By Joe Schroeder, Farm Advocate at Farm Aid

Since 1985, Farm Aid has responded to farm crises on the individual, community, and national level. Farm Aid has long supported and held up farmers who face crises and the farm advocates who help them through get through the hard times. As Farm Aid’s farm advocate, my job is to advise and refer farmers in trouble to resources that can help. My job is also to recruit and train new advocates and to help rebuild the infrastructure that advocates who came out of the 1980’s Farm Crisis relied on.

There’s a tension in those two responsibilities—responding to the immediate needs of farmers facing the worst deadline you can imagine, and building for the future. Never has it been more crucial to balance the two. There are real threats ahead of us. We only have 2 million farmers left (and only 1 million are making a living on the farm). Our farmer hotline calls have gone up by around 30% this year, and were up by same margin last year. In the first month of 2018 alone, I fielded 70 calls and emails from distressed farmers, and their situations are getting more dire.

What’s worse is that there are fewer trained advocates to do the heavy lifting of working with each farmer to sort out their options. And when people don’t have options, crises escalate. The support mechanisms that emerged from the 1980s Farm Crisis—like rural mental health provider networks, farmer hotlines, statewide farm advocacy programs, the interchurch support network for counselors–they’re all starving for resources and hanging on by a thread. Many have already been lost as their funding was cut away year after year.

Farmers, especially new farmers, need the expertise of folks who have been through this before. It’s not enough to know that grain and milk prices aren’t high enough and expenses are too high.

We need to rebuild the farm advocacy network, supporting farmers with the resources they need to survive, whether that’s financial counseling, legal advice or social work.

There are smart farmers, accountants, lawyers, and mental health professionals who know how to help. We need to give them a platform and a salary and coordinate that help. We have great models to refer to and thankfully the people who got us out of the last farm crisis are still doing the work and would be glad to advise. The Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, which put a moratorium on farm foreclosures to stem the tide of the Farm Crisis, came from advocates who knew how to fix the problem only because of the time they spent on the ground with farmers getting an intimate understanding of the problem. How will we know the best policy fixes to this current wave of crises unless we utilize these experts and train new ones for the next time?

There have always been more crises than advocates, but in the current farm economy the need for new advocates is greater than ever. Most people don’t understand the heroic masses of farmers saved, and the impact of the legislation and regulation passed, thanks to just a handful of advocates and the support mechanisms behind them.

What I can’t stop thinking about is the number of farmers lost because we didn’t have more farm advocates.  My mentor, Benny Bunting, is just like the rest of the “senior class” of advocates still doing the work. They don’t retire. Of course, they want to retire…. It’s long, hard work to save a family farm, and they’ve sure done their part. But, they wonder, if they stop taking calls who will pick up the phone for the farmer who calls tomorrow?

To learn more about farm advocates and their work, email Joe at farmhelp@farmaid.org and visit www.farmaid.org/our-work/farm-advocate-link.


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One Comment

  • Hi Joe, I totally agree with you concerning the need for more Farm Advocates. I belong to a Colorado group called Local Food Revolution and am a contributor to Slow Money and other groups that help to educate the public to our need to contribute money and support to our farmers and young farmers. There is an urgent need. I do agree. On this note, I want to put in my 2 cents concerning the need to push for a Public Banking system in all of our states. Why aren’t our State Funds, as well as City Government funds, being kept in Public Banks? It is well known that the Public Bank of ND (the only public bank in America) came out of the 2008 financial crash better than any other banking institution in our country. The bank was founded in 1919 as a means to help farmers across ND, who were going bankrupt in high numbers, to receive loans at a reasonable rate. Since then, the BND has made loans to CU and banks across ND which makes it possible for them to make more loans to farmers and businesses locally than they would otherwise be able to and at better rates. The BND does not make loans themselves since they do not want to compete with the CU and Banks but make it possible for the local economies and farms across the state to be much healthier because of the way they support loans made by the CUs and Banks.
    I know that there is a great interest growing across the country in Public Banking because the big Banks are paying no interest, using our monies in ways that we do not support and heading for financial disaster once again. We want to see our farmers be able to have low interest loans and to be supported in every way they can. Please put your considerable weight behind pushing for Public Banking across our country. It is really for all of our economies but it could be especially meaningful for the farmers who are hanging on by their fingernails. Please do look into this and consider taking a stand.
    I live in Boulder, CO and just saw our City Council make the decision to research PB. They made very strong statements against J.P. Morgan Chase–where city funds are now kept–and will be taking legislative action to change laws at the CO Legislature to allow PB in CO. Santa Fe, San Francisco and Seattle are also researching PB. It is time to pull the plug on too-big-to-fail Corporate banks and create banks that actually work for our farmers and for America. They are really the same thing.

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