they can afford to hire poor people who haven't figured it out to garden for them.

Poor people don't know what anything costs!

#216 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:48 AM:

John #197 et seq:

Having at various points in my life been poor, grown my own food, worked crap jobs, pinched the farthings &c &c, might I, as respectfully as possibly, suggest that there are a superfluity of bridges for you to lurk under?

#217 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:12 AM:

#163 Craig

All the Stop & Shops I've been in in Massachusetts discount the wilted or end of season-get-rid-of vegetables, the racks generally are by the entrance from the rear public part of the stores to the employees-only section by the deli or fish counters....

Seeds -- it's possible to grow tomatoes, potatos, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, corn, and a variety of other plants from using sprouting the seeds or tubers or such of the produce section in supermarkets. The caveats apply that people here have mentioned about soil, space, lighting, etc.


Being "poor" is not uniform and not uniform in the causality.... there's a lot of diversity regarding what puts people into poverty, and their backgrounds and coping abilities....

A) One of the largest relatively uniform segments is "beggared by medical problem(s) and then unable to recover out of medically-caused financial losses and continuing erosion.
This sort of thing includes:
o Person becomes sick, and either unable to work, or the expenses are so high the person has to sell the house/move to somewhere cheap and inconvenient, loses transportation mobility (can't afford car payments anymore, or can't drive anymore, and the mass transit situation is morbid...
o Person spends all their resource on medical treatments and has high continuing expenses
o Person becomes permanently disabled unable to work, or would be able to work part-time but can't get a job which would leave them better off than disability payment benefits
o Person recovers medically but now has an employment history and medical record which prospective employers take a look at and dump the resume... small businesses in particular don't like/want to hire people who make medical insurance premiums unaffordable or unavailable for
o Person has had to move to where transportation and access to jobs the person can qualify for, is essential nonexistent
o Person declared bankruptcy to get out from under debt load but fresh start isn't really available...

B) The person was born into poverty and has grown up in it, and environmentally and culturally that's what the person knows--there's substantial longitudinal poverty in the USA

C) The person is a criminal/has a criminal record, and few employers want to take on the risk/challenge of hiring someone with a criminal record--
o If the person was a thief, the employer doesn't want the risk that the employee will steal from the business or the business' customers or suppliers or other business associates
o There is the potential legal liability involved, the recidivism rate of people convicted of crimes is non-zero
o There is the issue of insurance and the cost of insurance premiums, and the threat of loss of insurance (note that a lot of home insurance policies either charge substantially extra for dogs, or have outright bans on certain breeds such as pit bulls....
o How many people want someone with a criminal record, working for or with them
The result is that ex-cons have extremely difficult times getting income legally, must less at rate above the poverty line. And some localities, a substantial part of the population has criminal records....

D) The person has a credit card addiction (I know someone who was domestically partnered, before legal recognition and protections, with a spending addict... they lost the house and all equity in it, throwing both of them into poverty, even though the credit card addiction was specific to one of them) or other case of "income not poverty level, but spending far exceeds income

E) Job loss--there are people who have been out of work for more than a year now (and I am furious that WBZ radio phrased "The Republicans have successfully killed [legislation to extend unemployment benefits by the votes that would have been necessary to override the filibuster]." "successfully killed" -- that's not a "success" that's an merciless abusive attack on the citizens of the USA and the well-being of the country! [Advertisers of WBZ include Eagle Bank, Building 19, 1-800-Cars-for-Kids, and many other companies.... and their talk radio host are all male, and not one of them is what I'd call a "centrist" much less anything approaching progressive.... they -did- dump Paul Harvey News... the station moved out of the center when Westinghouse Broadcasting became part of Viacom and got the name "Infinity Broadcasting." I listen for the less partisan news of weather and traffic, but am permanently ticked off at the slanting of the reporting and at the evening content... and it being a 50,000 watt the second-oldest broadcast station in the country....]

F) trying-to-figure-out-how-to-not-make-this-sound-impolite... some people are not as bright as others, and particularly a lot of crooks are stupid... making "dumb choices" or not have education/knowledge of how to effectively economize/save/spend wisely, means a lot of people waste what money they do have...

G) Being in situations where "bargains" aren't available or where everything is high cost.... crime-ridden neighborhoods may be "cheap" for the rent, but high volume low cost supermarkets don't tend to locate near them for people to go shopping in. Stores in high crime rate areas tend to charge higher prices, because their expenses are higher--merchandise theft rates are higher, insurance if available is more expensive, and unless sales volume is high, profit margin has to come from pricing items high, to compensate for theft and repairing damage from break-ins and for paying for extra security... the typical supermarket has a profit margin of maybe 2% of sales, and depends on volume to make that profit margin be worth being in business. A small market with a lot of merchandise disappearance/spoilage and lower volume, again, -has- to price items much higher than a supermarket, to stay in business on its own revenues (as opposed to being used e.g. for money laundering...)
o Also, small apartments mean not being able to by in bulk and so paying majorly higher cost per portion... A gallon of milk is say $2.50, but the price per gallon for milk buying UHT quarts is more like $7 a gallon, or buying a three-pack of single-serving cartons is more than that per gallon.... The same sort of thing is true for flour and such.


Bottom line, "being poor" isn't uniform except in the aggregate "look at the poverty rate." Look at the poverty rate, doesn't say anything about what's structural (people who're disabled and completely unable to work ever again) and what's hopefully temporary bad luck (job loss from employer failure), or what could be addressed without the damned Republican robber baron hypocrites (single payer and making chronic condition medicines "affordable" could make a lot of people who can't work because they can't afford effective treatment for medical conditions, "gainfuly employed" and "productive" again.... effective schooling/remedial education could move a lot of people out of the "unemployable due to poor literacy and poor social skills" category into gainful productive employment above the poverty line. More money for police and patrolling of high crime areas could drop the crime rate and lower the cost of doing business in neighborhoods where people are paying a high price for goods and services because of the high crime rate--and with businesses not facing a high crime rate, the area would become more attractive for businesses to locate in, they could hire more people, meaning more money in the neighborhood with more people having jobs... a POSITIVE feedback loop where improving the business and social climate, futher improves people's quality of life....

But the makes-John-Knox-look-merciful Repukes, are into punishment and mercilessly and economic selfish greed... Henry Ford was a nasty bigot, but even he recognized, "Workers ought to be able to afford the products they make." Not so the Repukes...

#218 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:17 AM:

Paula Lieberman @ 217... it's possible to grow tomatoes

You say to-may-to
I say to-mah-to
- Lore, Data's evil twin

#219 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:38 AM:

It's good to know that the people in Appalachia (who contributed so much to the Foxfire books), who keep the butter cool in the spring house because they can't afford refrigerators (or don't have electricity), aren't genuinely poor because they grow their own vegetables.

#220 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:46 AM:

(giving in to the dogpile urge...)

John John the Heinelein man
Makes soil out of rocks
Grows crops in sand.

John John the Heinlein man
Outcorners MacGyver
And lives off the land.

John John the Heinlein man
Brags his competence
Not ev'ryone can.

John John the Heinlein man
Lives in a world that's
From Ayn Rand.

John John the Heinlein man
Isn't disabled
With medicine banned

John John the Heinlein man
Did he go to school
Where no bullies spanned?

John John the Heinlein man
Is much unequipped
To understand.

#221 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Paula is correct, it has become a dogpile.

Can we not? Please?

#222 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 12:54 PM:

(I wasn't so much insulted by what he said to me as by his view that everyone who's poor has the space, time, and money (and ability of whatever kind) to grow enough food to live on.)

#223 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:25 PM:

John, you say you got your seeds from vegetables you bought... You didn't say WHERE you bought them.

If these were common big box grocery store veggies, the seeds you got from them were from hybrid plants. Which means that the resulting seedlings were probably not true to strain, that means you're getting an inherently inferior product.

There's a reason people pay good money for packaged seeds -- they're guaranteed to be true to strain and have the desirable qualities of that variety.

That's also why "heirloom" seeds are prized. These are veggetables and fruits whose particular flavors and quality are considered worth the hassle of collecting the seeds. Most of these MUST be hand-pollinated* to make certain the resulting veggie's seeds are the true strain. So that next year's produce is identical to this year's.

As for fruit from seed -- most fruit trees are grown from cuttings** not seeds (even strawberries are produced vegetatively). So planting those citrus seeds will never get you the quality of fruit you can buy at the store IF the resulting seedling ever gets big enough to bear fruit (minimum 5 years IF the seedling is actually fertile).

John, I've been a gardner all my life, and there are very few veggies/fruits I'd actually be willing to put in the time it would take to grow them. (Now, comes TEOTWAWKI, all the survivors WILL be subsistence famers.)

As for the poor being able to get the vegggies from their grocery stores -- get real! Have you ever been into what passes for a grocery store in poor neighborhoods? Think 7-11 not Krogers, Giant, D'Agostinos, or Safeway (or Walmart for gosh sakes). I have lived in this sort of neighborhood, and you can find lots of beer, snacks and high-starch foods in these stores but the closest thing to a vegetable is in the frozen food case (and most of what's there are microwave entrees).

*Think about getting down on the ground on your hands and knees with a tiny paintbrush and using that to take pollen from one flower to another...

