Dustbowl Days, WeedPatch, California

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Weedpatch, California is located southeast of Bakersfield in Kern County in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. It began as a migrant camp for the Okie diaspora during the Dust Bowl. 

During the Depression and Dust Bowl, migrant camps originated as informal collections of squatters on the side of the road or as farmer housing for their migrant farm workers. Because of the lack of hygiene and security in many of the camps, the government (FSA) began to build formal labor camps consisting of permanent buildings with running water, schools, libraries and community centers. Employment assistance was offered, too.

The Weedpatch Camp (also known as the Arvin Federal government Camp and the Sunset Labor Camp) was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1936.

Camp life was researched and was chronicled by novelist John Steinbeck in the book, The Grapes of Wrath. The book was dedicated to the camp’s administrator, Tom Collins, who’s records Steinbeck used. The camp was also featured in the film version of the novel. 

The camp is now located in an unincorporated area. Every year, on the third Saturday in October, The Dust Bowl Days Festival occurs. There is authentic “Okie” entertainment (i.e., Country and Western music), food (i.e., chili beans, cornbread, sweet tea, peach cobbler, biscuits and gravy), lectures, exhibits, and tours of the camp. 

In October 2014, my friend Darlene Din and I visited the Dust Bowl Days Festival and had a great time taking in all the sites, listening to lectures, and taking with book authors. 

(P.S. there was plenty of Mexican food, too.) 

Note: “The rest of the Arvin Migrant Center is still tidy today. While the Dust Bowl Festival celebrates its sepia-toned history, the old camp remains quite active in the present. From May to October each year, the camp provides the same service it has since it was built by the Farm Security Administration in 1936. Since 1965, the Arvin camp has been operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Kern. The tents and tin shacks are long gone, of course, replaced by 88 tidy wood-frame units—$11.50 a day for a two-bedroom duplex, $12 for three bedrooms, $12.50 for four.” (Conner)

Books being sold at the Dustbowl Festival: 

Mike Martin, PhD. “Confessions of a Migrant Okie Childhood”, “My INdiabn Territory Schoo”l, and “Bryant: A Creek Indian Townsite.”

Ham, Oleta Kay Sprague. Migrant Mother. Tate Publishing. September 24, 2013.The Story of the woman behind the Migrant Mother photo taken by Dorothea Lange. 

References:

Conner, Thomas. Dispatches from the Weedpatch Camp. This Land. Vol. 5, Issue 8. April 15, 2014. http://thislandpress.com/2014/05/19/dispatches-from-theweedpatch-camp/