Plant to Table: Sarah Vogel
"The Farmer's Lawyer"
In 1983, Vogel filed a lawsuit against USDA on behalf of nine North Dakota farmers, then expanded the lawsuit to protect 245,000 farmers across the United States. It was a David and Goliath fight, but it successfully stopped thousands of foreclosures and permanently changed the way USDA treated farmers. Vogel will show how the lessons learned in the 1930s and 1980s farm depressions are again relevant as drought, floods, low prices, high costs, corporate consolidation, and uncertain federal policies squeeze out family farmers today.
Vogel, is an attorney, advocate, and author of The Farmer’s Lawyer, a memoir about her landmark class action lawsuit, Coleman v. Block. She brought this historic case against the federal government, on behalf of 240,000 family farmers facing foreclosure during the 1980s farm crisis. Vogel has spent most of her career as an advocate for family farmers, women, and Native Americans. She also served two terms as North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, and was the first woman in U.S. history to be elected to this position in any state. She currently serves as a Member of the Agriculture Subcommittee to USDA Equity Commission.
Part of the 2023 Great Plains Conference.
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[00:00:00.660]We have Sarah Vogel with us today.
[00:00:03.840]Sarah is an attorney, an advocate,
[00:00:07.290]and author of this book, "The Farmer's Lawyer."
[00:00:11.400]It's her memoir about the landmark class action lawsuit
[00:00:15.420]she was involved in called Coleman versus Block.
[00:00:19.110]She brought this historic case
[00:00:21.240]against the federal government
[00:00:22.500]on behalf of 240,000 family farmers
[00:00:26.280]who were facing foreclosure during the 1980s farm crisis,
[00:00:31.020]and she spent most of her career as an advocate
[00:00:33.480]for family farmers, women, and Native Americans.
[00:00:37.890]She also served two terms as the North Dakota
[00:00:40.830]commissioner of agriculture and was the first woman
[00:00:43.800]in US history to be elected to this position in any state.
[00:00:48.450]And she currently serves as a member
[00:00:50.580]of the Agriculture Subcommittee
[00:00:52.140]to the USDA Equity Commission.
[00:00:54.960]So we're so delighted to have you, Sarah,
[00:00:57.150]and thank you so much for coming
[00:00:58.530]all the way from Bismarck, and welcome.
[00:01:18.780]It's really a treat to be here,
[00:01:20.730]and I actually see quite a few people
[00:01:23.220]I've been bumping into over for many, many years
[00:01:26.760]around the room, so, hello, everybody,
[00:01:29.670]and thank you so much for allowing me to speak here today
[00:01:34.004]in this very august company.
[00:01:37.110]So I wrote the book "The Farmer's Lawyer."
[00:01:44.604]It was about the Coleman versus Block case,
[00:01:46.560]which was filed in 1983,
[00:01:48.960]and my phase of it more or less ended in 1985.
[00:01:53.220]It continued a couple more years
[00:01:55.710]as what I call the Coleman 2 case,
[00:01:59.580]and then it led to a lot of national reforms and so on.
[00:02:05.520]But my book is mostly about the early years
[00:02:09.480]and why I brought the case.
[00:02:11.730]And I thought somebody else would do it.
[00:02:15.540]We're in a room of historians.
[00:02:18.030]I thought a historian was gonna step up
[00:02:21.990]and write a book about this case, but none did.
[00:02:26.370]And I didn't keep a diary either,
[00:02:29.310]but I thought the book should be written.
[00:02:31.050]But what I did, instead of keeping a diary,
[00:02:33.690]and I'm not recommending this to future scholars or authors,
[00:02:37.470]but I saved every piece of paper that crossed my desk.
[00:02:41.220]I saved bills, I saved phone messages, I saved drafts.
[00:02:45.480]I saved, I wrote pity party notes to myself.
[00:02:52.770]I saved it all, and then I did a lot of research,
[00:02:57.150]and it took me 10 years
[00:03:01.920]to gather the stuff, to organize the material,
[00:03:08.100]and then it took me two years to write it
[00:03:10.667]with the help of a book coach.
[00:03:11.940]One of my challenges is I'm a lawyer,
[00:03:14.640]and lawyers never write in the first person, ever.
[00:03:20.100]So I had to like change my brain to write about myself
[00:03:24.420]and what I was going through.
[00:03:25.350]But I used, I, it's a memoir, but it's mostly,
[00:03:29.010]I wrote it because I was worried
[00:03:32.310]that there might be another farm depression
[00:03:36.660]and let's not lose the lessons of the last one.
[00:03:40.233]I spent a lot of time in this book talking about the 1930s,
[00:03:45.180]because that's kinda where I got the game plan
[00:03:50.400]for what to do in the 1980s.
[00:04:03.420]So in the 1980s when farms started,
[00:04:09.150]that didn't work.
[00:04:17.850]Has it stalled?
[00:04:27.030]Hooray, thank you. (laughs)
[00:04:31.707]And then the cover of the book,
[00:04:35.460]it was taken in 1982,
[00:04:40.050]and I think it would probably be in the late summer.
[00:04:44.220]And at that point in time, the 1980s farm crisis
[00:04:50.010]wasn't called the 1980s farm crisis yet,
[00:04:53.100]but there were so many farmers facing foreclosure,
[00:04:55.916]and it happened very suddenly,
[00:04:57.450]and there was a lot of national attention on it.
[00:05:00.240]I would get calls all the time
[00:05:02.550]from reporters from the East Coast saying,
[00:05:04.747]"We wanna come and watch a foreclosure."
[00:05:07.380]And I would just, like, after a while,
[00:05:09.390]I would just hang up because my job
[00:05:11.820]was to stop foreclosures,
[00:05:13.170]not to escort journalists to watch them.
[00:05:17.040]And but then one day, "Life Magazine" called,
[00:05:20.730]and they said, "We wanna do a story
[00:05:23.310]about farmers who are facing foreclosure,"
[00:05:26.400]and I said I would introduce them.
[00:05:28.770]They went out and back, they came to North Dakota,
[00:05:31.413]and they went out and back,
[00:05:32.640]and then they decided to do the story
[00:05:34.950]following me as I was working with farmers.
[00:05:38.610]So as a result, I've got these great
[00:05:43.710]and this one was taken in Burleigh County,
[00:05:46.260]and they used it as,
[00:05:48.060]the backdrop was the falling-down barn.
[00:05:51.600]The two farmers, Randy and Lois Oster,
[00:05:54.750]were some of my first clients.
[00:05:56.670]I'm holding a briefcase, you can't see it,
[00:05:58.830]but it was a symbol.
[00:06:01.440]But it was like the immensity of the problem
[00:06:03.450]and how tiny the farmers were
[00:06:06.270]in the big scheme of things that they were facing.
[00:06:10.620]And but why was I attracted
[00:06:15.000]to this cause?
[00:06:18.709]And it was because of the,
[00:06:23.460]I don't know, many historians in the room,
[00:06:25.675]but in North Dakota, we have our own political party
[00:06:29.160]called the Nonpartisan League,
[00:06:31.200]and it was started in 1917,
[00:06:33.960]and it was a coalition of farmers, organized labor,
[00:06:38.070]and to a great degree, Native Americans.
[00:06:41.940]And they, the idea was that they wanted
[00:06:45.360]to take control of the economy,
[00:06:47.370]and they did not want big biz to be running the economy.
[00:06:51.974]And this is a cartoon.
[00:06:53.174]They did a lot of their work through fabulous cartoons.
[00:06:57.150]And this cartoon shows
[00:07:01.919]the guy with the, who looks a lot like Uncle Sam,
[00:07:04.470]his name was Hiram Rube, and that was an abbreviation.
[00:07:08.850]Farmers didn't like to be called rubes.
[00:07:11.160]So they called this guy, this tall, handsome guy Hi,
[00:07:15.750]Hiram Rube, hi, I am a rube.
[00:07:20.097]And the other guy was labor, organized labor,
[00:07:22.563]so unions and farmers and they're organized,
[00:07:25.680]and the little fat guy wearing the waistcoat
[00:07:29.100]and the big belly, that was Big Biz,
[00:07:31.650]and that they wanted to, they said,
[00:07:35.430]they said the Big Biz, you know,
[00:07:36.667]"Thanks, you've done enough. We'll take over now."
[00:07:39.480]And they started a lot, they started state-owned industries.
[00:07:45.480]We still have over a hundred years later,
[00:07:47.550]the state-owned mill, the largest mill,
[00:07:50.280]grain mill, flour mill in North and South America.
[00:07:54.930]They give tours if you ever wanna go, it's here.
[00:07:58.494]We also have a state-owned bank owned by the state
[00:08:01.380]whose job it is to support local business,
[00:08:04.530]agriculture and so on, student loans.
[00:08:08.940]And we also had a lot of laws that were passed
[00:08:11.610]about farmer and debtor rights,
[00:08:13.080]many of which are still in existence.
[00:08:17.430]But the one I heard about the most growing up
[00:08:19.770]was the Langer foreclosure proclamation.