**Grafting is an art.

#224 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:29 PM:

Oops! Sorry Abi, missed your message! No more, I promise.

#225 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:34 PM:

A friend of mine has said that she really doesn't want to survive the apocalypse. It seems like so much work. Another-- because these are knitting/spinning/crafting friends-- thinks she'll be useful in clothing the survivors, once clothes become an issue, but 'can turn sheep into sweater' doesn't outrun zombies.

#226 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:37 PM:

I have a grapevine grown from a cutting. It's thirteen years old, and this is the first year it's bloomed at all.
We grew an apricot tree from seed when I was in high school, and it was seven or eight years before it bloomed the first time. (Nice fruit, but not as good as the parent, possibly due to climate differences).

(I also have some mint that we, as a family, have been growing for something like eighty years, moving rooted cuttings right along with the people and the furniture. Mint prefers being in the ground or a really big pot.)

#227 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 01:59 PM:

Lori Coulson: (as I speak out of my hat, and with the caveat this is how I interpret things) I don't think you were piling on.

After I got more upset than was good for me to indulge in (at 198) a number of people started taking him to task for things which weren't substantive. That was a dogpile.

I don't know if John is going to comment again (for my part it probably doesn't matter. He did shift the goalposts (growing more food than a family can eat is free, even profitable, in what little space can be borrowed from a neighbor is what he started with, it's not what he says now), and he has been rude, in ways which aren't trivial, from my point of view (i.e. he has attacked people's experience, admitted his lack of same, and continues to tell them they are wrong).

You weren't doing any of that. You were engaging him (and politely) on the substance of his comments. I think that's a good thing, if we are going to actually be a community which makes it possible for the abrasive and contrary to make their cases. We don't have to blithely accept bad behavior, but we don't have to make the new people persona non-grata for one just one case of it.

#228 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 02:33 PM:

PJE@226 quoth: "I also have some mint that we, as a family, have been growing for something like eighty years, moving rooted cuttings right along with the people and the furniture."

My wife wants to get some of the familial horseradish next time we're up by the old farm. Her father planted it close to eighty years ago, in a little corner of one of the hay fields. After he moved out, his brother wanted to get rid of it. By plowing it under. You can still see the plowline by the horseradish plants along it....

#229 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 02:42 PM:

I can't claim any such ancestry, but I'm delighted to find, today, that making my own compost has paid off. In among the inevitable weeds in the back bed I dug over with homemade compost, I found nine volunteer tomato plants.

The only way tomato seeds got into that bed was from the spoiled fruit I had to compost in the early autumn after waiting too long to harvest it.

I wonder how many are cherry tomatoes (tried to sprout this year, failed at transplant stage) and how many are larger ones (didn't try this year; they were disappointingly bland last year).

In any case, that is truly free food...if you discount the price of the house I own to have the garden to grow it and make compost in.

#230 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 02:43 PM:

JBWoodford: My grandmother's place used to be a farm (now it's urban Cleveland). It's got some yard, and there is still (more almost 90 years after it stopped being a farm), horseradish growing there. The cherries have died, the roses remain, the horseradish is ineradicable.

#231 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 02:54 PM:

abi: I have a grape I grew from cutting, and four tomatoes right now which were gratis for the having (space and water, etc; cost money, though we gray water the washing machine; but that's also space and money invested). One a volunteer (provenance unknown, probably a bird), and three a friend didn't have room for.

I shall miss all the fruit of them; because the road trip starts tomorrow.

#232 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 03:01 PM:

That's one way to get tomato plants!

We had some volunteer zucchini one year, from one of the fruits that escaped notice until way too late. Tasted okay, but the skin was tough as steerhide; even the grater on the mixer wouldn't dent it.

#233 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 03:59 PM:

Thanks, Terry @227 -- I was trying to be polite, but I was rather exasperated with John. I have a very nasty temper and hasty tongue (or keyboard!), so I wasn't certain if I'd managed to stay civil.

Most of my mother's family grew much of their food (plants and livestock) and one member was still raising their own pigs when I was in high school (1969-1973). I remember my grandmother's basement, with row after row of home-canned goods, from Apple butter to beans, any number of preserves, corn soup and tomatoes...

I've seen pigs and chickens slaughtered, gathered eggs, and have seen one aunt make sausages. Never got to play with the hatchling turkeys (too delicate) but did get to feed the baby chicks.

My grandfather had 3/4 acre garden at the back of the lot. He had a real tractor (no fancy riding mower) that he plowed with each Spring.

My great-grandfather had bees, a small orchard, and a wonderful raspberry (blackcap) patch in addition to his own vegetable garden and animals.

The only livestock I don't have some familiarity with are dairy cattle, sheep and goats. Oh, and all my male relatives hunted and fished -- for the pot not for sport.

I know how much work my relatives put in, and they did it on top of holding down factory jobs -- it wasn't a hobby for them it was a necessity -- and while they had enough to see them through, they were never rich.

Then I look at the poor neighborhoods here in my town, and anyone renting just doesn't have the kind of space my family had to garden.

My family's factory jobs were about 15 minutes to a half hour away from their homes and they had cars. Where I live, it takes an hour for me to get to and from work by bus. Some of my fellow riders have as much as a two hour commute because they have to change buses. Where do you carve out the time to grow anything in a schedule like that?

There are community gardens where you can get a plot for a fairly small fee -- but you have to be able to get there...

#234 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 04:10 PM:

We managed to eradicae the horseradish at my parent's place. Not sure how; probably involved it being repeatedly eaten by four-legged or two-legged-two-winged things. Now I wish we had some, of course.

#235 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:36 PM:

"I saw it, it looked cool, I know nothing about it" post: growing 100 lbs. of potatos in a 2'x2' space, here or here.

2' x 2' seems like an amount of outdoor space you should be able to find. Looking at the article, you'd need to build the box (requires lumber, tools), buy the soil, and buy about three potatoes to start with. And be able to invest in a project with a 3-month payoff. And either know something about gardening, or be able to afford the screwups.

Is this a plausible fire-escape supplementary foodsource or a hobbyist trick?

#236 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:39 PM:

Lori: I've butchered, but never slaughtered. I've dealt with dairy cattle, and goats. I've done a lot of add to the pot farming, corn, squash, beans, cukes (fresh and for pickles) peppers, grain (not for sustenance, but to have for adding to bread, and to feed the chickens.

I've made nettle soup (not worth the effort), kept the lettuce beds in production for a couple of years before moving it to avoid nemotode rot, done the carrots, green manure, weeding (nettles I have slain in their thousands and their tens of thousands), been sunburnt, calloused, backsore, blistered, stung, scraped, etc.

I have been pruning the fruit trees in January, grafted in March, culled (so the fruit won't break the branches, in March, and April), spent four days straight pulling apricots, and two for cherries, and three for plums; followed by the needed time for canning, freezing, etc. Peaches never bore enough for more than pies, and out of hand... but the nectarines needed the suckers cut two or three times a year.

The chicken coop needed to be mucked a couple of time a year (and the separate compost heap). The geese needed to have the wading pool dumped a couple of times a week.

All of that for supplemental food. Not enough for the six of us (hell, not really enough for two people, if we were trying to live on it), and it was still twenty-five/thirty hours a week. That's not counting the time spent collecting, and splitting wood from the trees being trimmed in the area.

I could only afford to to do it because I was a "Guard Bum", and only had about 90 days a year I wasn't at home.

#237 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:45 PM:

P J Evans: We had a zucchini/pumpkin cross last year in the garden -- we called it the pucchini, It was a much fatter than normal zucchini shape, but had a rind harder than a pumpkin and kept as well as the butternuts. They stayed green quite a long time, but then ripened to a good deep orange. I've planted second generation seeds this year, I'm curious to see how they do.

My gardening has gone from a few instances of a lot of things to a lot of instances of a few. I'd rather have enough that the critters can take their share and not be worried about it, and still get my year's supply. There's a good 800sf in potatoes this year, after a miserable harvest last year. More squash than is prudent, and hopefully enough garlic to last the year. The strawberries are coming on now, with our first > 1lb harvest a couple nights back. We'll see what happens with the cukes and tomatoes, since the cold weather has really put a dent in them this year. And I'm wishing that I'd gotten pea seeds by the pound, since this year's quantity just doesn't look like enough.

One of these years, I'm going to get some raspberry canes from my grandfather's house, which he brought there at least 50 years ago from his parent's place in the Dakotas. I have no complaints about my current raspberries, except possibly about quantity.

On the other hand, if one could live on himalayan blackberries alone -- the poor here would never lack for food.

#238 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Sandy: It's a bit of both. 1: I've never had good luck with potatoes.

2: It's going to be a monoculture (It doesn't have to be, but in that space, it probably is).

3: I've seen it done with tires as the container.

4: If it works, it's not bad. Potatoes are a rare vegetable in that they are pretty much complete; if protein deficient (it's why the Irish grew potatoes to live on, while sending the rest of the their crops abroad as rents).

#239 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:47 PM:

This all reminds me of my summer jobs of the 1970. Ah, the joys of weeding... very... large... fields...

