Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday is Ag Video Day! The Plow That Broke the Plains, a 1937 propaganda film about the dust bowl.

This is a record of land...of soil rather than people--a story of the Great Plains; the 400,000,000 acres of wind-swept grasslands that spread up from the Texas panhandle to Canada...a high, treeless continent, without rivers, without streams...A country of high winds, and sun...and of little rain...

In 1937, this film was released by the Resettlement Administration, and generally wags a finger at American farmers and farm policy.  As a contemporary film to the dust bowl, the Great Depression, and the New Deal, it provides a fascinating bit of insight (and remarkable footage) into that era of agriculture.

The dust bowl changed the face of the country; I often wonder...if all of those families hadn't been forced to tie their chairs to their Fords and abandon their many of their descendants would still be there in the Midwest?  Would L.A. have been smaller, and Wichita become a more major city?

At one time, during the homestead days, much of the Plains were divided into 40- or 80-acre parcels.  Servicemen were offered many of them after WWI.  But when most of them wandered away, those who stayed found thousands of acres available again, and those titles became was natural that 80-acre farm families suddenly grew to 500-acre farm families.

The next generation, many children went to WWII.  If they returned, they had more options to move to cities, to go to college.  Again, was it not natural for them to relocate, leaving their parents to sell off their farm eventually?  Suddenly, a 500-acre farmer had more land available as his neighbors retired, and became a 1,000-acre farmer.  As of 2007, the average South Dakota farm size was 1,401 acres (and the vast majority are still family operations, contrary to popular belief).  This continues, and, amongst the popular small-farm and local-foods movements happening now, I wonder if there will ever be a movement to resettle the plains.

I have to wonder.  In the meantime, enjoy this 1937 film about how the grasslands turned to dust, how "Wheat will win the war!", and why so many families headed to California in the '30's as their plow was covered over.  It's 30 minutes long; make yourself comfortable and have a snack.  And think about where that snack came from.                    --Trav--


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