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What was the Dust Bowl?

An increased demand for food during World War I laid the groundwork for the Dust Bowl.
The drought of the early 1930s ruined what had once been fertile farmland.
There were huge dust drifts during the Dust Bowl.
President Franlin D. Roosevelt founded the Soil Conservation Services to address the problems of the Dust Bowl.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Lebanmax, Azp Worldwide, Ecoview, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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The Dust Bowl was an ecological phenomenon which affected the some of the South-Central United States and parts of Canada during the 1930s. The loss of arable farmland during the Dust Bowl led to a mass migration of many families who searched for work and a new lease on life in states like California. Many authors and artists documented the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and 1940s, since it was one of the more memorable events of the Great Depression.

The groundwork for the Dust Bowl was laid during the First World War, when demand for food began to rise rapidly. As a result, farmers in states like Colorado, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma accelerated their farming practices to meet the demand. Crops were planted without rotation, and the ground was heavily tilled and worked to yield a higher crop volume. By the mid-1920s, many of these farming efforts were paying off, in the sense that huge crops were being generated, but the ground paid a hidden toll which only became apparent in the 1930s.

In the early 1930s, a severe drought struck the region, drying the upper layers of already extremely loose topsoil. Heavy windstorms descended, transporting the dust in dense black clouds. These “black blizzards” were so dark that livestock were sometimes fooled into thinking that night had fallen. The dust accumulated in huge drifts, sometimes burying homes and farms, and once-fertile farmland became arid.

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Citizens of the affected regions started referring to their home as the “Dust Bowl,”and they rapidly began to experience serious economic problems. The Depression economy had already caused serious problems for many farmers, and the lack of a viable crop led to mass foreclosures by banks. Conditions drove many groups of farmers to become migrant workers, as documented by photographers like Dorothea Lange and authors like John Steinbeck. The impoverished migrant workers from the Dust Bowl became a symbol of the Depression for many people, illustrating how a combination of bad luck and unsustainable farming practices could radically change a formerly profitable pursuit like farming.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, he recognized the Dust Bowl as a serious problem for the United States, and he founded the Soil Conservation Services to address the issue. The government agency was one of many public works agencies founded during President Roosevelt's term, and it focused on restoring the formerly fertile conditions across the central American states. By planting windbreaks and cultivating native plants, the Service began to slowly rebuild the topsoil while preserving what was left. In 1994, the name of the organization was changed to the Natural Resources Conversation Service, reflecting its broader scope.

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anon155503
Post 7

I'm reading a book that's set in the Dust Bowl. It's horrible enough hearing about it, but this book just makes it almost real (by the way, it's called Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse). And this all happened along with the Great Depression. So, you have no crops, which could at least give you some money, you have no source of income. To make it worse, you're getting annihilated by dust storms.

CopperPipe
Post 5

At least one good thing came out of the Dust Bowl: soil conservation.

Although to look at the state of mass farming and the environment now, you have to wonder how well the lesson was learned...

googlefanz
Post 4

If you're looking for some good information about Black Sunday and the Dust Bowl, consider picking up Worster's "Dust Bowl". I recently finished it, and found it very informative.

musicshaman
Post 3

I remember studying about the 1930s dust bowl migration in high school, and it still blows my mind to think that that's when my grandparents were alive.

I mean, you read about all the horrible dust bowl effects, and the dust bowl drought, but it doesn't seem real today.

I guess there's a difference between objectively studying dust bowl information and living it first hand, or even hearing about it first hand.

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