#240 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:48 PM:

My father planted four rows of grapes - 8 vines in each row - in the garden where he lived after retiring. The year after he died, I spent three full days pruning those vines (the source of the grape cutting I started with). I never did find time to prune the fruit trees (the peaches and nectarines were getting old and all of them had borers, including the two dwarf pie cherries).

I still have two liters of the last batch of honey he extracted before he quit keeping bees. It looks like used motor oil and the honey fragrance can knock you over.

#241 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 05:52 PM:

According to this page, potato yield for pounds sown ranges from 5:1 to 15:1. Some people say 8:1 is "okay", other say "Dad figured 7:1 return in a good year".

#242 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 06:10 PM:

Sandy and Terry Karney, re potatoes. Another container possibility: my daughter was a junior counselor in the organic gardening activity of an outdoor camp for a month last summer. She said the head counselor taught them that, similar to the article Sandy linked to, you could grow potatoes successfully in a plastic trash can (standard round outdoor size). Add more layers of dirt as the plant grows. Layer of gravel on the bottom for drainage, I would think, or maybe punch holes - I don't remember her saying. You'd grow fewer pounds than in the box they described, and you can't as easily take some out along the way, but you have a somewhat smaller footprint and the container would be fairly cheap. Don't keep the can in the alley, though. ;-)

#243 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 07:43 PM:

Only having a 7-11 and a White Castle within feasible travel range has a name: it's called living in a food desert. The NPR piece that introduced this term to me also pointed out that there are quite a few households that qualify for WIC, but don't use it--because they can't get gallons of milk (yes, some states do require WIC milk to be liquid only!) and cartons of eggs on and off the two buses between them and the nearest real grocery store in time to fulfill their other responsibilities (like keeping their jobs), with kids in tow (because they have no child care), and sometimes in heat that accelerates spoiling.

The piece also featured interviews with residents of food deserts who were now working on garden projects with outside assistance. Why outside assistance? Because their neighborhoods had been food deserts for so long that nobody there had ever seen a fresh tomato. Yes, literally.

#244 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Considering the potato tower, here's the results from an experience organic farmer who tried it. Synopsis: lots of technique, not to mention luck, required. His first tower produced three pounds, not a hundred. He also discovered that the technique apparently doesn't work at all on one commonly grown variety.

#245 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 08:49 PM:

Since you are a moderator then maybe you can get the people back on topic.
I don't mind them calling names, writing silly poetry and typing veiled threats.
It demonstrates what type of people they really are.
As for my writing style it gets the point across quite well.
The topic is a discussion about poor people knowing the cost of everything.
My position is clearly stated in each post that "poor people do NOT know the cost of anything".
Gardening is just one example I presented, other examples were also provided.
And as of this posting…no one has offered any counter-argument of any value to the actual discussion.
Many of the replies seem to be more excited to speak of their opinions of gardening and why poor people can’t/shouldn’t do it.
Even in your response you focus on gardening.
The naysayers cite ambiguous opinions as to why it won’t work or how they failed at it, or stopped doing it,etc…
It is a little upsetting they did not continue at gardening it is very rewarding.
But their comments have little, if anything, to do with the blog topic.
You as moderator should keep them on topic!
I kind of take the responses to simply prove the point I’ve been making all along…
and by going off topic, insulting, and chastising they think it changes the fact
that poor people do NOT know the cost of anything.

Terry Karney....If you had hundreds of years of experience….it wouldn’t matter.
Because your focus is on why people can’t and shouldn’t work toward self-sufficiency.
When you should be focusing on why they should.
Your bitterness seems to have you turned around.
So just go ahead and type those nasty things you say you’re holding back….maybe it will help you somehow.

PJEvans 32 entire grape vines, all by yourself, now that is impressive.

Lori Coulson….just because you have excess money to buy food and the luxury to grow ornamentals
….doesn’t mean everyone does. I’m guessing there are many other things you would pass on also
that someone without financial means would be very happy to do.

Debbie I do help some individual people in my area...most don't stick with it though. When I ask
them why they quit they usually hem and haw…

Jim MacDonald you state that as if it happens? Which it doesn’t…but it’s good sarcasm anyway.

#246 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 09:13 PM:

John, YOU need to make some changes to how you write here. Ignore that part of what abi said at your peril.

I'd suggest starting by organizing your posts into paragraphs. I for one won't be giving a serious read to anything you write while you're still putting in all those line breaks. It's just not worth the mental effort.

#247 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 09:21 PM:

John, your writing style does not get the point across quite well for me. I find it off-putting, stilted, and pretentious. I did spend some time looking for an acrostic, though, because I assume that anyone who makes their words difficult to read does so for a reason.

Everyone: next place I live, when I've moved and have found an Actual Job*, will have a bit of earth. Possible store-bought earth because realistically, it's going to be an apartment and containers, but outside, needs-watering, produces-food dirt.

It'll be years before I break even for food costs, but like most food gardeners I know, that's not the point.

*apparently, I define 'kibblejob' as 'still in Iowa, hourly, no homework'. Sometime I'll pick at that, but not now. I think it's related to my general money anxiety; the amount of anxiety I feel is unrelated to the amount of money I have, more related to what I think my income will be for the next time period (and there's an I Am Not Poor sign: I do not know exactly how much each paycheck will be, only a ballpark), even more related to uncertainty about nonmoney living things.

#248 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 09:52 PM:

John #245: You as moderator should

Uh oh....

#249 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:02 PM:

Earlier, C Wingate made this nice point that ultimately, one of the things that makes poverty poverty is a lack of capital. One aspect of capital (as Jim points out above) is knowledge.

I've never known poverty beyond the inconveniences of being a college student living in a small apartment, with a low income and lousy budgeting skills. But one lesson I learned from that time was how much I *didn't* know that would have helped me do better with my limited funds. Knowing how to cook something other than box mixes and burgers, for example, lets you live a hell of a lot cheaper and better. Knowing how to budget, just having the experience and knowledge of how to do it, that makes a huge difference in how your finances go. Knowing how to do some basic maintenance on your car or house, if you own them, knowing how to sew (even at the level of patching and hemming), all those things are of enormous value.

This isn't about laziness, because while I am indeed a pretty lazy person, I would have been very willing to work harder at that stuff if I'd known how to get useful results from it. And it's not about intelligence, because I seem to be pretty good at doing other intellectually-demanding stuff. It's about knowledge. There's capital in terms of stuff, too--decent pots, pans, knives, etc. makes cooking a lot easier, but knowledge extends even to knowing what kind of supplies you need.

I know even less about gardening than about poverty, but it strikes me that much of this discussion of gardening as a way to provide extra food for the pot is ultimately about what kind of knowledge and capital you assume. Someone who's gardened for many years can probably respond to some kinds of economic trouble by growing more of their own food, and saving a lot of money as a result. (In much the same way, a skilled hunter in the right circumstances can add extra meat to his family's diet. But if you've never gone hunting before today, you will need to learn a lot and buy some equipment to get started, and you're probably looking at many years of ramp-up time to get to breakeven.)

The reality is that hunting and gardening to feed your family is really hard. That's one reason why most everyone just works doing something else and buys the food--for most of us, with few gardening/hunting skills and little of the needed equipment or land, we can get 2000 calories a day far more easily and reliably flipping burgers or sweeping floors.

#250 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:04 PM:

I don't mind them calling names, writing silly poetry and typing veiled threats.
It demonstrates what type of people they really are.

I take it from their non-inclusion in this list that puns are not beyond the pail.

#251 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:08 PM:

John - this discussion was going on long before you got here. What makes you think that YOU get to decide what the topic is? What are these veiled threats you claim have been made? Where do you think ignoring abi's gentle admonishment is going to get you?

And, to everyone in general - I used to get tomatoes, broccoli, and summer squash out of my garden. Then, a few years back, my neighbor to the south built a 6 foot high board fence just to his side of the property line. Now my yard doesn't get enough sun to keep the moss from crowding out the grass. I kept a couple of tomato plants alive last year, but they didn't set fruit til the end of September. I had 3 little tomatoes as fried green around Thanksgiving. I've been working midnight shift since early this year, and never managed to get any plants started. Did make some newspaper pots; maybe I'll use them next year.

#252 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:54 PM:

John, there's an expression that I recall from my southern upbringing which may be familiar to you if you are indeed from Dallas, Texas:

"Son... You ain't from 'round here, are you?"

I'll pause a moment while that registers.

Also, an observation on formats and potential misunderstandings: those who regularly hang out here are accustomed to regarding these threads as conversations, rather than debates. The posted subject header is at best a recurring theme in the conversation, and more frequently a root or source from which several conversation threads may spring. Unlike discussion or debate forums, the subject headers here are rarely assertions to be argued for or against; conversation is as much or more about listening (reading) than asserting a position.

It may therefore be inferred that the role of moderators here (of which I am not) is that of herding the cats and more that of providing a generous sprinkling of catnip, assorted furry mice, directions to the litter-box and the occasional spray of cold water as needed. Cats and conversations go where they will.

#253 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 10:56 PM:

I'd love to grow my own food-- but despite my early exposure to fruit/veg backyard gardening from my parents and childhood neighbors, almost any plant under my exclusive care will die off within weeks. The only exception has been the indomitable unkillability of spider plants, and afaik those aren't edible.

