Mike McGovern began pulling out photos the other day, each clearly marked with a typed description as to where it was taken, when and why. McGovern is communications officer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, formerly the Soil Conservation Service.
The SCS celebrates 75 years of service this year, began after the Dust Bowl decimated western states. "We didn't have the dust bowl here, but we had water erosion," McGovern says. "It was causing similar problem due to a similar cause- soil was eroding because early farmers just didn't understand the importance of maintaining cover on the surface.
The pictures McGovern laid on the table, all in black and white, from the 1930's showed gullies so deep that men looked like ants. And they were shot in southern Indiana, not the Grand Canyon. Others showed soil drifts washed up and blown up in fields in northern Indiana. Still other photos showed bare hillsides in a cornfield, because there was nothing left there to grow corn.
'One story that goes around is that one of our early conservationists visited a farmer with serious gullies, and couldn't get anywhere with him," McGovern said. "The man flatly refused to believe that he had a soil erosion problem."
A popular song this year on country stations talks about a couple growing up in the depression. Later, in modern times, they show black and white pictures to their grandchildren. The chorus says, "If you think we looked like a couple of scared kids, you should have seen it in color!"
That applies to many of the photos McGovern uncovered while researching files in preparation for the 75th anniversary of NRCS. Black and white hardly does some of the gory photos of gullies and washed-out field's justice.
If the story ended there, it would be a sad one, and there probably wouldn't be a 75th anniversary of what's now NRCS, McGovern says. But it didn't. Amazingly, pictures form the early '40s on show signs that farmers bought in to the idea of covering the soil, especially where gullies could form. Early shots show how farmers with help form SCS personnel built terraces, grass waterways and much more.
"The lessons really took hold," McGovern says. "It's evident as you look through the pictures. Fields that were once eroded looked totally different after farmers understood what they needed to do to prevent soil erosion."
Look for some of these pictures in upcoming issues of Indiana Prairie Farmer. Congratulations to everyone who worked for SCS, or now works for NRCS, on a job well done for 75 years!