Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tools For The Garden

Gardening can be very time-consuming, hard work – unless you have the right tools for the job. The right tools can make the work fast and easy, and they can allow someone to reasonably produce enough food to feed their family where it would not be possible without them.

The top photo shows my current collection of manual garden tools. This does not include the BCS two-wheel tractor and implements that are stored in another area. I tend to collect garden tools like some folks collect guns – better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. One can never have too many garden tools. I even have a broad fork – a beast of a tool that I might even need some day. In future posts, we’ll look at some of the more interesting tools in my shed.

The second photo shows two extremes in tools. One item is a Rogue Field Hoe (reviewed here) – a great example of a high quality tool that should last a lifetime or more. The crude stick with a metal spike driven through it is not an ancient relic from an archaeological site or something sold to tourists. It is a hand hoe that is in routine use today in Africa. Specifically, this one was purchased at a village market in Sierra Leone, West Africa by missionaries there that I work with. This could correctly be called state of the art technology in most of Africa today. Yes, there are certainly tractors and modern tools in use there also; however, those are imported. When it comes to tools made by the locals, this pretty much says it all. There are some lessons to be learned in this.

Western hoe and African hoe – both manufactured about the same time, and both routinely used in their respective areas.

OK. What’s the point of this post? Ask yourself how you would produce enough food to feed yourself and your family if you had to work the soil to feed them. Stored food doesn’t count – that eventually runs out. Power equipment is great, but it doesn’t count either – fuel very quickly runs out. What you’re left with is muscle powered tools. Most of the world will reply with rolled eyes and a smirk. “It couldn’t happen here” they would say. Perhaps they are right. I certainly hope they are right; however, I’m not going to bet my family’s life on it. Do you?


  1. John

    They say, “knowledge is power.” Certainly this is true. But here’s the thing, all knowledge is power. I can have the ability to do anything with computers, the internet and all things technical, but without basic survival skills even those that seem the most “primitive” my modern knowledge is useless. I’m actually like a sponge when it comes to old time know-how. It’s just as important now as it was back then.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Somehow our society has latched onto the idea that new=good and old=obsolete. Not true. Those skills – and the tools required to use that knowledge efficiently – have just been set aside for a while. They are every bit as important even though most don’t realize it.

      I have no desire to return to a subsistence farming life. I’m quite happy running my software business from an air-conditioned office where I can step outside and work in the garden. I tend a garden and fruit trees, and raise chickens and ducks for pleasure. I love the agrarian life. I also understand that agrarianism is at the (pardon the pun) root of our very existence. Moving farther away from those agrarian roots is like moving farther out on a branch at the top of a very tall tree. At some point, when we get too far from the basic structure of that tree and the roots that support it, the branch is too weak to support us, and we fall. It’s a long way down.

  2. Charles Brown

    In East Africa (Ethiopia) the preferred tool is very much like your western hoe.
    I am confused. Can I even fit myself into Southern Agrarian label?
    One can hope.
    I was born in North East Ohio where I stayed until I was twenty. I did not “grow up” anywhere but I have matured. Here in North Florida I refer to others as mam and sir and grow a garden. What else must I do to qualify? My bride of 56 years was born on an island in SW Florida. Does that help?
    Ain’t God good!!!!!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      That African hoe came from Sierra Leone. I work very closely with missionaries in that country, and they brought that back for me on one of their trips back here. Both are here now, but one is heading back to SL in October. The other will likely remain here for medical reasons. There’s a good reason why Africa was known as “The White Man’s Graveyard” during the colonial period.

      You’ll probably find a dozen different definitions/criteria for what qualifies one as a Southern Agrarian. Find one you like and go with it!

      Yes, sir, He certainly is!

      • Charles Brown

        In the words of the late, great Heroguin Teferra, one of my “favorite” Ethiopians: Betam amasanagalu. Many thanks. I have laid claim to the title.
        Ain’t God good, here at “the porch”!!!!!!

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