At least kitchen-cabinet bean sprouts are edible within a week, but their monotony is not counterbalanced by any huge nutritional value. The feral blackberries in the local parks may be coming into season, though.

#254 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:02 PM:

When abi dusts off her moderator hat and sets it firmly on her head before directly addressing you, it is rather unwise to assume that she is doing so to support your cause. She hates that hat, and prefers to leave it collecting dust in a forgotten corner of the closet.
Abi's normal moderation style is very subtle, and is mostly done by providing a good example. She has urged us not to dogpile in order to give you space to work on your tone and style. She thinks you may have some valuable things to say once you learn to participate respectfully and fairly. It doesn't matter if you think your "quirky" style works for you, it doesn't seem to work for a fair number of people here, and this is a community of people who care about language and style.

You also need to come to an understanding of the style of this community. It includes such things as reasoned, polite discourse; language play - whether puns, silly poetry, formal poetry, or jaw-droppingly brilliant poetry. The folks here are capable of discussing hot-button topics respectfully, and are willing to drop topics if they get too painful.

The Making Light community consists of a dazzling array of experts on topics mundane and exotic, please don't insult their intelligence or knowledge.

The Making Light blog shares some of the neurological traits of its people. Topic drift is normal and unremarkable. If a squirrel wanders near, expect everyone to loose focus for a while. More than one conversation may be going on at the same time, there are occasionally single posts that mean quite different things depending on which conversation you think it belongs to.

#255 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:03 PM:

Julie L @ 253...

Feral blackberries?
Versus the grapes of wrath?

#256 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:20 PM:

Also, a tangent from the first thread post-- a while back, I was reading a rant elseweb by someone about the people from New Orleans who'd turned down the post-Katrina offer of shelter in his town up north (New England? the Upper Midwest?). I couldn't figure out the extraordinary bitterness of his tone-- if his town simply made the offer and it was declined, what on earth was lost?-- until a few weeks later, when it suddenly struck me: he wasn't as interested in genuinely helping them as much as he wanted them to be *grateful*.

#257 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:23 PM:


One of the many things I miss about Oregon are the ubiquitous feral blackberries.

#258 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:30 PM:

Julie L, I was in college then, and there was an announcement made at some big thing saying, basically, "We're letting people who were accepted here, but went to an affected school, transfer in. One person chose to do so, this person [bio]. Go us!" It bugged me then, it bugs me more now.

#259 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:54 PM:

John, you're not really here for the gardening, are you?

#260 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2010, 11:59 PM:

The topic is a discussion about poor people knowing the cost of everything.
My position is clearly stated in each post that "poor people do NOT know the cost of anything".

And your position is wrong.

And as of this posting…no one has offered any counter-argument of any value to the actual discussion. Yes. They have.

See how stupid it sounds when someone else says it?

#261 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:01 AM:

#223 Lori
There are some strawberry varieties which there are commercially sold seeds, for, developed late in the 20th century.

#229 abi
Tomato seeds are tough stuff, civil servant who work in water & sewer departments are used to seeing big beautiful tomatoes on big healthy exuberant tomato plant, growing from sewage sludge that's gone all the way through intense sewage treatment....

#262 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:23 AM:

Serge @255: When grapevines can form impenetrable 20-foot thickets of thorns interlaced with poison oak, I'll consider fearing their wrath... but not until then.

I don't think grapes are very good at going feral, or at least I've never found cultivated-size grapes growing in the wild. My parents' 2-3 vines of Concord grapes did manage to escape their backyard trellis and smother a sickly pear tree at some point, but the only immediate hazard to human health was if we left overripe grapes to split open and attract swarms of yellowjackets.

(There probably was a risk of chronic oxalate overdose-- I remember straining off all those little crystals whenever we brought up a jar of grape juice from the basement.)

#263 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:46 AM:

Julie L @ 262... My parents' 2-3 vines of Concord grapes did manage to escape their backyard trellis

From John Steinbeck to John Wyndham...

#264 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:49 AM:

Thena @ 257:
One of the many things I miss about Oregon are the ubiquitous feral blackberries.

Oh sure, as long as they're in some else's yard :-(. I finally admitted that I'm no longer physically up to maintaining our yard, and had to pay a crew to come in and pull out the blackberries so the dog's could run around in the yard again (and to pull out the ivy; ivy-colored halls, my ass).

#265 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:52 AM:

You know, I've done a lot of dumb things online but I don't think I've ever told a moderator how to run their show. Pointed out where another poster is behaving like an unreconstructed ass and pissing in the pool, maybe. Telling them how to run their show? I don't think so...

#266 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:17 AM:

John: I am saying this in all the spirit of kindliness I can. Stop digging. abi, as moderator, need do all of one thing... keep the place from blowing up in a storm of poo-flinging. Staying on topic... won't happen; because it's not the culture here (further, the topic is what it's like to be poor, and how the cruel calculus of getting by when poor looks and feels. One of the things the poor have to put up with; and what started me off with a less than charitable attitude toward yourself; is sanctimonious prigs telling them what they, need to do, while laughing all the way to the bank

Now, as to what I am doing, it's not saying people shouldn't. I am all for them doing it. What I am saying is the cause isn't what you say it is. It's not that the are lazy, or stupid, or don't want to be in a better place. It's that your assertion, It is almost free to grow more food than you can eat, even if you use the neighbors yard, and if you sell a little of the excess then it is free.
This includes almost all vegetables, some fruits, some nuts & seeds, and chicken.
is wrong. And my decades of experience are relevant. I've helped, I don't know how many people to learn to garden (and repair damaged furniture, and cook the food they have in ways which make it go further; and be healthier, and any number of other things).

The problem you seem to have is this: I disagree with you. I disagree with you because the evidence doesn't support you. The evidence you provided doesn't support you. It's really that simple. Your initial argument, (the one you changed; which is called moving the goalposts) is fatally flawed. It requires things the poor don't have; they cannot become self-sufficient on the patch of dirt available to them.

As to my bitterness, go on, tell me more? Really. I am interested in what you think you see about me from a couple of passages of exchange where I was irked with you for being rude.

Could you point to the veiled threats? I don't believe I have made any. On the rare occasions I see fit to threaten someone, there is no doubt.

As to letting myself go, and letting loose with the things I didn't say... well you mistake the nature of what I think not really fit for reasonable argument. Fortunately I am not angry with you, merely a trifle frustrated. I have never lost my vowels, and while I was never at any risk of doing so, I shouldn't waste the energy in losing that virginal status on so minor an infelicity in my time on Making Light on something so trivial as insulting you.

albatross: The example John put up, as how to do it, was someone who was a good gardener, and decided to aim for self-sufficiency. With a host of advantages (three people, no rent, low taxes, really profitiable niche market; which happened to be unoccupied), after fifteen years it's still not the case that they are actually living on nothing but the fruits of their labor.

And you have hit the right of it.... Knowledge is a precious capital.

#267 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:19 AM:

I picked grapes for a weekend this past summer. Friends' parents have a vineyard and grape harvest is a big party-- everyone drives up, sleeps over, plays with dogs, eats delicious food, et cetera. One of the grape varieties was Vitis riparia rather than vinifera, cultivated by a man who wanted to make wine from wild(ish) grapes. It turned out that he had to select for pest and disease resistance right off the bat-- the wild grapes weren't as good at fighting them off as the cultivated ones.
I know it's probably because of the vineyard setting, but it's a nifty thing. I should get some of that wine for Thanksgiving, too.

#268 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:27 AM:

Joel@ 259: I do believe you have it.

Apparently John knows EVERYTHING about: gardening, poverty, moderation and psychology.

And yet, somehow, we STILL do not Respect His Authority. Truly we are a terrible bunch.

John: You are my brother-in-law the compulsive mansplainer, and I claim my five pounds.

#269 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:33 AM:

Terry, my dear friend, as I care for you I must ask: whyever are you bothering? Do you think John has any intention of having a reasonable discussion here? Do you think he intends to fit in with the culture on ML, or end up on friendly terms with any of us? Do you think it's possible he will listen and change his point of view?

I'm asking these (largely rhetorical) questions because you seem to have put a lot of energy into your last post, energy that might be better spent pounding sand down a rathole communicating with people who are actually listening.

#270 ::: Greg M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Mmmm… talk of gardening reminds me of my mom's tomato garden. She started the garden in fall 1987 (I think), 1988 was my dad's sabbatical, which he spent teaching in Keele University, England (with the rest of us in tow). We rented our house to neighbors who let the tomato plants grow that summer. We came back in August of '89 to find a garden SWELLING with tomatoes, overrun with tomatoes. It was like an invasion of tomatoes, and I've always had, in the back of my mind, a desire to turn it into a sci-fi story (to go along with my sci-fi plays).

Lots of spaghetti sauce that fall. I was too young to appreciate it.

#271 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Xopher, I think it's called hoping that John will see the light, or at least have a lightbulb go on over its head.

