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Serving: IA

Don’t jeopardize the good life

Katlin Luebbe Corn fields
TRYING TIMES: Many similarities are seen in current times with those of the 1980s. Lessons from the past can help protect farming legacies.
Are current times on the farm like they were in the 1980s? How are you going to protect your farming legacy?

I was a child growing up our Iowa farm in the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t know what was happening on our farm. Hearing my family, our neighbors and complete strangers talk about the Farm Crisis gave me anxiety before I even knew what anxiety was.

Most farmers who survived that time don’t like to think about those who lost their farm and everything on it. At times, my parents and grandparents didn’t know how the next bills would get paid. The Great Depression made my grandparents frugal and resourceful — skills they passed down at least two generations.

Many factors played a part in the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. The combination of inflation, high interest rates and the Russian embargo helped create a situation many farmers couldn’t survive. The land values that crept higher in the 1970s then took an extreme drop in value in the mid-1980s, and the trying times hit. Midwestern farmers couldn’t pay on their heavy debt load. Foreclosures were at a record high, and economists declared more than one-third of farms in jeopardy.

It takes my breath away to think how similar those circumstances are to today. Increasing inflation and interest rates, along with rising prices for all the basic needs, really make me nervous. Farmers are skeptics by nature, and I’ve heard many say they don’t want to see another farm crisis. No one wants to see foreclosures, farm sales and losses in our agricultural communities.

Podcast time

During my drive time to events, I like to listen to podcasts, and my favorite is “The Genuine JBH” podcast.

The podcast’s host, J. Bradley Hook, is a Humeston, Iowa, native and friend of mine, and I’m so glad he shares these stories with us all. Hearing anecdotes from people in our industry makes them more realistic and genuine, and helps us all realize we aren’t alone.

Brad tells stories from his parents, Marvin and Rosie, and they’re a favorite among his listeners. They’re the quintessential farm couple in their 80s, the salt of the earth, and the folks you want to gather around the dining room table with just to talk and eat together.

A recent episode included their story of the 1980s Farm Crisis. They survived, just as my family did. But it wasn’t easy; they sold things they didn’t want to, ate skimpy meals, had difficult discussions  and made difficult decisions.

Marvin composed a poem back in the day that brought me to tears. Farmers are not always great with words, but the poets among them make us all feel more deeply. We all have dreams of living the good life on the farm, even when it’s not easy.

The Good Life

For thirty long years I’ve labored in fear
To protect this good life of which you have hear’d
They say country livin,’ she can’t be beat;
Fresh air, sunshine, and plenty to eat.

Well, the air’s real fresh, that part is so;
The thermometer outside says twenty below.
And I guess I’ll say the sun shines a lot;
’Cause come last summer it got awful hot.

She’d come up early and she’d raise up high;
It just wouldn’t rain and it got awful dry.
We planted our crops with hopes held high;
Then sat all summer and watched ’em wither and die.

But come harvesttime, we said not a word;
’Cause this is the good life, haven’t you heard?
Well, my boy come of age, along last spring;
Graduated from high school, ready to do his thing.

So early one morning over a cup of tea,
He looked up and said, “Dad, what’ll it be?”
With a grin on my lips and a gleam in my eye;
I said, "Country livin,’ son, that’s my reply."

"We’ll raise beef cattle, you got my word;
’Cause this is the good life, haven’t you heard?"
So I went to my lender and said, “Man, I got a deal,
’Cause I got the brains, and the boy’s got the zeal.”

Well, he went to the drawer and picked up my loan;
And without turnin’ around, he said with a groan,
“We sure don’t want your boy, too,
In fact, we’d like to get rid of you.”

I said, “Look here, man, I own that farm;
It’s almost cost me a leg and an arm.”
With that he replied, “You stupid old cuss,
All these years you been working for us.”

So, with tears in my eyes, my vision was blurred,
But this is the good life, haven’t you heard?
There’s few other things that’s a joy to behold
Like a pile of dead pigs that’s been killed by the cold.

Or the time when your hopes fell with a thud,
To find a thousand dollar calf that’s been trampled in the mud.
Well, I’ve been a believer, the Lord knows I’ve tried,
But if this stuff is called good, then somebody lied.

Yes, I’ve worked thirty years and got this for a reward;
But the good life won’t come ’til I’m home with the Lord.

I’m glad to report the Hook family is still farming in southern Iowa, with a new generation working the ground. The good life, indeed. May we all learn from the past and pass it on down.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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