[00:08:24.090]foreclosure moratorium proclamation.
[00:08:26.250]And this was, this is the story I heard again and again
[00:08:30.630]is how Governor Langer, my grandfather was a chief advisor,
[00:08:35.520]had in 1933 stopped all state foreclosures in North Dakota
[00:08:41.010]by issuing a proclamation.
[00:08:43.920]And so this is something I just grew up with,
[00:08:48.240]saying that when farmers were facing economic troubles,
[00:08:52.290]the state should step up and help them
[00:08:55.800]and stop foreclosures, and if you did,
[00:08:58.650]the farmers would come back and would survive
[00:09:01.470]as long as they could ride out the bad times
[00:09:04.740]that occasionally inflicted them.
[00:09:06.780]And it seemed to be every 50 years.
[00:09:11.010]So in the 1980s, when farm foreclosures started to go,
[00:09:16.620]started to start up again,
[00:09:18.540]it started with a little federal agency
[00:09:21.480]called the Farmers Home Administration.
[00:09:25.350]It was a branch of USDA.
[00:09:27.360]It had been started in the '30s by FDR
[00:09:30.630]as the resettlement administration, an incredible history.
[00:09:35.640]But in the 1980s, they were the point of the spear
[00:09:39.990]in terms of starting foreclosures.
[00:09:42.270]This was under the Reagan administration,
[00:09:44.640]and he felt that government had no business
[00:09:48.210]in agriculture or making farm loans.
[00:09:51.150]So the thing to do would be close the agency down and stuff,
[00:09:54.490]you know, shut down all the farmers who were really behind
[00:09:57.627]and ultimately get out of that area.
[00:10:05.670]But in 1981, late '81,
[00:10:09.420]I moved back to North Dakota,
[00:10:11.340]and my last job in DC was special assistant
[00:10:13.890]to the secretary of the treasury.
[00:10:15.870]And I thought all the local banks were gonna be like,
[00:10:18.097]"Oh, boy, here comes a big shot, let's hire her."
[00:10:21.480]No way, that did not happen.
[00:10:26.010]But what did happen is I first had one farmer
[00:10:29.217]who I write about a bit in the book,
[00:10:31.380]and then he told other farmers,
[00:10:33.000]and that formed this farmers' grapevine.
[00:10:35.250]So suddenly I had all these farmers calling me
[00:10:38.910]with their tales of woe about how the Reagan administration
[00:10:43.530]was shutting them down
[00:10:45.030]and doing a very, very unfair manner.
[00:10:49.320]And by the time "Life Magazine" came out
[00:10:52.080]in the summer of '82, I had clients in Montana,
[00:10:55.620]North Dakota, Iowa, and there was,
[00:10:59.190]this is all pre-internet days, but in Iowa,
[00:11:04.380]in Minnesota, there's a group called,
[00:11:06.240]well, there was a lot of groups,
[00:11:08.220]a guy named Mark Ritchie, and Mark had a,
[00:11:13.140]he had the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
[00:11:16.440]and he came out with a like bimonthly or monthly list
[00:11:22.080]of all the news stories about this topic
[00:11:26.040]from all over the country.
[00:11:27.180]He collected clippings, and it circulated,
[00:11:29.670]and there were phone trees and all kinds of stuff.
[00:11:32.700]But my name would be in one of these booklets at page 182.
[00:11:37.777]"If you need legal help, call Sarah Vogel,"
[00:11:41.460]and that one out all over the country.
[00:11:43.830]And I was getting mail that said,
[00:11:45.067]"Sarah Vogel, North Dakota,"
[00:11:47.851]and I think they meant to help me.
[00:11:49.817]And so one of the places I went with "Life Magazine,"
[00:11:54.270]and so they made a record of it, was Montana,
[00:11:59.880]where there was a rancher who was facing foreclosure
[00:12:03.900]at the hands of USDA, and because it is a government agency,
[00:12:10.530]if you wanna have an appeal, you have to go through the,
[00:12:14.904]if you wanna go through them,
[00:12:16.224]you have to go through the available administrative remedy
[00:12:22.110]offered by the federal government.
[00:12:23.720]In this case, they had an appeal system at USDA
[00:12:28.260]that was extremely bad, unfair,
[00:12:34.020]but we had to go through it because if we didn't,
[00:12:37.440]we would not be able to stay in court
[00:12:39.930]longer than a month or two.
[00:12:42.840]So this client was Ralph Clark,
[00:12:46.200]and he was a rancher.
[00:12:51.424]He said he went through the eighth grade,
[00:12:53.706]but I actually think he, I don't know,
[00:12:56.430]he always used to say, "I forgot my glasses"
[00:12:58.380]whenever anybody, whenever he had to read anything.
[00:13:02.460]So, but he knew cattle, and he knew his land
[00:13:05.237]and he loved his land, and they were...
[00:13:09.180]Anyway, so we were going into this hearing,
[00:13:11.310]and I was working with the first of the farm advocates,
[00:13:15.360]Tom Nichols, who was fighting his own foreclosure,
[00:13:18.360]very, very talented guy, taught me a lot.
[00:13:22.470]And we had, so we were preparing
[00:13:27.240]for the hearing in Montana.
[00:13:29.310]The next day, we went to a hearing,
[00:13:33.390]and that's when I began to learn about doing these hearings,
[00:13:39.137]that what the farmers were up against.
[00:13:43.080]You can see the two people up there.
[00:13:46.830]One of them was the hearing officer
[00:13:49.980]who had signed off on Ralph's foreclosure.
[00:13:53.396]The other was the county supervisor
[00:13:55.380]who was administering that foreclosure
[00:13:58.860]by cutting off his income and salary.
[00:14:01.380]They were burning their homestead cabin for firewood
[00:14:05.790]at the previous slide.
[00:14:09.450]When Tom and I were getting ready,
[00:14:13.200]we had to do it by lamp light,
[00:14:14.940]because the electricity had been cut off, and that happened.
[00:14:19.500]They didn't have gas to go buy groceries.
[00:14:22.770]I mean, it was very, very tough.
[00:14:27.660]But these, so we go to this hearing, and of course we lose.
[00:14:33.750]I lost every single hearing I did, every single one.
[00:14:38.340]And but I used to tell my clients, "Just wait.
[00:14:43.350]Someday there will be a judge who will hear this story."
[00:14:48.180]And this is something we just had to go through,
[00:14:50.400]but what it did is it made me add to the lawsuits.
[00:14:56.310]There were lawsuits being filed around the country.
[00:15:01.317]I'm skipping a slide.
[00:15:04.005]Well, I'm gonna jump up ahead,
[00:15:05.940]and then I'm gonna go backwards.
[00:15:08.670]Wait, no, maybe there's no slide, I'll tell you about.
[00:15:13.034]I'll tell you about,
[00:15:13.867]there was a law passed by Congress in 1978,
[00:15:17.220]and it said that whenever a farmer, a borrower
[00:15:21.930]had suffered circumstances beyond his control,
[00:15:28.170]that were due to circumstances that he had no control over,
[00:15:33.562]then the farmer could apply for a deferral,
[00:15:36.772]and the USDA may give a deferral
[00:15:39.780]and allow them extra time.
[00:15:43.305]And that was because Congress saw this coming in '78,
[00:15:47.668]and they put this deferral law in place.
[00:15:49.980]But USDA refused to implement that law.
[00:15:52.320]They said, "May means we may,
[00:15:54.180]that we may need to follow the law, or we may not,
[00:15:57.990]and we decided we are not gonna follow the law."
[00:16:00.930]And our argument was that may meant the farmer
[00:16:05.280]may qualify or may not, but he sure gets to apply
[00:16:09.270]and set out his case, and as it turned out,
[00:16:12.720]judges were, almost always agreed
[00:16:15.900]with our definition of may.
[00:16:19.560]In any event, we had this hearing,
[00:16:24.270]and Ralph lost.
[00:16:26.760]And I remember telling him that this does, you know,
[00:16:29.737]"Don't worry, someday we'll be in court."
[00:16:32.460]But he was really quite bitter.
[00:16:34.920]20 years later, he showed up as this ranch
[00:16:39.720]that I was trying to defend at the time
[00:16:41.910]was the place where the Freeman gathered in Montana.
[00:16:48.060]And there were 90 FBI, armed FBI and military at,
[00:16:52.650]federal military people surrounding his farm,
[00:16:55.200]because basically the Posse Comitatus
[00:16:57.570]had told Ralph Clark, "We'll help you keep your farm,"
[00:17:03.284]and that was the root.
[00:17:04.947]And lots of people went to jail,
[00:17:07.440]but luckily nobody was killed at that particular thing.
[00:17:11.520]But one of the reasons why I felt so strongly about this
[00:17:14.910]is that if you, if the federal government
[00:17:17.010]doesn't give due process to people,
[00:17:19.740]they go to the dark side.
[00:17:21.960]They try to find some other,
[00:17:25.170]somebody else who will help them.
[00:17:26.970]And so that was something
[00:17:28.139]that was going on a lot in the '80s.