#272 ::: Greg M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:42 AM:

Mmmm… talk of gardening reminds me of my mom's tomato garden. She started the garden in fall 1987 (I think), 1988 was my dad's sabbatical, which he spent teaching in Keele University, England (with the rest of us in tow). We rented our house to neighbors who let the tomato plants grow that summer. We came back in August of '89 to find a garden SWELLING with tomatoes, overrun with tomatoes. It was like an invasion of tomatoes, and I've always had, in the back of my mind, a desire to turn it into a sci-fi story (to go along with my sci-fi plays).

Lots of spaghetti sauce that fall. I was too young to appreciate it.

#273 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:45 AM:

xopher: The best, and worst part. I didn't put much energy into it.

The meat of it, the part which took time, was the detailing of how he is in error. Why? Because treating him as someone who can learn, until he proves otherwise, is the charitable thing to do.

I was not completely charitable, but (to my discredit) that was easy enough. It happens this is likely to be my last fling for a while. I have a class to teach tomorrow (on pickling and preserving), and then I mount the motorcycle, and head to Tennessee.

I will have net, but I don't know how much energy I'll have to catch up.

I do think, his mis-steps aside (which we have more than told him of), he isn't to the handwashing stage, just yet. I will say that I know abi is busy, and may not be about all that soon; so being gentle with him is still in order (though I confess to not being as gentle as I might have been).

#274 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:48 AM:

Terry, you are too gentle by half. You're one of the people I want to be when I grow up. (abi heads that list right now, but you're on it.)

#275 ::: Greg M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:49 AM:

Sorry about the double past. BLAST.

And Terry, it was a noble effort, but I think John is a lost cause.

#276 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 02:08 AM:

Xopher: I forgot to mention... part of the reason that was so easy to toss off... torture.

That's, in part, why I am what you see as gentle.

The things I see (or find in my inbox), or hear; to my face, are such that, at times, being able to respond in anything other than quivering, spittle-flecked rage (as I did to Megan, some years ago) has required me to be able to distance my feelings some (it helps that being an interrogator gives one tools to reduce the number of buttons one has to be pushed).

I've had lots of, painful, practice at being gentle with people who do not deserve it; at least not in that context.

John is in need of education, even correction, but he is not (so far as I can tell) evil, prima facie until then, as Hamlet said, "treat every man according to his desserts? No, better. For if we are all to be treated to our desserts, who amongst us shall 'scape a whipping."

I quoted Micah, because it's the touchstone of my religious sensibility. Means I have to try to live up to it.

#277 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 04:51 AM:

Xopher@ 274: I TELL people that Terry is an infinitely kinder, gentler, and generally more decent human being than I shall ever be, and they never believe me. Even he doesn't, actually.

#278 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:06 AM:

Marna Nightingale @ 277... Even he doesn't, actually.

That's usually how it works.

#279 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:47 AM:

Thena @252 -- I would suggest an additional, "Well, bless your heart!"

#280 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 08:00 AM:

John @245:

Under no circumstances tell me, or any other self-identified moderator on this blog, how to moderate. You do not have standing to do so, and at this rate, you will not get it. If you want to tell people how to hold a conversation, I would suggest that you get your own blog*.

(Of course, then you wouldn't have the audience that you have here. These two points are not unconnected.)

Now, I told you that I was a moderator so that you would regard my words with appropriate attention, rather than (as you seem to think) to provide you with the address for the complaints department. I see you missed that curve. Given the effort you've put into listening to and thinking about others' words in general, I am not surprised.

So let me clue you in to something: more of this thread is discussing the topic at hand than you think. Because the topic at hand is not actually the title of the thread. This isn't a newspaper, and the headline doesn't have to summarize the story.

What's the topic at hand? Well, John, it's actually the post by John Scalzi that caused Patrick to write this one. That's about being poor, and attitudes toward the poor. What caused him to write it was the combination of his own memories of childhood poverty and the way that the attitudes toward the poor killed people in New Orleans after Katrina.

It's about contempt of the poor. I think there's a lot of on-topic discussion going on.‡

Now, personally, I think that your points have been addressed, and what bothers you is that they haven't been agreed with. That's past praying for, I'm afraid; people don't necessarily think you're right.

Also, a large part of the problem is that we're all speaking in such generalities. You can always cite particular people who didn't know the true (financial†) cost of things, and we can always counter-cite people who did. Likewise, you can tell us that people can make an urban garden productive, and we say that some people can't, or can't make it worthwhile. Dueling anecdotes; it never leads anywhere productive.

But also, if you're writing to persuade, rather than to simply be admired for what you've done in your own garden (here, have a cookie), you have to listen as well. Rather than telling everyone they're ignoring your points, listen to and address theirs. Of course, you might have to acknowledge that you're wrong in places, or over-generalizing, or some other difficult thing. It's OK; knowing you're wrong is the first step to being right.

And I'd reiterate that you need to pay more attention to the hints you're getting about the way you're writing. It isn't working, in the sense that you're not reaching your readers in a way that causes them to be interested in what you're saying. And if you're not doing that, why on earth are you spending good goat-milking time writing your comments?

And lastly, John, you really should read more
Of Making Light than just this single thread.
You might discover, as jnh said,
About community, which forms the core
Of what we're really doing on this site.
We may discuss the role of poverty
In blighting lives, or how we see
Our politicians on the Left and Right.
But posts and chats can touch on anything,
And we have joking threads, and parlor games.
These all exist in service of our aims:
That readers take away more than they bring.
And if the tone may suffer some reverse,
We have been know to go from bad to verse.

* I hear good things about Blogger, but LiveJournal and Dreamwidth are also good platforms, with more community baked in.
‡ Also — and here's a tip you'll want for starting that blog where you're in control — communities aren't built by purely on-topic discussions. The off-topic asides, including the gardening chit-chat, are what allow us to get to know one another, trust one another, care about one another. They build community. Then when we need each other, we're there for each other.
† Remember that things have emotional costs and benefits as well.

#281 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 08:02 AM:

Also, John, do you see this line here?


That's the boundary of my patience with you. Think carefully before you post again.

#282 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:03 AM:

Greg M @ 272: It was like an invasion of tomatoes, and I've always had, in the back of my mind, a desire to turn it into a sci-fi story (to go along with my sci-fi plays).

You could call it "Attack of the K..."

naah. It'd never work.

#283 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:58 AM:

Mark @ 282... The original was better than the sequel.

#284 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:10 AM:

There's always St Wombus and the Zucchini for overzealous planters.

#285 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Thena (252): Just repeating this to admire it a little more:

the role of moderators here... is that of herding the cats and more that of providing a generous sprinkling of catnip, assorted furry mice, directions to the litter-box and the occasional spray of cold water as needed. Cats and conversations go where they will.

#286 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:46 AM:

I actually gave serious consideration to using that line on him, and decided against it. (Bless his heart, he does mean well. I think. Maybe.)

#287 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:54 AM:

Should I read Pinkwater's "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death"?

#288 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 11:52 AM:

I'm really enjoying hearing about people's Adventures In Gardening. Maybe it could use its own thread?

#289 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 12:31 PM:

abi, your moderation sonnet brings joy to my heart.

#290 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:21 PM:

Has anyone here tried the upside-down hanging tomato system that one sees advertised on late night TV? I wonder if it really works.

#291 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Earl, I've successfully grown cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket, so it seems like it ought to work.

#292 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 01:59 PM:

How about the strawberry version?

#293 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 02:37 PM:

@290 They were very popular up here last year but I don't see as many this season. Last year was a very bad year for tomato blight, so people may not have had as much success as they had expected.

My father in law rigged up a poor-man's version with old buckets. I believe he got tomatoes off them, but they were quite heavy (I think he ended up having to re-rig the handles a few times and the last iteration was some combination of scrap rope and old wire cables) so you couldn't just hang this rig up on a little cup hook...

I imagine it would work best with a small-vine tomato like a cherry or patio type; indeterminate vines require a VERY TALL HANGING SPACE - you've got to figure the bucket's probably 18-24" deep, plus the hanging apparatus, and you don't want your tomatoes dragging on the ground, so assuming a 7-foot porch awning you're going to have a maximum of five feet of clearance for your vines to hang in, and you'd be bending over to pick them at your ankles.

F-I-L had his hanging off the eaves of the porch, whose deck is a good four feet off the ground, and would stand down in the driveway to pick tomatoes.

#294 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 03:11 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 285:

These days I'm running anywhere from 12 to 24 hours behind the bulk of the conversation on Making Light; consequently I often skim high traffic threads, and don't spend a lot of time on threads where any contribution of mine would be at best a dogpile or a "What she said!". So I'm very grateful for your repetition of Thena's lovely description of the role of moderators here, because I would not have seen it if you had not repeated it.

And while I'm here, my congratulations to abi on a most eloquent moderatorly sonnet.

If "painterly" is a legitimate word, why not this?

#295 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 03:52 PM:

I'm trying one of the upside-down tomato planters this year, since I am now in an apartment. (I, too, miss feral blackberries and wonder what I'm going to can for Christmas gifts this year, but that's another story.) As someone said earlier about container gardening, you practically have to stand over it with a hose. And my balcony faces north, so it doesn't get quite as much sun as it needs. It's one of the type that has an open, 15" square top on legs resting in a base weighted down with sand, and I have it on a dolly so I can move it around. (The planter, not the apartment.)

