Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Farm Advocates Help and Why We Need More

JoelRecently, the Farm Aid Hotline heard from a concerned caller in Oklahoma about a farm family unable to pay their home heating bill and facing the dire prospect of no heat for the rest of this very long winter. The caller asked if Farm Aid might be able to offer some emergency help for the family, and provided important, verifiable details to demonstrate the situation of need. Farm Aid did indeed send an emergency grant, and with the caller’s help the family got their propane tank filled and will at least be able to stay warm for a spell.

I tell this story not to toot Farm Aid’s horn--throughout the year, we regularly provide emergency grants for farm and ranch families whose household needs are dire, so the fact of making this particular grant is not exceptional--but to toot a horn for the caller herself, who is simply too modest to take credit herself.

That caller was veteran Farm Advocate Mona Lee Brock, one of the unsung heroes of the farming world of the Plains states. For half a century, Mona Lee has been quietly and effectively helping struggling Oklahoma farm and ranch families. Though now “retired,” Mona Lee continues to help behind the scenes, maintaining her records of farm cases, and staying in touch with another veteran Farm Advocate whom she’s worked with for many years, Wayne Allen of the National Farm Crisis Center in Perkins, Oklahoma. I’m not certain how old Mona Lee is at this point, but to give you an idea, on the phone she said she wished she had “fifty more years” to give to farm and rural families of the state. “I thank God that He can use me in some small way,” she said. Amen to that.

While visiting with Mona Lee, I took the opportunity to mention an idea that has been percolating among farm advocacy organizations for a long time now: the formation of an alliance of Farm Advocates across the country. Farm Advocates get very little ink as professionals, don’t get paid much, if at all, and often work in isolation. They provide front line, independent and free help and counsel to farmers and ranchers facing financial crisis, foreclosure or bankruptcy, weather disasters, sudden accidents and prolonged medical disability. You name it and veteran Farm Advocates such as Mona Lee have helped farmers face it.

What was Mona Lee’s response to the idea of a Farm Advocates alliance? “That is one of the most badly needed things. We [Advocates] really need those connections, and that knowledge that another warm body is doing the same thing, [to try to provide direct assistance to struggling farmers and ranchers all over the country.] Advocates are dying off one by one--their stories need to be told.”

The sobering reality is that we need hundreds of Mona Lees all over the country to provide credit and financial advice, risk management insight, and sound legal and business counsel to farmers and ranchers in need. We want to be able to provide help before crisis hits, in order both to keep current farmers on the land and to support new and prospective farmers as they struggle to overcome long odds of getting on the land and established in the production of good, wholesome food for all the rest of us.

So I want to put out the call right now to Farm Aid members: if you know of a Farm Advocate operating alone out there--or know of skilled younger folks who may have the makings to be an effective Farm Advocate and might like to receive Farm Advocate training and support--please let me know, or suggest they contact me directly at 1-800-FARM-AID or joel@farmaid.org.

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