[00:17:29.910]And there were many, many people in this room
[00:17:32.940]who were trying to combat that by trying to provide
[00:17:37.080]fair processes where farmers and ranchers felt
[00:17:40.590]that they got a fair hearing
[00:17:41.850]and that the laws were being followed
[00:17:42.987]and the Constitution was being followed.
[00:17:45.540]So I do digress a bit, but I will keep rolling here.
[00:17:51.960]The summer of '82, I had quite a number of clients,
[00:17:56.580]and I wanted to, I decided I wanted to file a class action
[00:18:02.790]using lead plaintiffs who would illustrate
[00:18:06.180]all the different things that had happened
[00:18:08.550]to all the farmers I was working with.
[00:18:12.327]And I think class actions are a really,
[00:18:15.270]a wonderful way for little people to obtain relief.
[00:18:22.380]You know, things that you can't do alone,
[00:18:24.120]maybe you can do together.
[00:18:26.040]So I found Dwight Coleman.
[00:18:28.800]He was just a beginning farmer.
[00:18:30.750]He hadn't even had two years, and he'd had a blizzard.
[00:18:34.860]Like he was up by the Canadian border,
[00:18:39.180]and they had weather. (laughs)
[00:18:42.810]But his wheat crop was killed by a blizzard.
[00:18:47.490]There was a fire in the barn.
[00:18:49.470]You know, he had like a string of bad luck,
[00:18:52.020]but he had his, he pulled together his land.
[00:18:55.140]He had machinery, he wanted to farm.
[00:18:58.680]He was from a long-time farm family.
[00:19:01.170]And they said, "You're out."
[00:19:05.182]And he said, "I'm just a beginning farmer.
[00:19:06.840]I've only been here two years. Why am I out?"
[00:19:09.930]And they said, "Well, you're out."
[00:19:12.480]So when I met him, I thought,
[00:19:15.517]"Could there be anybody more blameless?"
[00:19:18.240]You know, 'cause like the federal government
[00:19:20.340]liked to smear the people who were suing them
[00:19:25.800]as being bad farmers.
[00:19:26.797]"That's why we're shutting 'em down. They're bad farmers."
[00:19:29.741]So Dwight was perfect 'cause he was young, he'd just begun.
[00:19:32.100]He had done nothing wrong.
[00:19:34.020]And then alphabetically, the next clients I had
[00:19:37.800]were Lester and Sharon Crows Heart.
[00:19:40.380]They were from Fort Berthold,
[00:19:42.300]and I wanted to use them as plaintiffs.
[00:19:45.870]By the way, I had to reach out.
[00:19:48.060]I almost never had to look for a farmer
[00:19:51.390]because the farmers were finding me,
[00:19:53.157]but the Native Americans
[00:19:54.450]had a different communication system.
[00:19:56.970]So I communicated by somebody who was going up
[00:20:01.620]to Fort Berthold saying I was looking for a client
[00:20:04.470]and would anybody wanna participate?
[00:20:06.540]And I got a call from Lester and Sharon,
[00:20:09.030]and they told me a story
[00:20:10.110]that I'd never heard anything quite so bad.
[00:20:14.700]Not only had the government taken their cows
[00:20:18.870]and their income, but Lester told me,
[00:20:22.260]when he was telling me what had happened to them.
[00:20:24.720]And by the way, they had been farming up there
[00:20:29.280]as Deb Echo-Hawk was talking, thousands of years,
[00:20:35.408]the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara,
[00:20:37.200]and I just learned today that the Arikara came from here.
[00:20:42.750]So, but when Lester's income stream
[00:20:48.630]from farming and ranching was completely cut off
[00:20:51.087]and the bank account was emptied,
[00:20:53.640]he started working for other area ranchers,
[00:20:56.070]all the, you know, trucking and this and that.
[00:20:58.830]And what the government did,
[00:21:00.330]is because most of the Native Americans were with USDA
[00:21:04.732]and they had control of their bank accounts,
[00:21:06.150]they just took Lester's salary.
[00:21:10.620]They would write a check, and they just took his salary.
[00:21:12.870]I could not believe it, but that's what they did.
[00:21:16.837]That's how the Native Americans were treated.
[00:21:19.560]And I remember that, you know, all these years.
[00:21:23.640]So he was in, he and Sharon were in.
[00:21:27.480]Russell and Anna Mae Folmer were Republican, in their 50s,
[00:21:32.490]and they're Bismarck, salt of the earth,
[00:21:34.350]school board, 22 years.
[00:21:36.060]They were getting shut down because they were dairy farmers
[00:21:39.300]and there had been drought,
[00:21:41.070]so they had to buy feed, et cetera.
[00:21:44.280]George and June Hatfield were crop,
[00:21:47.370]you know, mixed farmers, crop farmers.
[00:21:50.610]They had suffered enormous
[00:21:52.770]mal-administration of their loans.
[00:21:56.310]And they were rock stars, rock star farmers, I felt.
[00:22:01.920]And then Don and Diane McCabe,
[00:22:03.900]who were small dairy farmers who were,
[00:22:07.440]who I'd been working with for quite a while.
[00:22:09.120]And they, by the way, became early farm advocates,
[00:22:13.500]and they went around helping other farmers.
[00:22:16.740]So these were my nine lead plaintiffs,
[00:22:22.611]and they illustrated different things, you know,
[00:22:25.787]'cause someday, I would tell them
[00:22:28.020]as we went through all these horrible hearings,
[00:22:30.060]I would say, "Someday we'll be telling it to a judge.
[00:22:32.997]You can tell your story to a judge."
[00:22:36.786]And this is the judge we had, Judge Bruce Van Sickle.
[00:22:41.730]My dad told me, by the way, my dad saved me.
[00:22:45.360]I was not financially successful
[00:22:51.990]as a lawyer specializing with clients who had no money
[00:22:56.557]and whose bank accounts had been emptied.
[00:23:02.250]It wasn't the best mix of clients in that,
[00:23:05.600]but that's what I wanted to do.
[00:23:06.927]And so my own, I lost my own house.
[00:23:09.270]My phone was disconnected,
[00:23:11.190]which was one of the roughest day of my life.
[00:23:13.350]But I'll tell you a little story
[00:23:14.520]about what happened that day.
[00:23:16.560]This was also in the summer,
[00:23:18.263]I think probably later summer of maybe,
[00:23:23.670]I can, probably fall of '82.
[00:23:27.810]I was working on somebody's appeal,
[00:23:30.690]and I had a little office,
[00:23:32.133]'cause I could just gotten a,
[00:23:35.670]I thought I might get a grant from somebody.
[00:23:38.970]And so I picked up the phone to call Russell Folmer,
[00:23:44.760]I remember this like it was yesterday,
[00:23:46.980]and the phone was dead.
[00:23:48.840]And I walked down the hall to somebody else's office
[00:23:51.090]and said, "Are the phones out in the building?"
[00:23:53.747]And they said, "No, our phone works fine."
[00:23:56.790]Then I said, "Can I use your phone?"
[00:23:57.990]I called phone company, and the phone company said,
[00:24:01.807]"You're delinquent on your phone bill,
[00:24:04.290]and to reconnect you have to pay twice the amount"
[00:24:07.770]because it was a business phone line,
[00:24:09.720]and then it was worth something.
[00:24:11.970]Anyway, I went back to my office and I cried.
[00:24:17.430]I turned off the lights, I lay on the floor,
[00:24:19.650]and I cried for quite a while,
[00:24:22.410]'cause I thought, "My career's over."
[00:24:24.480]A lawyer without a phone is, you know,
[00:24:28.500]like a farmer without land, you know?
[00:24:32.039]I don't know, but it was bad,
[00:24:34.140]probably one of the worst moments of my life.
[00:24:36.270]And then anyway, eventually I had to go to the bathroom
[00:24:39.240]and went in the hall, it was in the basement.
[00:24:41.878]It was a basement office, no windows,
[00:24:44.190]fluorescent lights overhead, you know,
[00:24:45.810]everybody looks horrible.
[00:24:48.428]And so I walk out of my office,
[00:24:49.530]and there's a couple standing there.
[00:24:51.780]They're waiting for me.
[00:24:53.760]But I walk by them, and I go to the bathroom,
[00:24:56.700]and I come back out, and they said, "Are you Sarah Vogel?"
[00:25:00.726]And I go, "Yes," and they said,
[00:25:01.627]"We had an appointment with you. We heard you crying."
[00:25:08.107]"And we were calling to you, and but are you okay?"
[00:25:14.910]So I invited them in, and I told them that,
[00:25:18.630]I told them my phone had been disconnected and so on.
[00:25:21.717]And they said, "We came here to hire you,"
[00:25:25.600]and they had already lost.
[00:25:28.530]The government had come with their trucks,
[00:25:30.630]they'd taken the cows, they'd taken the machinery,
[00:25:32.997]you know, emptied it out, and but they still had their land,
[00:25:37.560]and they wanted to save their land.
[00:25:38.577]And so she had borrowed money from her father,
[00:25:41.310]and they said, "We have," I can't remember
[00:25:44.050]if it was two or $3,000.
