TOO MUCH AND TOO LITTLE
American farmers were in trouble for years before the Great Depression reared its ugly head. The agricultural industry expanded greatly during the war years in order to help
relieve food shortages in Europe. When the war ended, most of these countries were able to resume crop production, which meant that American farms began producing a huge surplus.
This led to falling prices and greater debt for the farmers, who were struggling to pay off loans acquired for equipment and other needs. Many farmers gave up, sold their farms
and moved to urban areas. The quality of life in rural American decreased throughout the 1920s, while prosperity generally reigned in the cities. With crop prices still dropping
and poverty taking root in many rural areas, hard times arrived on the farm long before the Great Depression era even began. There was too much food and too little money in the
By the time America moved into the 1930s, the situation changed from very bad to catastrophic. The price of wheat fell to as low as eight cents a bushel. It cost more to grow the
crop than what the grain would bring at market. In many rural areas, people took to burning corn in their stoves because it was cheaper than coal. Foreclosures increased and many
lost their homes and their livelihood. However, considering all this, farm people had some advantages those in the cities did not. It was easier to live off the land than trying
to survive in an inner city concrete jungle. Since there was no shortage of certain foodstuffs, few rural residents actually went hungry. Money was less important, as farm produce
could be bartered for necessities. It was no picnic, but it was a lot better than starving.
FARMERS FIGHT BACK
With commodity prices falling and debt rising, many farmers believed they had to take action to preserve their livelihoods and survive. One such movement led to the organization of
the Farmers' Holiday Association by members of the National Farmers Union in 1932. At that point, farmers had been suffering for ten long years. The plan was for farmers to refuse
to sell their products or purchase any goods or services. Members of the association took a number of actions to maximize public visibility of their plight. In some places, farmers
barricaded roads to prevent farm products from getting to market. Foreclosure sales became "penny auctions". Organized farmers would arrange to keep bids extremely low, forcing the
sale of seized farms for mere pennies on the dollar. The property was then deeded back to the original owners.
Dairy farmers were also greatly affected by falling prices and the other consequences of a failing economy. The wholesale price of milk had fallen from almost five dollars per hundred
pounds to less than two dollars by 1932. In Wisconsin, affected farmers called for a strike in February 1933, seeking agreement among producers to refuse to sell milk or other dairy
products until induced scarcity could force prices upward. However, not everyone was on board with the plan. Soon, strikers erected roadblocks, seized milk and dumped it on the
roadside. When transporters began using alternate routes, strikers started patrolling the roads, looking for milk carrying trucks. The protests turned violent. Some milk was adulterated
with poisons such as kerosene. State officials began escorting convoys and when attacks, attempted to disperse strikers with tear gas. They tried using trains to move the product, but
strikers blocked the tracks. During subsequent strikes in May and October, seven creameries were bombed, National Guardsmen wounded several protesters, killing at least one and a sixty
year old farmer, trying to deliver food to strikers on a picket line, was shot and killed by a passenger in a car stopped by the protesters. The violence subsided, but the memory of its
impact was lasting.