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Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project: Interview with Marion Powers
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Marion Powers and her husband, Dave, are dairy farmers. They have a 320 acre farm. They raise corn and hay for the cows and also oats, wheat and soybeans. They have 3 sons ranging in age from 17 to 30. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: They took on debt when they sold their previous farm and bought their present larger farm. Their initial loan carried a relatively high interest and they applied for a lower interest FmHA loan. They had difficulty obtaining this loan, but, with the help of Bruce Lubitz, a Farm Advocate, it was finally approved. Other farmers having difficulties with loans began calling the Powers who had "just been through it" and the Powers responded by handing out FmHA books. Anne de Meurisse called to ask whether Dave Powers would be interested in becoming a Farm Advocate (Bruce Lubitz, who had helped them, was the closest Advocate to Elbow Lake, and he was 90 miles away). Dave was too busy; Marion then asked and she agreed. At about the same time, there was a plan to establish 5 regional resource centers (RERCs) patterned after the center in Thief River Falls. Although Marion had just joined the Farm Advocates, she was asked to be the director of the Elbow Lake Center, one of the five. A meeting was held in Elbow Lake (attended by Anne Kanten, Dee Reily, Gene Wentrom (a local ex congressman) and Marion, as well as local business and news men, the mayor and others. Dee Reily, who was to direct the centers project, became Marion's advisor relative to setting up the Elbow Lake Center. It was expected to be a "grass roots" operation - to be designed locally. Dee recommended that Marion set up a board of directors, and she did so. Gene Wentrom was the chairman, and the board included representatives from the Farmer's Union, Farm Bureau, Groundswell, NFO, a county commissioner, a clergyman, an extension agent, an intervention counselor, and others. She also hired a secretary, Gail Pasche. The Elbow Lake Center opened July 1, 1986, but it was not well known and there was little business. Dee Reily was terminally ill and soon became unavailable. In October of 1986 there was a first meeting of the State Board of the centers - at which all of the people who were interested in developing the centers came together. Neal Ritchie had taken Dee Reily's place in directing the centers. Each of the new centers was expected to raise its own funds ($5,000 to start up), but no one at Elbow Lake understood how this was to be done. They were only able to raise about $300 in the area. Fortunately, a private individual donated $25,000 to the five centers to cover the startup. In November (1986) the Elbow Lake Board had a grand opening dinner to let people know they were there and to pass out some relevant information (additional local donations were needed to cover the costs of that event). Despite the grand opening dinner, the Farm Advocates remained relatively unknown and Marion had difficulty gaining acceptance and obtaining clients. Meanwhile, the $5,000 startup funds for the Elbow Lake Center (as well as additional grants from Farm Aid and other sources) had been spent. Marion told the board that it would have to establish and pay attention to a budget (for expenditures) and start acting like a board. On about Memorial Day 1987, the Board removed Marion removed as Director on the ground that: "We do not need Advocates in the Centers. You can't be responsible to (both) the Board and the Department of Agriculture". The Center has been largely inactive since Marion left. She has continued to act as a Farm Advocate since. What should have been done differently? She mentions the following: -The need for (reasons for establishing) the centers should have been explained in the beginning. -Inconsistent (competing) messages as to how the Elbow Lake Center was to be organized and run should not have been sent out. The initial message (that the Center should be a grass-roots operation created by local people muddling through and making it their own) was inconsistent with the actions of the state directors (Guy Wolf and Neal Ritchie), who treated it as a centralized project. -The centers (should have been) started up from the Advocate Program, rather than in apparent opposition to it. -Marion herself should not have been chosen to start the Elbow Lake Center; she did not have the necessary background at the time. -Farmers who had been through financial difficulties should have been chosen for the Elbow Lake Board rather than political people and representatives of organizations. The Board members as chosen were not concerned with the Center (no member ever stopped in to see how things were going or referred a single farmer to Marion) but were jealous of their own prerogatives. -There should have been mechanisms for holding the Board accountable, e.g. for establishing and following a budget and for following the provisions of the original grant proposal. -There should have been a (reasonable) process for choosing state directors (applications were not taken from Advocates).
3 hours sound cassette
56 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Interviewee: Powers, Marion
Interviewer: Hunter, Dianna
Interviewer: Meter, Ken
Made in [vicinity]: Elbow Lake, Grant County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 37 (Library Call Number)
AV1991.158.26 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project'