[00:25:49.770]I think it was three, they had $3,000,
[00:25:52.437]and they wanted to hire me to protect their farm.
[00:25:56.940]And I said, "I can't, I have no phone.
[00:26:00.840]I can't keep on, this is, I'm done, this is it."
[00:26:05.010]And they looked at each other,
[00:26:09.960]and then he said, "Okay, we understand
[00:26:14.400]you can't take our case, but will you take a loan,
[00:26:18.240]because we farmers need you."
[00:26:21.328]Well, that was one of, you know,
[00:26:24.060]so I got the phone reconnected, I took the loan.
[00:26:28.830]I ended up, I did like six, seven months later
[00:26:32.400]did stop the foreclosure on their farm
[00:26:35.061]'cause by then we had an injunction.
[00:26:37.050]But anyway, leading up to, this is the judge we had,
[00:26:42.120]and he was a Republican.
[00:26:44.280]He'd been in the legislature, he'd been a bank lawyer,
[00:26:47.790]he'd been a military officer,
[00:26:49.530]which I think was extremely important,
[00:26:52.650]and he'd grown up in the '30s,
[00:26:56.310]and he remembered farming by horseback in the drought.
[00:27:01.549]He was a fair man, a very fair man.
[00:27:04.860]I mean, and there was a judge, federal judge, 80 miles away.
[00:27:11.550]And my dad said, "Don't go there.
[00:27:14.610]You have to go 280 miles."
[00:27:16.200]'Cause by then I moved into my parents' basement.
[00:27:20.047]"You have to go 280 miles to,
[00:27:22.192]you have to have Judge Van Sickle, he's your judge."
[00:27:24.840]So we filed it with Judge Van Sickle,
[00:27:27.720]and I won't go through the whole rigamarole,
[00:27:32.250]that's all in the book about how we prepared the case.
[00:27:35.670]I basically, what we did is we basically strung,
[00:27:42.750]we worked undercover, and we went through
[00:27:46.740]all these appeal hearings, and we gathered data,
[00:27:49.890]we gathered evidence and wrote the briefs,
[00:27:52.230]and in the meantime, the word went out
[00:27:55.410]that we were going to file a case.
[00:27:58.077]And I remember when I moved to Grand Forks,
[00:28:00.990]I got a call from Burt Neuborne.
[00:28:05.430]He said, "I'm Burt Neuborne.
[00:28:07.260]I'm the national litigation director in the national ACLU.
[00:28:11.760]We heard you have quite the case. Can we help you?"
[00:28:16.620]And then during the summer or fall of '82,
[00:28:21.000]my father had told me, well, he was losing sleep,
[00:28:25.200]you know, because here I was planning this big class action
[00:28:30.120]from my basement or from my house and locked out.
[00:28:34.770]Anyway, he knew about all my financial troubles,
[00:28:36.840]'cause I was borrowing money from him.
[00:28:39.253]I didn't wanna work for him,
[00:28:40.086]but I wanted to borrow money from him.
[00:28:43.543]He had a law practice.
[00:28:44.376]I thought if I went to work with him,
[00:28:46.020]he'd make me do work on his cases.
[00:28:48.090]I wanted to work on this.
[00:28:50.161]But what he did is he sent me
[00:28:53.030]to a national seminar with the American Trial Lawyers,
[00:28:57.000]now called the American,
[00:29:03.330]National Association for Justice,
[00:29:06.300]and lawyers that I deeply, deeply respect and admire.
[00:29:10.950]And so I was, I went to the seminar,
[00:29:14.880]and I met a young guy from, at the time, New Jersey.
[00:29:19.470]And I was waiting in the lobby after the seminar.
[00:29:21.870]I'd learned a lot.
[00:29:23.400]And he had a speaker tag, 'cause he was giving a speech,
[00:29:26.730]and he came up, and he visited, "Where are you from?
[00:29:31.361]I said, "I'm from North Dakota."
[00:29:32.677]"I love North Dakota," he said.
[00:29:34.770]Nobody hardly ever says that.
[00:29:38.885]He said, "I love North Dakota."
[00:29:39.877]"I drove through North Dakota once,
[00:29:41.573]and the sunset was so glorious,
[00:29:43.500]I had to pull to the side on the road and just watch it."
[00:29:47.070]And then I said, "And it's about farmers."
[00:29:48.967]"I love farmers!" he said.
[00:29:51.157]"My dad was a farmer."
[00:29:53.040]They were World War II refugees,
[00:29:54.810]and they went to New Jersey,
[00:29:55.830]and they were chicken farmers, and they were foreclosed.
[00:29:58.470]So he said, "I love farmers."
[00:30:00.600]And then I said, "And it's against the federal government."
[00:30:03.307]"I hate the federal government!"
[00:30:06.771]So, and then he said, "Can I,"
[00:30:09.090]I said, "Well," you know,
[00:30:10.320]and he said, "Can I work with you on this?"
[00:30:11.907]Here he was, a faculty member.
[00:30:14.340]He'd already gone for the people
[00:30:15.827]at the Three Mile Island
[00:30:17.610]nuclear waste catastrophe, brilliant.
[00:30:21.480]So like these lawyers pop up to help.
[00:30:24.870]So I had the national ACLU,
[00:30:27.360]the Constitutional Party, the class action expert,
[00:30:31.140]and then I knew the farmers,
[00:30:33.120]and you know, and the farmers had their stories.
[00:30:35.400]So we started it as a statewide class action
[00:30:39.360]with the nine lead plaintiffs.
[00:30:41.490]It became a state, was certified as a class soon thereafter,
[00:30:46.920]and the judge stopped all foreclosures, cold turkey,
[00:30:52.320]just a month or so after we filed it.
[00:30:55.993]And that stopped a lot of foreclosures in North Dakota,
[00:30:59.820]but it protected 8,400 farmers in North Dakota.
[00:31:05.010]And then we flew from that hearing
[00:31:09.570]on the preliminary injunction to Des Moines.
[00:31:13.020]We lawyers flew off to Des Moines,
[00:31:15.960]and there was a national meeting of distressed farmers
[00:31:20.310]and farm organizations from all over the country.
[00:31:23.520]And I kept hearing down there,
[00:31:26.677]"Can you do it in our states? Can you do it more?"
[00:31:30.690]And this was really a hard thing,
[00:31:32.310]because like doing a national class action
[00:31:34.200]is not at all easy.
[00:31:39.420]And but so I was like wondering, "Should we do this?"
[00:31:44.880]And there were other cases being brought,
[00:31:46.590]but they were having less luck,
[00:31:48.360]'cause they didn't have as good a judge
[00:31:51.900]as we did, quite frankly.
[00:31:54.210]The legal on it was probably very good.
[00:31:56.460]They also probably had,
[00:31:58.080]weren't able to bring up all the constitutional claims
[00:32:00.720]because they hadn't suffered through those
[00:32:03.150]the way my North Dakotans had.
[00:32:06.480]So one night in the middle of the night,
[00:32:10.350]about two in the morning, and by the way,
[00:32:13.020]I always answered the phone,
[00:32:15.777]and I pretty much always talked
[00:32:17.400]as long as a farmer wanted to talk
[00:32:20.130]because they were so distressed,
[00:32:25.170]and like just to talk to somebody
[00:32:27.326]sometimes was what they needed.
[00:32:31.170]But it was two in the morning,
[00:32:32.580]and the farmer was from Mississippi.
[00:32:35.340]He said, "I'm from Mississippi."
[00:32:36.420]He gave his name, I can't remember.
[00:32:38.880]He said, "I'm from Mississippi, and there are so many of us
[00:32:41.543]down in Mississippi that are going through
[00:32:44.130]the same troubles, and can you help us?"
[00:32:47.490]And I said, "Can you call me in the morning?"
[00:32:51.270]And he said, "I don't know if I can make it that long."
[00:32:54.870]So the next day we pulled the lawyers together
[00:33:00.307]and phone calls and stuff,
[00:33:01.140]and we decided we would turn it
[00:33:03.060]into a national class action
[00:33:05.040]even though it was way past the deadline
[00:33:06.990]to do so with our judge.
[00:33:10.560]But when it became a national class action,
[00:33:13.800]it covered 240,000 farmers,
[00:33:18.360]and there were 16,000 foreclosures in court
[00:33:24.180]or in the process if they didn't need to go to court,
[00:33:26.820]'cause some states have non-judicial foreclosures,
[00:33:29.280]which is a pretty awful situation.
[00:33:32.580]So one of the smoothest moves I've ever heard of by a,
[00:33:37.830]I'll call him a bureaucrat, was the judge's chief law clerk.
[00:33:44.730]He sent out a notice to all the clerks of court,
[00:33:47.220]his counterparts in all the states,
[00:33:49.140]all the federal clerk courts across America.
[00:33:51.720]And he said, "And if any of you have
[00:33:53.790]any foreclosure cases in court, you can send them to us."
[00:33:58.440]And they all bit on that.
[00:34:00.363]They knew, nobody wants to do a foreclosure.
