The aftermath of the 1927 Mississippi Flood:  Seeds and Bees

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Crisis management prioritizes needs. Once the major requirements of saving lives, mitigating threats, providing medical care, and meeting the needs of adequate shelter, food, and clothing, thoughts can move to recovery issues.  Two unique opportunities occurred following the 1927 Mississippi Flood, a disaster that affected 4.4 million people (nearly 54% were blacks) in seven states with 26,000 square miles of flooded area.  The first consisted of distributing free seed packets and the second required the restoration of bee colonies for pollination.

The Red Cross bought a half million assortments of seeds, fourteen to eighteen varieties in each collection, to give to drought-stricken farmers for garden plots. Here, at Stuttgart, Arkansas, the Red Cross is distributing these free seeds which will plant a quarter acre plot
The Red Cross bought a half million assortments of seeds, fourteen to eighteen varieties in each collection, to give to drought-stricken farmers for garden plots. Here, at Stuttgart, Arkansas, the Red Cross is distributing these free seeds which will plant a quarter acre plot.

The hardest hit flood areas were the southern states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  The main crop of this region was cotton with sugar cane associated with Louisiana. Hoover working in conjunction with the Red Cross assembled seed packets of various vegetables for free distribution to family farms.  The idea was to provide a greatly variety of green vegetables that offered a fresh source of food and helped to prevent pellagra and other diseases caused by malnutrition.  More than 120,000 seed packets were distributed in the aftermath of the flood.

Important assets for the agricultural industry are the pollinators, especially bees.  According to the Red Cross report:

“Among the residents of the Mississippi Valley who suffered heavy losses in the flood were the bee keepers of Louisiana whose bee colonies had been destroyed.  The Red Cross cooperated with the Bee Keepers Association of Louisiana in reestablishing the industry in the State through the free distribution of colonies of bees and equipment contributed by dealers and members of the National Bee Keepers Association.  Through the efforts of these cooperating groups, bees were donated from apiaries in all sections of the country.  The bees were shipped free of charge by the express companies to New Orleans, where they were hived until January 1928, because of the lack of food in the flood area.  Five hundred and seventy-one colonies with hives and equipment as needed were allotted to 34 keepers whose pre-disaster production had been derived from 2,363 registered colonies.  The Red Cross gave $1,500 to this work, which was used to purchase bees and equipment in addition to those donated, and to pay incidental charges for trucking and labor.”

The reconstitution period following this major disaster had many components both large and small.  Vegetable seeds and bees were small but provided an important component in the successful recovery from the flood.

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