“He won’t eat his vegetables!” What mom hasn’t said that? The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) didn’t have any moms around but the leaders in charge of the camps knew that in order to keep the young men working they had to serve healthy food. Serving the food was one thing, making sure the workers ate it was another.
One solution at several camps was to serve vegetable soup, every night. The catch was each person had to eat a bowl of soup before he could have the rest of your meal. CCC workers recall every soup having at least one above ground vegetable and one below ground one.
The CCC boys may have built sturdy dining halls for state parks but rarely ate in them. The beams and rafters are at A. H. Stephens State Historic Park in Georgia. The dining hall and cabins built specifically as a recreation area are still in use by scouting organizations, family reunions and other groups. The CCC camp was located at another location in the park.
Food was served in the field or at the camp’s own dining hall. Laid out in the style of Army units the first camps were tent structures but progressed into actual structures for the workers. Whether it was during the summer using mattocks to prepare the ground or planting seedlings in the fall there was no shade available so when the noon meal arrived workers started looking for the coolest spots they could find. It was every man for himself and the best spots were usually in the shade under the trucks.
Throughout the nation, camps were individualized to the region. Many camps served food in a traditional chow line; take your metal plate and head down the line. Other camps were more civilized with china and a home-style approach. Eight men sat at a table and then the food was brought to each table on platters.
Being a cook in a CCC camp did have its benefits. Gordon Eck who was moved from his home state of Georgia to Oregon had a 4 day shift; 4 a.m. until 9 p.m. Then his time was his own; it’s where he learned to play golf. Other cooks spent their free time hiking in the mountains where the water was still so clear they could watch the trout flashing by.
The food may have been plentiful and nutritious but one worker, Horace Chandler, said the one blot on his CCC record was the time he got a hankering for some of his momma’s cornbread. He headed home for 3 days. Although there’s a mark his record there was no other punishment. He didn’t try going AWOL again but said the cornbread was worth it for that one time.
As important as the food was to the CCC workers it had an effect on the locals as well. Hidden away among all the CCC ephemera in the John B. Derden CCC Museum at Vogel State Park in Georgia is a card with a food tale from the other side. This story happened in another park but luckily the story is kept in the museum's memory.
The story is about a family with 9 children. Their humble home was next to the road traveled daily by the CCC trucks. One day a worker tossed a loaf of bread to one of the children. Mayhem ensued as all nine tried to snatch a piece of the best bread ever baked. Whether from generosity or just the amusement of watching the melee, every day thereafter, as the trucks rolled past, a loaf of fresh bread got tossed to the children.
Next year the CCC celebrates its 80th anniversary. There aren’t many men left who were part of FDR’s Tree Army. If you know one, take the time to thank him for his hard work saving the forests of America and providing us with numerous parks and roads.