hardscrabble (HARD-skrab-uhl) adjective
1. Yielding little for much effort.
2. Relating to a place that provides for bare subsistence.
[From English hard + Dutch schrabbelen (to scrape). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to cut) that's also the source of words such as skirt, sharp, scrape, screw, shard, shears, carnage, curt, and carnivorous.]
"How did young Mildred, a homely, chubby, fatherless kid, reared on
a hardscrabble Iowa farm during the Great Depression manage to work
up the genius to relish every minute of her life?"
-- Elizabeth Gilbert; The Home Place; The New York Times; Jul 1, 2007.