Anyway -- So far I had a small crop of lettuce from it, but lettuce bolts very quickly in the Oklahoma heat. My two Biker Billy Jalapenos in the top are doing well, and one is blooming happily and has a genuine half-inch-long pepper started. The generic cherry tomato hanging out the bottom has started blooming and has one tomato started. The Health Kick tomato, a Roma-shaped but juicy tomato (my favorite new variety last time I had an in-ground garden) which I though might do well in a container, hasn't done much yet. I have five additional small pots of herbs -- basil, oregano, lavender, mint, and chives.

If the tomatoes actually do well, next year I may fill the top with herbs instead of lettuce. If they don't I'll try doing the peppers upside-down -- I hear they adapt well to it.

I look on gardening as just a hobby, supplementing my diet from time to time with food that is impeccably fresh and pesticide-free, but on the other hand, something you want to know how to do just in case you have to.

Also, someone in my courtyard has a vuvuzela. I shall have to consider my options.

#296 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 05:25 PM:

First batch of blueberry jam made. I think there's a huge error in the recipe in the Ball pectin packet, though, as four crushed cups of blueberries is not going to weigh 2 1/2 pounds. Hmmmmm...... Yep, it looks as though we're talking 2.5 kg.

#297 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 05:54 PM:

Abi @ 281... I can't help it, but this reminds me of the cartoon where Bugs bunny draws a line in the sand and dares Yosemite Sam to cross it, and the latter immediately does, Bugs draws another line, which Sam crosses, and this goes on for a few miles until Sam crosses one line on the other side of which is a cliff.

#298 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:00 PM:

C. Wingate @ 296 -- I'd expect four cups of water to weigh about 2 pounds, for what it's worth, and dissolved sugars and whatnot would take that up a tad.

#299 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:02 PM:

Serge @297:

I remember that cartoon. But in this case, I'm not Bugs Bunny, John's not Yosemite Sam, and we're at the cliff already.

#300 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Abi @ 299... Plenty of dissimilarities indeed, but hey, I'm always on the lookout for cheap jokes. :-)

#301 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:31 PM:

I had an upside-down planter with a cherry tomato in it last year--which was a shockingly cool summer (at times downright cold). Also, it turns out that the only hard point on my deck which could take the weight of the planter also meant the poor tomato got almost no direct sunlight.

At the end of the season, it was half the size of another cherry tomato I'd planted in a normal pot (which sat in the single sunny corner of the deck.) On the other hand, the hanging planter's fruit started ripening more than a week before the other, so... *shrug*

#302 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Those hanging-tomato planters are all over my apartment complex. Discounters are pushing them something fierce.

I'd be tempted, but I have some longish vacations coming up and no one to water them.

#303 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 07:50 PM:

Speaking of tomatoes, does anyone know if Sweet 100s make good salsa?

#304 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 08:52 PM:

I have one plant recco to make: this is the second year I've grown "Zsa Zsa" peppers (yes, it's a Hungarian variety), and I have harvestable unripe peppers (they are never really green-- right now they are a very pale yellow) today. Based on last year's experience I expect to have ripe ones by mid to late July. And they are very tasty. If you're up to starting your own pepper plants (seed came from Pinetree) this is definitely a good variety.

#305 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:02 PM:

re 292: I grow strawberries in the biggest strawberry jar I can find (takes about 15 plants overall), helped out by (a) lining it with plastic so I don't have to water it all the time, and (b) running a pipe down the center to help the water distribution. This is the second year, and I got enough strawberries for more than a taste, but never enough for something like shortcake. It's better than none at all but it's not impressively productive.

I see that growing blueberries in containers is moderately successful. If you can put them in the ground and you live in an acid soil area (most of the mid-Atlantic) you will outproduce strawberries considerably. You can also pretend they are a (somewhat scruffy looking) hedge.

#306 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:34 PM:

Also, someone in my courtyard has a vuvuzela. I shall have to consider my options.

Given the rest of the conversation in this thread, I'm having irresistable images of a tomato stuffed down the bell of a vuvuzela.

#307 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:11 PM:

C. Wingate @ 305: I second this recommendation of blueberries. I've never grown them in a container, but I've planted them in 3 yards now (the first was a rental house), and they've done well in all three. YMMV—I'm in western Oregon, which is a prime spot for such critters.
I've also used huckleberries all over my yard. They'll take both shade and full sun, and don't need any special watering or fuss. Since they have denser foliage than blueberries, I think they look perfectly splendid as a decorative planting. I love the different colors in the foliage, red when new, darkening to green. The berries are much too tiny to ever arrive back in the house in quantity, but they're delicious snacks while watering and weeding.

#308 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 10:15 PM:

Strawberry jars: I've never had any luck with these, and I've followed all the instructions about a porous pipe down the middle, and so on.

#309 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 11:06 PM:

Melissa @303

They're much too sweet to make me happy in salsa. Though they might do in a sweet salsa with fruit--I've seen some recipes for a peach and tomato salsa where they might work.

#310 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 12:10 AM:

re 308: I put a plastic garbage bag in mine, filled it with dirt, and cut holes in the plastic for the plants at each of the openings.

#311 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:00 AM:

Does anyone know how difficult it is to get a blackberry bush started? Does one need a cutting, will you get a volunteer by absent mindedly spilling some berries on a fortuitous patch of dirt, something between?

#312 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Mark @ 311:

Blackberry volunteers may be had simply by turning one's back and waiting. Many bird species eat the berries and scatter the seeds in their droppings. The more common question is what to do to keep them from taking over a yard.

#313 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Mark @ 311: If the blackberry tangle is going to be somewhere that you'll want to contain it, I'd recommend doing some research on commercial varieties, and trying to get one that is less thorny and rambunctious. Your state agricultural extension agent might have info.

#314 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:55 AM:

Pickling/preserving class went well. Good times had by all. I'll miss the garden when I'm gone.

#315 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 02:07 AM:

Serge (re 300) at the rate you make them, you can't afford any other sort. re dinner, Pizza is fine, darker beers are better: IPAs are rarely wrong. I'd prefer no bell peppers, or mushrooms, I refuse pineapple.


Mellissa Mead: they make a nice addition, but aren't fleshy enough, nor acid enough (the latter being a real killer) for salsa. They same is true for marinara sauces, though it's less of an issue.

#316 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 02:47 AM:

The hard part with blackberries and all fruit is the constant pruning.

You have to keep them cut well back so they don't put all their energy into growning stems and leaves instead of fruit. Blackberries also grow out from the center left to their own devices and they will have a huge may-as-well-be-dead mass in the center, and the berries will be borne on thorny canes well back from the leading edge so you can't harvest them without injury. So you have to cut the spent canes back to the soil every year, cut off a great deal of the young growth, and keep it kind of trimmed at during the bearing season so it's manageable.

I was thinking of this thread today when I was thinning plums. It's another mast year, so after I took maybe a third of the fruit I could reach from the ground the tree was still heavy. I'm experimenting with recipes for unripe plums.

If you could live off plums and parsley, or perhaps nasturtiums and borage and lovage, I'd be doing real well about now.

But you can't live off only plums and parsley and the edibility of nasturtiums and lovage and borage have been somewhat exaggerated.

#317 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 04:27 AM:

This is just to say

I have looted
the tomatoes
which you grew
upside down

and which
you were probably
against starvation.

Forgive me,
it's the apocalypse
and I
was hungry.

#318 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 06:41 AM:

I feel like singing the theme song from "Green Acre".

#319 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 07:05 AM:

C. Wingate @ 296: 2.5 kg is 5.5 pounds (a kilo is 2.2 lb) so if you're expecting it to weigh less than 2.5 lb, then you're doing the wrong conversion!

Strawberry jars: I was given one with six side-openings, so I planted seven strawberries (including one in the top) last year and we got a few strawberries. Look to be getting more this year, but still only three or four ripe at a time. I grazed a few wild strawberries from the planters in the British Library courtyard on Friday. I keep meaning to get some wild strawberries growing in the garden. So tasty.

Fennel question: does anyone know if there's anything useful to be done with five-foot-high (second generation volunteer) fennel stalks (three stalks, one plant) after they've seeded? They're going into flower just now, so I thought I might as well let them seed.

#320 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 10:13 AM:

dcb: re fennel, if the base, whence come the stalks is large enough, it's a very good base for soups. Chop into small pieces, seethe hym in a broth, purée hym oppe; adding such an allowance of cream as seemeth suitable. Season all with a glad hand of pepper (and maybe a few drops of truffle oil, to dress the top, just as you serve it up).

#321 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 10:26 AM:

If the leaves haven't died off on the fennel, they're still wonderful for putting under fish for baking/planking. Adds a lovely delicate flavor to salmon or trout.

The stems, not so much.

And the root bulb does wonderful things for salad as well as Terry's marvelous-sounding soup -- nice crunchy radish-like bits, when chopped up. Not too fine a chop, though!

#322 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 10:36 AM:

Sarah S. @ 309 and Terry Karney @ 315, thank you. I have some other kind that my sister gave me that might offset them, but I don't know what they are and they have no fruit yet. (I've never grown tomatoes before because I generally don't like them, but I do like salsa.)

