Iowa Public Television

 

Private Assistance 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. 

Rural concern hotline, this is Lori.

Crisis hotlines began to appear nationwide, referring callers to available financial, legal and counseling services.  Faith-based groups, university extension workers, lawyers, financial consultants and mental health personnel also stepped in to help.

Joan Blundall: We were seeing more farm women taking jobs off the farm.  We were seeing more kids taking on even more of the farm chores.  Some thirteen and fourteen years olds really acting as though they were raising the 600 pigs because their fathers were becoming long distance truckers.  We saw pastors becoming concerned about divisions in the congregation.  How do you preach to a banker and the farmer who is being foreclosed upon with the same sermon?  How do you get anybody to talk to you?

Reverend Ed Kail: One angle was just material help.  There were folks that needed food, they needed clothing, that kind of thing.  So church folks do that, we organize that.  But then it's the more intangible kind of stuff that was important and one of that was to be a reminder of values and when people are under stress they can fixate on surface issues and forget the things that really matter.  And the biggest one was the farm and the family.  And to remind folks that people and land come and go but family, in some sense, is forever, you know.  That regardless of where you live, what you're doing, what land you've got, your family is the enduring part, the important part.  Tend to your family.

Farmers needed all kinds of support, including mediation services and financial counseling.  If you could, you restructured your debt.

Bob Lewis: Most of the time when they came to me the finances were secondary.  The indecision was the main thing.  They didn't really know what they wanted to do.  You know, do we liquidate?  Our age has a lot to do with it.  The family members.  What do we do?  And so I wanted to get to a resolution that they felt comfortable with and sometimes that outcome was that they needed to get out and several of them did that because it just wasn't practical.  And there was really no way that it was ever going to be resolved.  They didn't always do that when I thought that they should.  You know, some of them were bound and determined to work on the farm and get it paid off regardless of how many years it took. And there was no room for error.  I mean, if they had a bad year they were going to be done.

Wendell Tuttle: Hung in there for many, many years before I finally had to give it up.

Going once, going twice --

In February 1985, creditors foreclosed on Wendell Tuttle's farm. After the sheriff's sale, they had a year to redeem their land.  But with a poor crop and insufficient cash flow the banks would not loan them any more money.  So the family had a sale and their livestock and machinery were auctioned to the highest bidder.  The Tuttles had hoped to sell their farm to one of their sons when they retired.  But that was no longer an option.

Wendell Tuttle: Max moved into town, got a job and that was at John Hancock insurance company.  We were supposed to give Max the opportunity to buy the house and a little acreage but they didn't do it.


Tags: activism agriculture documentaries farm farm crisis farmers Iowa rural