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Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project: Interview with Lou Anne Kling
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Lou Anne and Wayne Kling have 7 children, 2 still living at home. They own 160 acres west of Granite Falls, but rent additional land. They farm 500 acres total, raising corn, wheat, soybeans, oats and alfalfa. They also raise hogs and feed steers. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: In 1982, Lou Anne Kling began helping other farmers by providing information on financial matters. By 1983, she (and a few others) were holding meetings and counselling farmers one-on-one. For example, she spoke at a meeting at Thief River Falls (arranged by Willard Brunelle) - and she returned there 3 times, remaining about a week each time. People were sometimes warned (by lenders) not to attend these meetings. Randi Roth wrote down some of the questions asked at the meetings, together with Lou Anne's answers, and this, together with results of Randi's own conversations with farmers became the first Farmers' Guide to FmHA (Farmers' Home Administration). People were desperate for knowledge about rules, regulations and practices of lending institutions, notably the Farmers' Home Administration (FmHA) and often lined up to meet with Lou Anne one-on-one for as little as one half hour. She and Anne Kanten (the Minnesota Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture) discussed the need for such counselling and for money to support it, and Anne brought it up with Jim Nichols (the Commissioner of Agriculture). As a result, $50,000 of Department of Agriculture money was made available to set up a 3 month program. 35 people (the original Farm Advocates) met at the Department of Agriculture in Saint Paul on March 4,1984 for a 2 day basic training meeting, after which they returned to their home areas and began working with farmers one-on-one. The response by farmers was overwhelming, and it was decided to seek state funding for extending the program beyond July 1, 1984. Anne Kanten did a big share of the work to convince the state legislature to make the needed funds available (There was a great deal of opposition in the legislature, as well as from the Farm Bureau, Farmers' Union and N.F.O.[National Farmers Organization]). An approriation was obtained sufficient to fund contracts for 15 Advocates. At about the time the Farm Advocate Program was starting, a controversy arose in Thief River Falls over the refusal of the local FmHA office to grant any loans. Lou Anne, Anne Kanten and Governor Perpich went to Washington to meet with Senator Boschwicz and Charles Schumann (the head of FmHA). Since Lou Anne had been in Thief River Falls recently, and was familiar with the situation, Anne Kanten asked her to jot down some notes in preparation for the meeting. Schumann read these notes at the meeting and was horrified. He sent an FmHA investigating team into the Thief River Falls office, and hundreds of loan applications (perhaps 700) were found which were not even being processed. A special administrator and team were sent into that office, and they soon processed the applications and cleared away the backlog. Schumann later told Lou Anne that he was disturbed that such things as she had described in her report (her notes) could happen in FmHA and he had used the report in regional meetings of all FmHA district directors. However, he left his position with the administration shortly thereafter. The foregoing and other meetings in Washington (attended by Anne Kanten, Jim Nichols, Willard Brunelle, and others) appeared to establish Minnesota as a force with both the Department of Agriculture and FmHA. One person who has been important to Lou Anne is John Ennesvedt, who had been a Holiday organizer. He told her that the Advocate Program is an extension of the Councils of Defense of the 1930s. A Council of Defense was 3 knowledgable farmers who would help a farmer having financial difficulties negotiate his loans. John also taught her techniques of negotiation. Lou Anne has helped train various groups in 14 states, as well as tell them about the Farm Advocate Program. No one has been able to duplicate it. One big advantage in this state has been the Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG), and its attorneys: Jim Massey, Lynn Hayes, Randi Roth, etc. Also, the name Farm Advocate Program is important. It continually reminds everyone of the core relationship: farmers working with and for the farmer, the decisions being made by the client farmer. Furthermore, farmers helping farmers has improved the sense of community: you want your neighbor to stay so that you can work together, rather than hoping he will go broke so that you can get his land. FmHA has been primarily an opponent (rather than an ally) of the farmer and Lou Anne discusses various tactics of that agency. These include withholding vital information, providing misinformation, trapping farmers into larger loans than they want or need at higher interest rates than necessary, inflating farmers' equity when loaning money then devaluing it to bring about foreclosures, etc. Lou Anne states that the Advocate Program has led in improving farm conditions in Minnesota and that its credibility has grown with legislators, lenders, lawyers, mediators, etc. The Program must continue to work one-on-one with farmers - but a way must also be found (outside the Program and without changing it) to translate what Advocates know into political answers. She differentiates the Farm Advocate Program from "farm organizations". While such organizations may begin well, they are soon consumed by internal politics - resulting in decisions and policies made by a small group of insiders. As to possible changes in the Advocate Program, Lou Anne believes that centers (providing phone answering and secretarial services and space for meeting clients) are a big help in taking pressure off of Advocates, and she would like to see a center or office in at least each of the 50 agricultural counties in the state. She recalls that John Ennesvedt told her that farmers can never go to sleep on their rights; their are always forces trying to take away anything that has been won. And this vigilance includes teaching kids about the values and struggles of the past so that they will be prepared to take over.
4.5 hours sound cassette
49 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Interviewee: Kling, Lou Anne
Interviewer: Hunter, Dianna
Interviewer: Meter, Ken
Made in [vicinity]: Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 06/15/1988 - 06/15/1688
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 37 (Library Call Number)
AV1991.158.22 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project'