Mark @ 311 Our yard is overrun with feral blackberries (and chives) that were here from the beginning and keep spreading.

#323 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 11:29 AM:

Melissa Mead @ 322... Our yard is overrun with feral blackberries (and chives) that were here from the beginning and keep spreading

Time to launch the ballistic thistles?

#324 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 11:34 AM:

The original Concord Grape vine might still exist, within ten or so miles from where I'm siting. (I could not find anything on-line which gave an actual location. There is a very old picture of it on line, but no location for it... the grower had had 17 acre farm....) The house "Grapevine Cottage," the grower, Ephraim Bull, still exists and may be for sale, or has been at times within the past several years, and is near the Louis May Alcott house apparently. The rest of the 17 acres are pavement, buildings, and lawn/yards. This being New England, good luck finding markers... national parks and SOME Official Historic Houses have markers. Some conservation land has markers. Others... I didn't know there is conservation land around the corner down the street from me -- no markers whatsoever. There is parkland etc. around totally unmarked as such.

The original vine, was grown from a wild native vine's seed I think, I think....


Seeing "feral Concord grape" makes me go "huh?" because basically, there's little difference between the cultivated variety and the wild grapes around here, and the cultivated variety is basically merely a wild grape which someone planted a seed from that grew a vine which has been propagated from cuttings from ever since.... the wild grapes around here can do massive sprawling, and often there are brambles and poison ivy also mixed into the vegetation....and the wild grapes can easily trip up the unwary, literally, with their thick woody parts which can be part on the ground, growing up trees, suspended BETWEEN trees....

#325 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 11:50 AM:

FWIW I was in a hardware/garden store yesterday.
A 22-quart pressure cooker/canner runs $90 there, and you'll want at least one spare seal and pressure-relief valve. (I picked up a Ball Blue Book (their centennial edition), which is a useful guide to preserving via canning and freezing.)

#326 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 12:02 PM:

Paula at 324: but concord grapes aren't native all over the continent, let alone the world. The wild grape that's native to my part of the country is pretty much bird food and plant community participant rather than being a source of human food.

So around here, "feral Concord grape" makes sense (though I guess most of the time you'd say escaped rather than feral when talking about a plant but I don't know why that should be the case: just a conventional link between words, I guess).

#327 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:28 PM:

Serge @ 323

That could lead to a thorny situation.

#328 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:47 PM:

305, 307:

If you don't really have enough sun for blueberries then dwarf varieties may do well. These were bred for short-summer climates but mine grow in Seattle with northern exposure.

Of course, you don't get as many blueberries from the dwarf plants -- mine qualify more as ornamentals than as crops.

#329 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 02:16 PM:

Melissa Mead @ 327... That could lead to a thorny situation...

...and to a Balance of Terroir?

#330 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Terry Karney @ 320, Tom Whitmore @321: I'll certainly use the base. I've vegetarian and my husband (who isn't) doesn't like fennel, so no use for the leaves there, I'm afraid. (Maybe I could use them to flavour plain pasta or cous cous for me?) I'm still wondering whether I can make anything of the stems, if they're still green when the seeds set - or maybe I should just wait, try to harvest the seeds, plant next year and harvest the bases before the stems grow so much.

#331 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 03:23 PM:

dcb -- Apparently you can candy fennel stems as you would angelica.

#332 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 03:41 PM:

There are dwarf southern highbush blueberries that are adequate for coastal California, where you get less sun and less cold!

#333 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Serge @ 329

That's the trouble- prickly tempers act up, and everyone's hands get soiled.

#334 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Here's an alternate final stanza for my poem @317:

Forgive me,
it's the apocalypse;
my child
was hungry.

#335 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 01:29 AM:

Serge: Re Pizza- I had a delay. I'll be there, all going well, Weds.

#336 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 01:35 AM:

abi, #280: Good ghod, don't send him to LJ or DW! The last thing we need over there are more trolls!

OtterB, 306: It would be better with an overripe tomato. Rotten fruit is the traditional commentary on a poor performance, after all.

Mark, #311: If you want blackberries for actual fruit, you'd be better off getting one of the thornless varieties from a professional nursery. OTOH, some people consider getting past the thorns to be an essential part of the experience.

Lucy, #326: Lois McMaster Bujold has a description of "feral roses" in her short story "The Mountains of Mourning". So it's not just you.

#337 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 01:55 AM:

I like that, Earl. Both versions.

#338 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 03:12 AM:

Debbie @ 331: With that much sugar, would it still count as a healthy treat???!!!

#339 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 05:49 AM:

dcb -- potentially? Don't know how strongly-flavored fennel stems are, but if something's very sweet and has an intense flavor, a little can go a very long way in satisfying a craving. ymmv, obviously ;-)

#340 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 07:27 AM:

OtterB wrote @ #306

(Janet) Also, someone in my courtyard has a vuvuzela. I shall have to consider my options.

Given the rest of the conversation in this thread, I'm having irresistable images of a tomato stuffed down the bell of a vuvuzela.

Hmmm... I was thinking of a different area of the plant kingdom: a suitably sharpened radish[1] ought to mute the noise if firmly tamped into place.

If that doesn't work, there are ahem other methods.

[1] Daikon/Mooli, not the itsy-bitsy salad variety.

#341 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 07:36 AM:

Terry Karney @ 335... I just read about that on your blog. As John Landis said in Schlock and in The Blues Brothers, see you next Wednesday.

#342 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 08:27 AM:

re 319: You're right; I wasn't thinking clearly at the time for sure.

#343 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 08:42 AM:

I have a vuvuzela app for my iPhone. It's become the new low in comedy in our house -- makes us both dissolve into laughter for no explicable reason. It's also very effective as a cat behavior deterrent.

This conversation is making me wish I'd laid in a vegetable garden this year. With the wedding, we didn't really have time. And I'm glad that I don't need to work outside in the killer heat right now. But plants...

#344 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 08:48 AM:

I've got that app. I've shown it to a couple of people in the office, on the sly, so we can have some fun when the match starts in an hour.

(obCrossthreads, only two people wearing orange today, none of them planning on going to an Irish pub.)

#345 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 10:38 AM:

The 'thornless' berries can be prickly enough for most people. (I'm managing an allegedly-thornless boysenberry. It's prickly, not thorny, and you handle it carefully without gloves.)

I've seen feral blackberries. You want plate armor if you're going to be getting involved with one of those.

#346 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 11:52 AM:

P J Evans wrote @ #345

I've seen feral blackberries. You want plate armor if you're going to be getting involved with one of those.

That reminds me, I must take the rigger gloves and small lopper out for a stroll tonight: there's a feral blackberry busily extending a branch at eye level across the footpath by the park. I shall give it a trim before someone walks into it.

Viscious things, blackberries....

#347 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 11:53 AM:

P J Evans @ 345: A friend of mine once saw a farrier's outfit at a suburban garage sale -- heavy leather apron and long gloves. She asked if the household included a farrier, and was told "No, I used that for picking blackberries."

#348 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 12:06 PM:

346, 347
I've seen bigger thorns on blackberries than on roses. And bigger tangled messes, too.

(I'm wondering how many of the boysenberry canes I'm going to whack next winter for being hazardously pointy.)

#349 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 12:12 PM:

I use the term 'feral sunflowers' to describe what we have in our yard. We grew big proper sunflowers for years, squirrels and birds scattered the seeds, and then they returned to what I think is more wild-type, with the multiple heads. Part of the backyard became a jungle for a while. Now we have little feral ones from years ago and planted-from-seed ones that we hope will get enormous.

#350 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 12:39 PM:

I grew up among the feral blackberries of the Ozark Plateau, and while the thorns were unfriendly, the real biological terror threat they relied on was the hosts of ravenous trombiculids that dwell among the brambles like flesh-eating clownfish, whose assaults are so vicious that there's a specific term for the rash that results from their bites. You could soak yourself in insect repellant and they'd still get you, at once or twice. If Dante had experienced chiggers they'd be a torment in one of the circles of the Inferno.

#351 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 12:47 PM:

I've heard about those - my parents were from SE Kansas and NE Oklahoma, where the critters are not unknown.

#352 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 01:14 PM:

I had feral lettuce for a while. One year, unseasonably warm unseasonably early. Lettuce bolted to seed. For the next year, I had lettuce coming up in the lawn.

Then there were the feral onions. For the most part, they'd come up mostly flower, very little bulb. But one came up not only very bulby, but very very strong. We still shudder at the memory of the onion from hell. (A friend put a slice on a burger bun. After one bite, took the onion off. Said there was enough juice left in the bun to suffice.)

#353 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 01:47 PM:

ISTM that, if knowledge is one of the most valuable resources for poor people, Internet access (which of course presumes literacy) is the great equalizer. It's even ahead of libraries. I can ask exact questions covering my particular situation at (for example) the Poor Skills blog and get half a dozen answers from people who have been there and done that. If I know how to do a Web search, I can find, oh, a list of pro bono attorneys in my urban area, or what have you, when I might have no idea where to look in meatspace.

#354 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 02:04 PM:

Jenny @353, absolutely, but how do they GET access? Through their library. That's why library funding and keeping local branches open is more important than ever in hard economic times. (I sound like a public service announcement, but it's true. Until there's universal free wifi and nearly-free internet-enabled handheld devices, people who can't afford computers and internet service need their libraries.)

