My father sold our farm in Pennsylvania in 1973 and moved us to Minnesota in 1974. According to all the farming sources that I have consulted, the 1970s were a time of soaring farm income and commodity prices. It was a time of prosperity for farmers. I, as a 16 year old, was totally oblivious to the politics and financial dynamics of farming though looking back now, I can see how my father was lured by the booming economy to put his finances on the line in this huge family venture. And of course, about the time that I finally made my escape from the farm in 1986 coincided with the falling land prices, rock bottom crop prices, and high interest rates that led to a nationwide crisis in agriculture in the 80s. From a historical standpoint, “If You Leave This Farm” is a story of farming in Minnesota during these turbulent times. Maybe, that was part of the pressure that shaped my father into the controlling patriarch that he became.
A description from my book of planting our first year in Minnesota 1974
We load the bagged seed corn unto the truck and head for the field. Heavy black clods stick to the tractor tires, but in spite of the dampness, we begin planting. Paul discs the ground ahead of the planter while Daddy puts the seed in the ground. Joseph and I man the fertilizer truck and help reload the seed corn. As we sit in the truck and watch, the green tractor fades into the distance before the speck turns around and begins to grow larger again. Our Minnesota fields are so large they seem to have no end. This one is over three-quarters of a mile long. Because of the wet soil conditions, some of the rows make half circle detours around the wet spots. It has begun to look like an earthworm has slithered over the black earth.
Daddy has barely planted fifty acres of corn on our first day of planting when the western sky begins to darken. Within thirty minutes, storm clouds roll in, and the wind picks up. Daddy has just made his turn at the other end of the field and started back toward us. The sky grows darker and darker. Daddy is still just a growing spec in the distance when the heavens release their torrents. Perspective is lost in the driving rain and Daddy drives right into a wet spot instead of around it. He becomes stuck in the thick goo. The tractor and planter are abandoned until the next day and everybody runs for cover. This day becomes a repeating pattern over the next couple of weeks as we struggle between rain and wet soil to get the corn into the ground.