[00:34:03.180]So he pulled together all those,
[00:34:05.280]and then he had prospective relief going,
[00:34:08.310]and they'd stopped cold turkey
[00:34:11.580]the federal government foreclosing.
[00:34:13.740]And then that's when the federal government
[00:34:19.170]became very retaliatory.
[00:34:22.170]They tried to repeal the law then
[00:34:25.050]and the regulations that we relied on to build our case.
[00:34:27.930]They tried to repeal due process.
[00:34:30.450]Congress wouldn't let 'em do that.
[00:34:32.670]And then by that point I had, I thought the case was done.
[00:34:36.720]We had a national final permanent injunction.
[00:34:39.150]The government had not, they oddly enough didn't appeal,
[00:34:43.110]but I think that's because they were planning
[00:34:45.240]on gutting the laws on which we relied.
[00:34:48.300]So that's when the Farmers' Legal Action Group
[00:34:53.880]and Willie Nelson came in.
[00:34:56.490]Willie Nelson did a concert in '85
[00:35:00.341]and raised a ton of money.
[00:35:01.197]And one of the things he did is he called a lawyer
[00:35:04.170]in Minnesota, and Jim Massey, who had been,
[00:35:07.110]who'd brought a Minnesota case
[00:35:08.640]that hadn't worked out as well,
[00:35:10.890]and he folded his case into our case.
[00:35:14.980]And he called Jim Massey, and he said,
[00:35:17.377]"Would you like to start a law firm
[00:35:20.040]that would represent farmers?"
[00:35:21.117]And that became the Farmers' Legal Action Group.
[00:35:23.250]Stand up, Jessica, she used to work there.
[00:35:28.800]But that's how Farmers' Legal Action Group came about,
[00:35:31.590]and they still are doing work.
[00:35:32.940]And if anybody ever has any question on any topic,
[00:35:35.880]there's a manual on that written by a FLAG
[00:35:38.430]in English that people can understand.
[00:35:42.103]And then in 1987, Congress came to the rescue,
[00:35:45.076]very much bipartisan, very much bipartisan,
[00:35:48.207]and they passed a law that basically created
[00:35:52.230]debt settlement options and hearings.
[00:35:54.630]And they called part of the relief that was in that law,
[00:36:00.124]it was a very big law,
[00:36:01.530]but part of the relief was called the Coleman Reforms,
[00:36:04.320]which really makes me happy because it gave due process
[00:36:07.770]to farmers, neutral hearing officers.
[00:36:10.230]It's the origin story of what is now
[00:36:12.240]the National Appeals Division of USDA.
[00:36:15.300]But the job, by the way, is not yet done
[00:36:18.840]because this Cadillac of appeals system,
[00:36:21.540]the National Appeals Division,
[00:36:24.060]cannot consider discrimination issues,
[00:36:28.260]which is something I think needs to change.
[00:36:31.740]And I'm on it, I'm trying.
[00:36:34.380]I hold grudges a long time.
[00:36:38.820]So there are many farm,
[00:36:42.784]I gotta click again here a little,
[00:36:45.990]there are many, many organizations,
[00:36:50.910]I think, that the grassroots organizations
[00:36:53.550]that were very, very, very, very helpful
[00:36:56.910]Center for Rural Affairs here in Nebraska
[00:36:59.517]was one of them.
[00:37:00.874]And I think back then it was a lot smaller.
[00:37:03.330]It was in Walthill.
[00:37:05.130]I don't know if it still is in Walthill, I think not, but-
[00:37:11.220]Okay, well, good, but like I used to send,
[00:37:15.000]because we couldn't handle all the phone calls on all,
[00:37:18.210]at our little office.
[00:37:20.250]Like, calls are coming from all over the country.
[00:37:21.990]So every time we filed anything,
[00:37:24.000]we sent a copy of it to, like to FLAG,
[00:37:29.490]to Center for Rural Affairs,
[00:37:31.230]to Prairie Fire Rural Action,
[00:37:33.180]and then another organization.
[00:37:35.910]And then they would make copies
[00:37:38.160]and sell them for eight bucks or whatever,
[00:37:41.970]and then the word would get out.
[00:37:43.800]So we didn't have internet, we didn't have stuff like that,
[00:37:47.280]but we had the nails, and we had the communication.
[00:37:52.890]That communication worked pretty well back then, actually.
[00:37:56.550]So, and then the farmers unions, state and national,
[00:38:00.750]were also very important.
[00:38:03.480]And then in the middle of all of this,
[00:38:04.910]in 1984, the movie "Country" came out.
[00:38:10.230]And the movie "Country" was basically a dramatization
[00:38:15.300]of what the farmers are going through
[00:38:17.010]with the Farmers Home Administration.
[00:38:20.130]It's like a documentary starring Sam Shepard
[00:38:25.290]and Jessica Lange, and it tells the story
[00:38:27.900]of pretty much a typical Iowa farm family.
[00:38:30.540]They could've been our Iowa lead plaintiffs.
[00:38:33.510]And if any of you have a chance to see
[00:38:36.300]what was going on in the '80s and you wanna feel it,
[00:38:39.840]feel it, not just read it but feel it,
[00:38:42.870]watch the movie "Country."
[00:38:44.970]I was sending pleadings and affidavits of our clients
[00:38:50.070]to Jessica Lange because I happened to be roommates
[00:38:53.160]with her sister Jane in college.
[00:38:55.770]So she had heard from Jane that I was doing this,
[00:38:59.010]and she was doing this movie, and so,
[00:39:01.620]and then eventually, I mean, she was testifying in Congress,
[00:39:04.633]and to me, the movie "Country" really changed the narrative,
[00:39:09.960]and for me, so like, it was very, very important.
[00:39:15.810]And also in the '80s, something developed
[00:39:21.720]called the Farm Advocate Movement,
[00:39:29.100]this woman is Lou Anne Kling,
[00:39:33.360]and we're all gonna tear up here.
[00:39:38.040]Lou Anne Kling was a woman
[00:39:40.890]with maybe a high school education.
[00:39:43.560]She was a farmer in Minnesota,
[00:39:45.660]and her neighbor got in trouble,
[00:39:48.245]and Lou Anne was really, really smart.
[00:39:50.667]And she got the regulations and she read them,
[00:39:53.280]and she studied them and she like memorized them.
[00:39:56.100]And she would go in to, with her neighbor,
[00:39:59.610]and then many neighbors and then,
[00:40:03.570]and she'd go talk to the farmers union people and say,
[00:40:06.875]"Well, how about you do this? How about you do that?
[00:40:09.210]Can't you do this with the loan?"
[00:40:11.373]And she would like, she knew the numbers,
[00:40:13.500]and she would, anyway, Lou Anne was the first
[00:40:16.440]of the farm advocates, which by the way,
[00:40:19.477]Lou Anne learned how to do this
[00:40:21.030]by circling back to the '30s
[00:40:23.790]when they had the Farm Holiday Association.
[00:40:26.520]They used to stop foreclosures
[00:40:28.445]and then the next day become the bidding committee
[00:40:31.020]and go negotiate with the bankruptcy.
[00:40:32.700]So she had talked to Holiday Association
[00:40:35.070]and to Tom Nichols, who was doing this out in Montana.
[00:40:39.450]But then Lou Anne trained other people.
[00:40:42.060]She went from farm to farm.
[00:40:43.920]She was like the Johnny Appleseed of the farm advocates.
[00:40:47.040]And suddenly there was a movement, there was help.
[00:40:50.400]And it was like, as a lawyer,
[00:40:53.310]I knew nothing about farming, nothing at all.
[00:40:57.300]Farmers had to tell me everything about it.
[00:40:59.370]Like, the first time I talked to a farmer,
[00:41:01.260]he told me he didn't get his operating loan until July.
[00:41:05.497]And I went, "Well, good."
[00:41:06.723]And they said, "No, no, that is not good.
[00:41:10.230]You have to plant in May.
[00:41:11.880]You don't want your loan,
[00:41:13.530]you want your loan before you have to plant."
[00:41:15.720]And like, I mean, I was just ignorant, ignorant, ignorant.
[00:41:18.570]But the farmers would, they loved to talk about farming,
[00:41:22.200]and they loved to educate.
[00:41:23.280]So they would teach me all about what they,
[00:41:27.150]what I needed to know.
[00:41:28.500]So she became the first in Minnesota.
[00:41:31.830]I remember when she came to North Dakota,
[00:41:34.290]and she trained farm advocates,
[00:41:35.790]including Native American farm advocates,
[00:41:38.010]Claryca Mandan among them,
[00:41:40.800]and it was very important.
[00:41:45.240]And by the way, the framework of the farm advocates
[00:41:50.640]is still there, but many states
[00:41:53.670]have let them fall into disuse.
[00:41:56.310]But that can be amped up if people care,
[00:42:00.180]if politicians care about it today.