#355 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 02:06 PM:

Lin D @ 352... I had feral lettuce

...and savage cabbage?

#356 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Jenny, #353: That's right, but even given access (and see Janet @354 about that), you have to know that there's a question to be asked in the first place. If you don't know that there's such a thing as a lawyer who will take a case without being paid hundreds of dollars up front, why would you even think to search for one? Let alone knowing that the right term to use is "pro bono" -- that level of vocabulary is a marker of privilege!

The way people find out about the existence of things that can help them is largely by word of mouth, and that pool of "oh hey, go look for this" knowledge is a lot of what's missing in poor communities. They are isolated in more ways than one.

#357 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Lee @356

One thing poor people have is community. At least, the ones I have assisted do. Knowledge of attorneys that help for free is common knowledge, again, at least among the (sub)urban poor I know and work with.

There is an amazing pool of basic how to find help knowledge in poor communities. What is frequently lacking is the time to do anything about it until the situation is desperate. Working hours often coincide with stand in line for stuff hours.

#358 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Lin D. @357: One thing poor people have is community.
This. Oh yes indeed, this. I have noticed that when it comes to raising "let's help-out-X-who-has-had-Y-personal-disaster" money that people who don't have much (or who have vivid memories of being badly off) will donate more often (even if it's less money) than members of most other groups--and if they cannot donate cash, they are ready to provide goods, services, accomodations, and whatever to an extent that should embarrass the rest of us. Infomration is shared as well, readily, avidly and enthusiastically--and is not necessarily more inaccurate than the information shared by the rest of us.

And also: There is an amazing pool of basic how to find help knowledge in poor communities. What is frequently lacking is the time to do anything about it until the situation is desperate. Working hours often coincide with stand in line for stuff hours.

I have worked in a welfare-related job for over 25 years, and this statement is extra double-plus true, in my experience, and it applies to everything imaginable, including seeking medical care for what many of us would consider urgent problems. It's not just money, it is also time and energy.

#359 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Upside-down tomato planters don't appear to be worth the money - I got a dozen cherry tomatoes off mine last year, and we'll see if I get anything useful this year (so far the plant's a lot smaller than the rightside-up container tomato, though they're different varieties.) I've seen people on BoingBoing rave about upside down planting, using planters they've made out of 5-gallon buckets or big soda bottles, and they say you need to be consistent about lots of watering, which I'm not. Actual gardeners tell me the As-Seen-On-TV ones don't really hold enough soil for successful full-sized tomatoes.

Back when I had a house with actual dirt, I had mint growing along one side, which grew aggressively some distance into the lawn. Made mowing that part of the grass smell nice and minty.

#360 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 359: My parents also had mint growing semi-wildly on one side of the house. I'm trying to get it growing in my yard now, although I have to beat back the 5 or so different vines that are aggressively attempting to take over.

In that same area, I've moved the volunteer raspberry canes to a better location, and hope to plant some other useful things, along with some pretty things like lilacs. It's going to take a long battle to get those vines out of the way, though. They've had at least a year, if not more, to grow into the yard. It's a combination of honeysuckle, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, something else, something else, and the potential for poison ivy is ever-present. So far, the poison ivy has been restricted to one corner of the yard, and I intend to keep it that way.

Next, to replant tomatoes and other garden vegetables, and hopefully next summer I'll have some fresh salads again.

#361 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 05:10 PM:

Debbie @ 339: I might just try it - I need healthy snacks.

Lin D @ 352: I've got volunteer lettuce (presumably seeds from last year's) at the moment in a pot in the greenhouse. It's grown up to about 15 inches now, so no doubt it's about to seed. I'll have to try to harvest the seeds and grow it again next year. But pot-bound volunteer lettuce doesn't sound nearly as interesting as feral lawn lettuce.

#362 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 05:13 PM:

On the topic of mint: I never grow it in the ground -- only in a pot. I've seen entire yards completely covered in mint. I use a nice big pot, so I don't have to water it all the time. It overwinters just fine in western Oregon. After some period of years (haven't noticed exactly how many) it gets too rootbound and/or soil depleted, and I just start over.

To my great surprise, the catnip that I planted in a hanging planter last year survived the winter. I know this isn't the coldest place around, but we did have temperatures in the 20s for a solid two weeks. Maybe the dryness of the pot, sheltered under the porch roof, might have helped.

#363 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 08:40 PM:

Ginger #360: Was the mint growing in a shady area on the west side of the house? That's where the mint grew under the verandah of our home in Jamaica.

Camomile also grew wild everywhere.

#364 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 09:18 PM:

I turned mint loose in my parents yard (south side of the house, bright hot sun) some thirtyish years ago, and last I heard it was still there, getting out into the lawn and giving the mowing that special minty freshness...

#365 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 10:06 PM:

I wrote a small story years ago, about the mint that ate the lawn hose. We came back from vacation to find we no longer had a hose and hose bib, but a tall patch of mint, fiercely protecting its hose from hostiles. It took a bit to get the hose out, and we all smelled violently of mint.

This mint also took upon itself to invade the lawn. By growing under the wide cement walkway. Mint is... determined.

Growing mint in a pot doesn't help, unless it's on a solid, WIDE plot of cement. Mine grew out the bottom, over the edge of the saucer, and was last seen schmoozing with the rosemary.

#366 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 10:17 PM:

Lin D @ 365: Ah, I should have clarified that my mint growing in a pot is sitting on the porch steps, at good 3 feet above the ground. If it manages to root into the soil, it's earned it!

#367 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 11:11 PM:

Lee, #336: OTOH, some people consider getting past the thorns to be an essential part of the experience.
Around here, there are big stabby Himalayan blackberries, but they appear to put all their fruiting labor into size and seeds. The real catch are the vastly more flavorful trailing blackberries, Rubus ursinus - instead of stabby bits, they have dainty delicate thorns that break off in your skin. :P

Lee, #356: That's right, but even given access (and see Janet @354 about that), you have to know that there's a question to be asked in the first place.
I was reading a 5-part article about that just a few days ago: The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is

#368 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2010, 11:59 PM:

Fragano @ 363: Shady, yes; the northern/northeastern side of the house. They're on the western side of a lake, so the morning sunlight is about the only light that gets in there.

#369 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 12:28 AM:

My parents planted some of the family mint in west Texas, after they retired. It was doing fine along the side of the ditch, where it wasn't getting watered (and got lots of sun), and also in the windbreak, where there was a small patch in the grass, making the mowing fragrant (and keeping its head down).

Mint is tough.

#370 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 03:48 AM:

shadowsong @ 367

Like many of my friends, I am firmly persuaded that I am less than averagely susceptible to the Dunning Kruger effect.

#371 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 03:57 AM:

(I've given up on John after his entire failure to even address my question.)

I'm seriously jealous reading everyone else's gardening. The only edible thing I can manage to keep going are the rhubarb (which is the only think keeping the Lilies-of-the-valley from the rest of the garden). I've been having marvelous time with Morning Glories (before you exclaim in horror, I'm far enough north that they officially count as annuals, so they aren't the violent kudzu-kin they are further south. They reseed very well, but they do die of a winter.)

The problem is partly my lack of green thumb, and often one of light. Our entire southern exposure is blocked by a house, a fence, and a number of elms; and I like the elms too much to want to cut them. (Strip away the neighbour's fence, sure...). We don't have a garden spot which doesn't count as partly to completely shade.

ARE there edible plants that thrive in shade? Everything *easy* I know about likes sun. I do okay with containers on the one bright end of the porch, I grant you, but it's not a lot of space. (And I usually end up breeding mint and catnip, because I don't want those in anything BUT containers.)

I'm trying a newer garden patch out by the end of the alley, as it seems to at least get noon and afternoon sun. The bell peppers have some lovely looking fruit, and the tomatoes are flowering, so crossed fingers the rabbits stay away, or just keep eating the catnip and morning glories.

(On the non-edible front, I had a remarkable run of volunteers this year: columbine, daisies, pansies and forget-me-nots -- the last forget-me-not before this was about four years ago; I thought I'd managed to kill the unkillable.)

#372 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 05:57 AM:

abi @280:

I haz been immortalizized in an abisonnet!

Take that Ozymandias!

#373 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Leaf lettuce tolerates shade pretty well.
(I'm not sure how true it is, but I've heard pansies may be edible, as a salad flower.)

#374 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 11:38 AM:

As an apartment dweller with no balcony or other outdoor space of any description, my entire garden consists of two tomato plants on the kitchen windowsill. Cherry tomatoes, of the determinate, or bush, type (Tiny Tim, to be precise). Last year I planted just one, which did pretty well until it got rootbound because the planter was way too small. The last few fruits ripened at ball-bearing size. The second pot, this year's addition, is bigger than the other one, and I think will do better for longer. There's no room to add a second pot of the larger size; next year I think I'll do just one.

I've been getting tomatoes for about a week and a half now (planted them in late March). My biggest haul so far was four in one day. With cherry tomatoes, of course, that's four bites.

Keeping them watered is a challenge. When I'm away in August, I'll have to ask a neighbor to come in a few times.

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