Farmers Unite! – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

As cold winds start to blow across what once was prairie, this farmer’s daughter thinks of that long, bitter winter so long ago. The winter when farmers sent a message to Washington….by driving their tractors there.

Photo © Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images

FARMERS IN 1977
had a problem: they were
going broke. Crop prices tanked.
Expenses soared for tractors,
fuel, and land. “When a bushel of wheat
costs me $3.20 cents to
raise and the selling price is
around $2.40, something
is wrong,” said Fred Bartels,
a Colorado farmer.
To survive, farmers got
creative.

At Thanksgiving in 1977, 20,000 farmers descended on Plains, Georgia, the home town of then president Jimmy Carter. The current farm policy was a mess that Carter had inherited from previous administrations.

Photo credit: AP

Two weeks later, 100,000 tractors showed up at state capitols with farmers trying to once again to make their point. Crop prices were unfair. Family farms were disappearing.

They’d been incented to overproduce, plant “fence row to fence row.” They’d been told to “get big or get out” by Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture from 1971-1976. So they’d taken out loans to buy equipment, land, and seed. But then bumper crops made prices fall precipitously. Farmers used to be guaranteed parity, a way to ensure they were paid what it took to produce a crop and to earn enough to make a living wage. But no longer.

A year passed, and the situation didn’t improve. No one was listening. In January 1979, Farmers decided to take their tractorcades to Washington DC. This book tells the true story of that event and the roots of the American Agriculture Movement.

Photos from that event brought back so many memories. Tractors on The Mall, at the Lincoln Memorial, and in front of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (As far as I’m concerned, the USDA is really anti-agriculture, pro-agriculture conglomerates, and pro-middleman, something reflected in each new version of the Farm Bill that comes up for renewal every handful of years.)

Photo Credit: United States Park Police, courtesy of Darrel Miller

The story would not be complete without photos and a description of Farm Aid, where singers like Willie Nelson helped raise money to support farmers who were going bankrupt and the American Agriculture Movement’s lobbying efforts.

Photo credit: Farm Aid, Inc.

The book culminates in a significant milestone: the passage of the Agriculture Credit Act in 1987, a bill that helped farmers (at least temporarily) stay on their land.

The author, Lindsay Metcalf, does a terrific job of telling the story of how farmers have struggled to have their voices heard. And they’re still struggling. I would argue that true family farmers have grown even more scarce since the American Agriculture Movement was established in 1977. But I’m encouraged by community supported agriculture, farmer’s markets, and organic farming gaining ground in some areas.

However, when it comes to commodities, you should watch the film King Corn, and you’ll find out just how sad and bad the situation is. What to do with all that corn? Turn it into high fructose corn syrup, and watch the health of the average American decline. And if you take a look at the American Agriculture Movement’s current website, you may find disturbing information about what’s really going on in agriculture today. There is hope via the National Family Farm Coalition…But I digress.

This book is a tribute to farmers, how hard they work, how little government has listened, and how they’re willing to help even those who diss them, something that the people of Washington DC discovered when a blizzard brought vehicles in DC to a halt—except for the tractors.

Although the book is upbeat (and the back matter’s timeline shows that the farm crisis officially “ended” in 1990), much remains to be done to help support family farmers AND to promote organic farming.

All farmers want is what’s fair, and is that really too much for them to ask? After all, we’d starve without them.

Activities:

Make a protest poster showing a “tractorcade”

Watch the movie King Corn

Pair this book with The Farm That Feeds Us by Nancy Castaldo

Title: Farmers Unite!

Author: Lindsey Metcalf

Publisher: Calkins Creek, Boyds Mill Kane, 2020

Themes: farming, protests, U.S. history

Ages: grades 2nd-6th

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

13 thoughts on “Farmers Unite! – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

  1. Kath Carroll says:

    Fantastic post! I remember those times too. It’s good to see a book for children about it – especially as so many kids are concerned about food, farming, and the environment. And I always enjoy your digressions. I’m going to check out that link and film.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      The film is interesting and funny and a bit horrifying. And yes, I’m glad that kids are starting to take an interest in where their food comes from and how it’s grown. I used to write for an organization that represents farm workers, and helps give them a voice. That’s when I stopped eating foods grown with pesticides. The amount of exposure allowed for farm workers is 10 times the amount allowed for all others, the opposite of what it should be, considering they are exposed to chemicals daily and exposures mount up. One attorney I’d interviewed for an article about farmworkers told me she had to stop doing the work because so many of her clients were dying from their chemical exposures or permanently disabled. Her own health (physical and psychological) was suffering, so she had to pass the mantle to others who were younger. And the fact that they have genetically modified seeds to make them “Roundup ready,” means that farmers can spray Roundup on crops at will. Over 100 million pounds of Roundup is used in the U.S. annually, and there is cause for concern, as it’s been shown to kill human cells, be carcinogenic, and could possibly disturb pregnancy hormones. It’s been found in breakfast cereals like Cheerios at levels deemed unhealthy. Bayer AG(the parent company of Monsanto and its product Roundup) has been accused of statistical manipulation to show it’s not a problem. There’s a lot of $$$$$ on the line, needless to say. And corporations have shown time and again to plead “harmless” until the very end…Anyway….another digression. You see, I can’t help myself….

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    What an important story and a beautiful tribute to farmers. Loved how clever they were going to D.C. at just the right moment. Have farmers in my family who stepped away because of the big corporations buying up farms. This sounds like a must read! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, I think the big reason that Roundup hasn’t been banned is because of the power of Bayer Corporation/Monsanto. They have lots of lobbying money. I love Lindsay’s book! It’s past time that farmers’ issues were given the priority they deserve. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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