[00:42:04.140]And during this period, in part because of Lester
[00:42:08.550]and the part of Lester and Sharon Crows Heart
[00:42:12.570]and in part because of Claryca Mandan,
[00:42:15.120]who was another Native American farmer from Fort Berthold,
[00:42:18.660]and because I was learning what was going on
[00:42:20.990]in the reservations, which was much harsher
[00:42:23.910]than elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in our country,
[00:42:28.140]Black farmers, of course, were treated
[00:42:32.610]way worse, of course, by USDA.
[00:42:36.090]So what happened then is there was a Black farmer case
[00:42:42.270]brought against USDA again,
[00:42:49.830]1997, and eventually because of the way
[00:42:54.600]USDA had been behaving, they'd been getting,
[00:42:57.870]telling people, "If you have a discrimination complaint
[00:43:00.060]because of civil rights,
[00:43:01.440]write to this Office of Civil Rights
[00:43:04.230]and tell us what your problem is."
[00:43:06.150]That was a dead storage unit.
[00:43:09.030]They never opened them, they didn't look at them,
[00:43:11.760]and this went on for years.
[00:43:14.220]And when Congress found out about that,
[00:43:16.020]they gave a retroactive 20-year statute of limitations
[00:43:19.230]to any farmer, any farmer or rancher who was a minority
[00:43:25.170]to sue USDA for discrimination
[00:43:27.330]under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act,
[00:43:29.700]which Black farmers did, too.
[00:43:32.070]And then, and just a month or so
[00:43:34.140]before the statute of limitations
[00:43:37.290]for this 20-year period ended, there was another lawsuit
[00:43:42.900]called Keepseagle versus Vilsack that was filed,
[00:43:47.970]and I was one of the original lawyers on that,
[00:43:50.310]and that drug on.
[00:43:52.500]I mean, the Coleman case ended in roughly,
[00:43:56.790]my phase of it ended in two years.
[00:43:58.920]The Coleman 2 ended in another two years,
[00:44:02.130]but the Keepseagle case went on
[00:44:04.171]for 19 years and nine months.
[00:44:07.410]I like to say 20, 'cause that's a round number,
[00:44:09.810]but I can't, 'cause in 19 years and nine months,
[00:44:13.100]it was unbelievable resistance
[00:44:15.930]that there was by the Department of Justice.
[00:44:19.260]So let's see, anyway,
[00:44:25.050]break ahead to the happy ending. (laughs)
[00:44:28.170]There's Claryca in the middle with all their hands raised,
[00:44:33.574]Porter Holder from Oklahoma
[00:44:35.550]and Marilyn Keepseagle from Standing Rock,
[00:44:38.640]and we had just won.
[00:44:41.967]And that case was,
[00:44:46.230]anyway, USDA settled and paid
[00:44:57.744]It would've been cheaper to follow the law.
[00:45:01.890]It also required, the settlement also required
[00:45:04.200]the creation of the Council for Native Farming and Ranching,
[00:45:07.350]which was set up inside USDA and lasted for five years.
[00:45:11.100]I was a member, well, I guess it lasted eight,
[00:45:13.367]yeah, it lasted eight years,
[00:45:15.630]and we met like several times a year
[00:45:17.700]and gave USDA advice on how to deal
[00:45:20.400]with the special challenges Native Americans faced.
[00:45:25.260]But there were 4,300 claims, and many fewer claims
[00:45:29.370]than we thought we would ever have
[00:45:30.870]despite massive amounts of,
[00:45:36.270]massive amounts of advertising.
[00:45:37.770]So there was a great deal of leftover money,
[00:45:41.760]and we had $238 million left over.
[00:45:48.630]And the government wanted to grab it back,
[00:45:51.098]and we said, "Uh-uh, we're gonna keep it,
[00:45:54.600]and we're gonna keep it for the class,"
[00:45:56.310]and the judge allowed to amend the settlement agreement
[00:45:59.780]so that we could do that.
[00:46:02.400]And then we gave away, the lawyers gave away $36 million
[00:46:07.890]in fast-track money with grants.
[00:46:10.110]And we brought in a lot of advisors,
[00:46:13.470]one of whom, stand up, Deb Echo-Hawk,
[00:46:16.557]Deb Echo-Hawk's daughter Crystal.
[00:46:21.890]So Crystal, who's a wiz, guided us
[00:46:24.600]through this whole grant process, it was amazing.
[00:46:28.830]And then we gave, then farmers eventually got,
[00:46:31.380]another 78 million ranchers got another $78 million.
[00:46:36.570]And then the balance of about, I think about,
[00:46:41.580]I'm gonna be rough, you know, give or take a few millions,
[00:46:44.970]you know, 190 million or so went to create
[00:46:48.930]the Native American Agriculture Fund,
[00:46:51.570]which has been making grants.
[00:46:56.549]And this is really, to me, it's so exciting,
[00:46:59.100]and it follows up on the seminar
[00:47:01.350]that we were able to sit in a little bit
[00:47:04.260]with Deb Echo-Hawk and the corn savers because this is,
[00:47:08.820]I really do believe that the methods
[00:47:11.610]of Native American farming and ranching
[00:47:13.860]are going to be the future, and this fund, this grant,
[00:47:18.630]this foundation, reimagine this,
[00:47:23.490]their slogan is Reimagining Native Food Economies.
[00:47:27.630]And they make grants all over the country,
[00:47:30.240]and they're in, I don't know, the third or fourth year,
[00:47:33.690]and it's like a game-changer.
[00:47:35.100]It's really, really neat what they're doing.
[00:47:39.990]And the picture of, sorry,
[00:47:47.490]so this is a picture of the USDA Equity Commission,
[00:47:51.180]and I'm in the second row looking to the left
[00:47:56.760]because somebody said, "Watch the lights,"
[00:47:59.040]'cause they were very, very bright.
[00:48:00.960]So I looked over and watched the lights.
[00:48:03.510]Everybody else is looking at the camera.
[00:48:06.900]But there's a mix of people, really amazing people
[00:48:10.620]on this commission and the Ag Advisory Committee.
[00:48:12.960]And there's also a Rural Development Committee,
[00:48:17.340]and they're in the, they're set up by Congress,
[00:48:19.770]and they're making recommendations to USDA
[00:48:23.130]on finally eradicating discrimination.
[00:48:29.070]So this is the last,
[00:48:31.860]a piece of the last paragraph of my book.
[00:48:35.550]I wrote the whole book for the last five pages,
[00:48:38.400]basically saying there could be another farm depression,
[00:48:42.420]and if so, let's remember the lesson in the past
[00:48:45.927]and not let it happen again.
[00:48:48.120]We don't want the '30s again.
[00:48:49.620]We don't want the '80s again.
[00:48:51.090]We don't want that suffering.
[00:48:53.430]So let's not let it happen.
[00:48:56.906]So I wrote, "I hope this book will sow seeds
[00:49:00.000]for a future agriculture system
[00:49:02.370]that is based on human needs and human values.
[00:49:06.780]The people who can grow that system
[00:49:08.880]are on farms and ranches in the countryside right now.
[00:49:13.320]They need our support.
[00:49:15.450]They are America's family farmers."
[00:49:36.943]And Margaret, do we have?
[00:49:38.940]We have 15 minutes for questions.
[00:49:40.800]15 minutes for tough questions, all right.
[00:49:45.420]I actually have a question.
[00:49:47.543]I'll go to the mic.
[00:49:48.420]I'll model good behavior.
[00:49:55.170]This might be a kind of weird question,
[00:49:59.025]just so ya'll know.
[00:50:08.917]So I kept thinking when I heard your story of a movie,
[00:50:14.010]and you know, like starring somebody playing you, Sarah,
[00:50:17.190]and all these other amazing people
[00:50:18.720]that you, came into your life.
[00:50:19.980]So my weird question is,
[00:50:22.110]who would you want to play you in your movie?
[00:50:26.608]I have thought about that.
[00:50:27.856]Oh, there's another part to it, too,
[00:50:29.960]is has anybody approached you
[00:50:31.410]about film rights for your story?
[00:50:36.060]The first part first, yeah, somebody asked me that
[00:50:38.430]awhile back, and the one I want is Jennifer,
[00:50:45.210]help me, I'm so bad on these.
[00:50:55.777]Jennifer, she's the one,
[00:50:57.927]she was first in "The Hunger Games."
[00:51:03.480]That's who I want, and I found out
[00:51:05.460]she's the highest-priced actress in Hollywood, oh, well.
[00:51:08.386]Yeah, there you go!
[00:51:11.867]Because I think she can play grim people,
[00:51:14.820]and my life was pretty grim at many, many times.
[00:51:18.750]I mean, it was like, not easy,
[00:51:22.410]not an easy time with it, so yeah.
[00:51:24.690]So I did think about that, and back in the '80s,
[00:51:27.940]I had a couple people call for like for TV movies,
[00:51:31.890]and I rejected them because they all wanted,
[00:51:36.746]they wanted me to give up my life story,
[00:51:37.827]and I wasn't quite done with it yet.
[00:51:40.708]And then they also would not get clearance from my clients.
[00:51:45.990]They wouldn't ask my clients if they get,
[00:51:47.910]and they were gonna invent things.
