Iowa Public Television

 

Activism During the Farm Crisis

posted on October 10, 2013


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This segment is part of the The Farm Crisis documentary, which examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight. 

David Sentor: We had so many farmers that felt like they failed.  I inherited this farm, my dad got it from my granddaddy and they felt like they failed.  Well, when you have prices that are below the cost of production the farmer didn't fail, policy failed.  And so just to make sure that farmers know that they're better off joining together for a common solution, supporting each other and speaking out.

By the mid-1980s it was nearly impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the television without facing images of farm auctions and foreclosure sales.

David Peterson: I get emotional when I think about some of the things I photographed.  I get angry just like the farmers.  I felt like I was one of them.  I felt like I was really in their camp.  You know, they talk about journalism being objective.  Well, I think it's impossible sometimes to be objective in this kind of story.  So I was subjective and that's okay.  I was an advocate for them.

Reverend Jesse Jackson: When a farm closes in Minnesota, we must hurt in Chicago and feel the pain in New York!
Rural America was hurting.  But amidst the suffering there were individuals, politicians and groups who wanted to be a voice for struggling farmers.

Many of these same farmers supported Ronald Reagan in the last election and now he is turning his back on them if he vetoes this bill.

Senator Tom Harkin: They needed a champion.  They needed somebody out there on the front lines for them, fighting for them and letting them know that their pleas were being heard.  I wasn't alone in that.  I mean, there were other Congressmen and Senators obviously who pitched in.  But I just felt that this was hurting our Iowa farmers, good solid farm families were being hurt and a whole new generation of young farmers were being decimated by this.

Meanwhile, two popular films, Country and The River, drew the eyes of America to the plight of the nation's farm families.  Soon, Hollywood stars testified before Congress.

Jessica Lange: The boundaries which describe their work, their land, their family and their faith in this country and their faith in God, these people are living in a kind of modern day slavery.

Sissy Spacek: I'd be naive to assume that this is a simple problem with simple answers but one thing I'm sure of, we can't turn our backs on these people who have fed us so abundantly and so cheaply throughout our history.

Chuck Hassebrook: I was just remarkable the national attention on agricultural issues at that time that you don’t see anything like that today.  All the major papers had agricultural reporters, including the Washington Post, the Des Moines Register had a big Washington bureau.  There was just an incredible amount of tension and attention to these issues because of the crisis.

The Cornflakes man, you're on sir.
Don't complain about the farmer when you have a full stomach.  This sold this week in Cedar Rapids for $1.19 on special.  The farmer got less than five cents for the amount in the $1.19 box.


Tags: activism activists agriculture documentaries farm farm crisis farmers Iowa policy politicians