[00:51:50.130]And so I walked away from all of that.
[00:51:52.980]But when the book came out,
[00:51:56.815]there is a movie agent whom I have not heard from
[00:52:00.570]in a year and three months, so there you have it.
[00:52:05.465]But if there were a movie and it raised the awareness
[00:52:10.950]of the '80s and the trauma
[00:52:12.960]and the importance of, I'd be all for it.
[00:52:16.230]If there could be a movie that could,
[00:52:17.993]if it could be done, if it could be done,
[00:52:20.430]you know, like "Country,"
[00:52:22.290]like the movie "Country" did for the '80s
[00:52:25.050]or "Grapes of Wrath"
[00:52:28.590]did for the '30s, you know,
[00:52:33.840]there, you know, there's a real role for arts
[00:52:38.340]and novels and poets in telling stories like this,
[00:52:43.440]not just lawyers.
[00:52:46.590]Tough question though, Margaret, thank you.
[00:52:51.390]Thanks for your presentation.
[00:52:53.040]I'm a wildlife professor here at the university,
[00:52:56.490]and I got to relive a little bit of my childhood.
[00:53:00.150]My dad was a farm loan officer
[00:53:03.150]for Production Credit Association in the early '80s,
[00:53:06.207]and he actually quit because he didn't wanna foreclose
[00:53:09.090]on people, and he became a private farm consultant
[00:53:13.920]and made the same miscalculation that you did
[00:53:17.640]about having clients that had no money.
[00:53:22.080]And so we didn't get a lot of new clothes
[00:53:25.620]until it was our birthday when I was in middle school.
[00:53:29.700]But I do know that he had the same,
[00:53:33.990]I've heard stories now about him kind of falling apart
[00:53:38.760]in front of some of his clients and carried that emotion,
[00:53:43.650]'cause these were people that, it was a system,
[00:53:47.417]but it was also rooted with people.
[00:53:50.130]And I just wondered if you could talk a little bit
[00:53:52.560]about the, like, what actually kept you going,
[00:53:57.600]what made you get up off the floor
[00:53:59.880]and keep going through those times.
[00:54:02.910]Because I think we all hit those times, and you know,
[00:54:06.450]it's budget time here at the university,
[00:54:09.240]and we have our smaller things maybe
[00:54:10.473]that we're dealing with, but just be interested
[00:54:12.690]in kind of what personally kept you going.
[00:54:16.812]I would say what kept me going was always my clients.
[00:54:21.660]You know, they were going through,
[00:54:23.640]by the way, I never let them know.
[00:54:25.944]I don't know I you mentioned that.
[00:54:26.777]I didn't let them know how grim it was,
[00:54:28.920]why I moved to Grand Forks,
[00:54:31.214]and didn't let them know I was losing my home.
[00:54:33.270]Because if I had, they would've really fallen apart.
[00:54:37.530]But my clients were the ones, their attachment to the land,
[00:54:43.110]their desire to pass the land on to their children,
[00:54:46.770]their attachment to their little communities,
[00:54:50.640]their sense of right and wrong, their care of their cows.
[00:54:55.703]The cows got fed before they did.
[00:54:59.942]You know, that, all of that just knocked me out.
[00:55:03.750]I mean, it was just, these were good people
[00:55:07.200]going through bad times, and it wasn't their fault.
[00:55:10.973]I mean, I knew from the '30s that, you know,
[00:55:14.370]the delinquency rates were like 50, 80%.
[00:55:18.480]By the '40s, they'd all gotten current,
[00:55:22.710]'cause they'd been stopped, you know,
[00:55:24.317]if the foreclosures could be stopped,
[00:55:26.280]if that wave could be stopped.
[00:55:28.080]But like, so it was my clients
[00:55:32.070]that kept me going psychologically.
[00:55:35.010]My dad kept lending me money and finally giving me a job.
[00:55:41.760]And then I had a little son, and he would,
[00:55:44.850]he liked me no matter what, you know, so.
[00:55:50.370]But I'd say it was mostly the farmers, and you know,
[00:55:56.605]I just felt what I was doing was right.
[00:55:58.657]And I was also massively over-optimistic
[00:56:01.680]about I was telling the federal government,
[00:56:03.697]"Wake up, smell the roses, and stop being so mean."
[00:56:09.414]That was, it was, but it was a good armor.
[00:56:13.890]I mean, ignorance is sometimes a good thing
[00:56:17.970]if you don't expect, if I had known how bad
[00:56:20.580]it would end up being, would I have done it?
[00:56:23.400]I don't know, but it was, it happened incrementally.
[00:56:27.450]So, you know, and then after a while I was on the train,
[00:56:31.110]I'd filed a case, I had told,
[00:56:33.134]or I told the farmers that I'd file a case
[00:56:35.640]or I had filed a case and it was like, how do you quit?
[00:56:39.120]Who's gonna take over this case? No one.
[00:56:43.476]And the out-of-state lawyers from DC, and you know,
[00:56:48.510]Allan and Burton, they couldn't take it over,
[00:56:52.697]'cause they didn't live nearby,
[00:56:56.100]and they didn't know what the farmers, they,
[00:56:59.040]so, but it was the farmers and the ranchers.
[00:57:05.083]In the Keepseagle location, it was the ranchers.
[00:57:07.260]You talk about tough, Native American ranchers,
[00:57:11.940]they're not supposed to be there.
[00:57:14.580]They were supposed to be gone long, long ago.
[00:57:16.830]And it was, I shared this vignette yesterday in Iowa,
[00:57:23.130]'cause I remember, 'cause like when I was dealing
[00:57:25.200]with German and Swedish and Norwegian farmers in general
[00:57:28.860]in North Dakota, I would give them instructions,
[00:57:30.840]and they would follow it.
[00:57:32.317]"Okay," you know, "I'll get back to you.
[00:57:34.170]I'll do the affidavit, I'll sign it,
[00:57:35.952]and then I'll come to the meeting," and then,
[00:57:39.790]but when I'd tell Native American ranchers,
[00:57:41.220]they'd say, "Why?"
[00:57:43.710]And like, "What's the reason?"
[00:57:45.090]And then they would get in an argument.
[00:57:47.250]And I realized that if Native Americans
[00:57:49.980]had followed advice, they wouldn't be there.
[00:57:53.340]So they were specialists in not following people's advice.
[00:57:57.360]And that's why they were still on their land
[00:57:59.160]after all these traumas, all these suffering, all this.
[00:58:03.870]But they still have their land.
[00:58:05.520]So I think that was just a different experience with them.
[00:58:17.370]Well, I guess we're going, standing over there
[00:58:19.986]with that, if that's okay.
[00:58:23.454]Natalie, do you wanna ask,
[00:58:24.802]or do you have to think through?
[00:58:29.560]Thank you for your really wonderful
[00:58:31.440]and moving presentation.
[00:58:33.450]I'm a fourth-generation farmer.
[00:58:35.820]My family has farms in Polk and Merrick County.
[00:58:38.790]I wanna ask some questions about corporate ownership,
[00:58:42.090]and not to suggest that what is happening in Nebraska
[00:58:44.940]is any way equivalent to the 1980s.
[00:58:49.020]Bill Gates and Ted Turner
[00:58:51.990]are the biggest landowners in Nebraska.
[00:58:55.140]The country that buys enormous amounts of land
[00:58:59.190]in Africa and Latin America are the Chinese.
[00:59:03.270]What should be the ruling in Nebraska?
[00:59:05.250]Should there be an international ruling
[00:59:06.930]through the United Nations system
[00:59:09.420]in terms of A, corporate ownership of Nebraska farms,
[00:59:14.160]and B, other countries coming in, raping the countryside,
[00:59:21.180]exporting soybeans out of Latin America into China?
[00:59:25.410]What should be, and what are the lessons
[00:59:26.970]that we have learned to stop some of these systems?
[00:59:33.738]Well, that's quite the set of questions,
[00:59:38.820]and I'm not so tuned in on what's going on in Nebraska.
[00:59:45.120]I could talk a little bit more about North Dakota,
[00:59:48.360]but to me, I think corporate ownership
[00:59:51.750]of land is problematic.
[00:59:54.090]They got rid of it in 19, you know,
[00:59:58.440]initiated a measure in 1932 in North Dakota.
[01:00:02.640]They gave the corporations 10 years.
[01:00:04.770]It was upheld by the US Supreme Courts.
[01:00:06.213]It's a legal, you know, it's lawful and constitutional.
[01:00:11.430]But over the years, it's been amended.
[01:00:13.980]Most recently it's been amended again,
[01:00:16.830]amendments that I think are pretty problematic.
[01:00:23.550]This is where lawyers come in.
[01:00:29.490]You know, if there are remedies and then lobbying.
[01:00:33.780]And like one of the things I thought that was so different
[01:00:37.652]in the '80s is that the, you know, the administration,
[01:00:42.090]the Reagan administration was,
[01:00:43.740]did not really wanna change their mind at all.
[01:00:46.517]But it was political pressure
[01:00:48.210]by amongst other Republicans and so on,
[01:00:51.270]Republicans and businesses and lawyers and bankers
[01:00:55.890]that were saying, "We need, we can't continue in this way."
[01:00:59.130]So I don't know the answer to that question.
[01:01:02.190]I do what I can. I write essays.
[01:01:04.170]I have a website, sarahmvogel.com,
[01:01:07.470]and I've got a couple scorcher essays
[01:01:10.380]on there on the weakening
[01:01:12.431]of the North Dakota anti-corporate farm law.
[01:01:16.140]But I think, I don't think corporations
[01:01:19.020]are the same as family farmers.
[01:01:20.890]Family farmers are thinking about their kids.
[01:01:23.760]They're not gonna dump water.
[01:01:26.700]And there's some really good, there's a really good book
[01:01:29.640]I would like to recommend to everybody.
[01:01:32.490]It has a forward by John Grisham.
[01:01:34.980]By the way, I have a word by John Grisham on my book.
[01:01:40.487]He said, "My kind of story."
[01:01:43.260]But there's a book called "Wastelands" by an author named,
[01:01:50.940]I think it's Corban Addison.
[01:01:55.080]It's like that thick,
[01:01:56.970]and it's about North Carolina hog farming
[01:02:00.568]and China, Smithfield Farms.
[01:02:03.450]That's like heavy-duty reading,
[01:02:07.050]but there are organizations,
[01:02:09.390]and this is where I think like in our,
[01:02:12.600]I would assume in Nebraska,
[01:02:15.344]the Center for Rural Affairs, people at the law school,
[01:02:19.140]probably clinics at the law school
[01:02:21.090]are all working on aspects
[01:02:24.830]of the corporatization of agriculture,
[01:02:28.140]which I think in the long run
[01:02:29.460]is a very, very, very bad idea.
[01:02:32.550]I think family farm agriculture is the best for society,
[01:02:36.390]democracy, and food and safety and water and air.
[01:02:43.260]It's environmental, or it should be.
[01:02:45.450]But farmers are often put in a squeeze.
[01:02:49.140]They want to survive, they want to pay their bills.
[01:02:52.020]They're told this is the only way you can do it
[01:02:55.022]is by chemicals and this and that.
[01:02:57.230]So the research that's going on by people in this room
[01:03:01.350]is all of incredible importance,
[01:03:04.210]and I think if farmers had an option,
[01:03:07.440]they would go chemical free.
[01:03:09.630]I remember hearing farmers say, like a father and a son,
[01:03:13.842]you know, this is bad, the son would say,
[01:03:18.427]"Dad, you'll go straight with the chemicals.
[01:03:20.520]You're old already."
[01:03:24.407]And the father, too, you know,
[01:03:26.767]"Son, you're young and strong, you can handle it."
[01:03:30.117]You know, like that is not the way farming should be.
[01:03:34.110]You should enjoy going out in the air and the, you know,
[01:03:37.623]like the video, the corn people.
[01:03:41.130]Anyway, I think farmers, given an option that's economic,
[01:03:47.670]that allows them to keep their land
[01:03:49.920]and survive and pay their bills and so on
[01:03:53.310]would jump on all of the solutions,
[01:03:57.390]and legislators should be alerted
[01:03:59.940]to the dangers of vast landholders.
[01:04:05.550]Like, Gates has bought land in North Dakota,
[01:04:07.800]I think illegally, but the attorney general
[01:04:10.740]of North Dakota disagrees.
[01:04:14.340]We have time for one more question.
[01:04:17.520]Thanks, you kind of already answered
[01:04:19.663]a little bit, but I'm a rural sociologist
[01:04:22.080]at Iowa State University,
[01:04:23.310]and I focus a lot on farmers and what,
[01:04:25.830]you know, decision-making and behaviors.
[01:04:28.260]And one of the things, a PhD student of mine and I
[01:04:31.080]are looking at trauma in agriculture, and you know,
[01:04:34.890]our dominant system of agriculture
[01:04:36.600]is highly traumatic to land and people still,
[01:04:39.667]you know, the farmers, and one of the things we're finding
[01:04:42.930]is that the 1980s farm crisis is very much alive
[01:04:47.850]in decision-making with farmers today.
[01:04:50.460]A lot of the, you know, the fears and the trauma
[01:04:53.221]were passed down even to farmers
[01:04:54.390]that weren't alive in the 1980s.
[01:04:56.637]And we feel like from our research,
[01:04:58.830]it hasn't been published yet,
[01:04:59.760]but that farmers are afraid to take risks
[01:05:04.200]because of what happened in the '80s,
[01:05:06.300]but also traumatic stuff that keeps piling up.
[01:05:09.150]And so I feel like that keeps us from doing
[01:05:12.570]what you were just saying in a lot of ways,
[01:05:14.100]like to take the risk to go to a more diversified system
[01:05:17.190]and you know, try to integrate
[01:05:19.560]into different kinds of markets and that sort of thing.
[01:05:22.470]So I guess my question is,
[01:05:24.390]you kind of answered it already,
[01:05:25.380]but how can we get past that, you know,
[01:05:28.740]the historical trauma that keeps kind of articulating
[01:05:32.490]with current traumatic parts of the system?
[01:05:36.960]Any solutions, thanks.
[01:05:37.920]Yeah, I think that the government,
[01:05:42.090]and maybe I'm just a broken record
[01:05:46.650]on government developing government solutions,
[01:05:48.840]'cause it could be charitable, too.
[01:05:50.910]It could be foundations.
[01:05:53.730]It could be governments that give the lenders
[01:05:59.700]that give-zero cost loans to beginning farmers, why not?
[01:06:00.909]You know, if they're gonna build their community.
[01:06:06.330]And by the way, hats off for being a rural sociologist.
[01:06:09.060]We just retired, the last rural sociologist
[01:06:12.390]in North Dakota just retired,
[01:06:13.890]and I think that's just tragic.
[01:06:17.520]And rural sociologists, by the way,
[01:06:19.140]have proven beyond a shadow of doubt
[01:06:21.843]that the health of small communities
[01:06:23.850]depends upon family farming agriculture around them.
[01:06:27.510]This is like 30-some scientific studies have proven this.
[01:06:31.847]I have a friend, Curt Stofferahn, who is a rural sociologist
[01:06:36.570]who's indoctrinated and completing
[01:06:41.520]the research and work that you do.
[01:06:43.770]But too often they want just economists,
[01:06:46.470]not rural sociologists.
[01:06:47.490]If I had my way, the USDA would have,
[01:06:50.490]instead of a department of economists,
[01:06:54.057]the econ department or all that whole wing of USDA,
[01:06:58.020]and they'd have a rural sociology department,
[01:07:00.630]and they would sort of try to focus more
[01:07:02.520]on people, not on numbers.
[01:07:05.850]But the question is the trauma, it's there,
[01:07:12.120]and I don't think, I think maybe because of the trauma,
[01:07:17.610]people aren't gonna make the same mistakes
[01:07:20.100]as they did in the '80s,
[01:07:22.260]but probably the challenges will be different.
[01:07:27.480]I don't know the answer to that,
[01:07:29.118]but I think people could get their heads together
[01:07:33.150]and try to figure out what to do.
[01:07:35.670]And farmers need allies.
[01:07:37.050]There are fewer of them than ever.
[01:07:40.680]So, you know, great, good for you and the work you do.
[01:07:51.150]It ain't gonna be easy, and it's gonna take all of society,
[01:07:55.830]I think, to develop these solutions
[01:07:58.290]and lots of academic disciplines
[01:08:01.230]and lots of science and economics and so on.
[01:08:07.260]And I think if possible,
[01:08:12.120]if research could be done more in the value of the research
[01:08:14.970]as opposed to who sponsoring the research,
[01:08:18.450]that seems to be a problem with land grant colleges
[01:08:22.890]is their research might support
[01:08:28.740]further corporatization of agriculture.
[01:08:34.020]I'll give one vignette.
[01:08:36.090]In 1988, I just met an elected ag commissioner,
[01:08:42.090]and he took office in '89,
[01:08:43.650]and we had like a unbelievable drought,
[01:08:47.910]unbelievable drought, it didn't rain.
[01:08:54.150]And the last time the research had been done
[01:08:58.740]on drought-resistant crops in farming methodologies
[01:09:02.190]was the 1930s, so these scientists at NDSU
[01:09:06.150]are whipping up studies from the '30s.
[01:09:08.670]How can we, you know, but then they,
[01:09:11.190]during the good times, they didn't do that research.
[01:09:13.770]So, you know, having a sense of history is,
[01:09:18.793]here we are at a history conference.
[01:09:20.760]What do you know? (laughs)
[01:09:22.881]So, you know, good for you.
[01:09:25.650]And I don't know the answers, but I hope,
[01:09:28.770]I think just by raising them and bringing them out
[01:09:32.070]and reading and people writing books and articles and essays
[01:09:35.880]and talking to farmers and doing everything that they can,
[01:09:39.360]we'll all make a difference.
[01:09:42.120]That's a great way to end.
[01:09:43.758]Thank you so much.
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