The Great Depression of the 1930s nearly brought the agricultural community to a standstill. As markets went into an economic freefall, farmers who had suffered through a post–World War I economic depression in the 1920s would now struggle to produce crops, livestock, and other commodities that could return more than the cost to produce them.
In Indiana, the county agents of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service saw this desperation firsthand. As they looked into the worried faces of the people they were asked to assist, the trust they had worked to build in their communities during the previous two decades would be put to the test. Throughout the painful years of the Great Depression, the county agents would stand side by side with Hoosier farmers, relying on science-based advice and proven strategies to help them produce more bushels per acre, more pigs per litter, more gallons of milk per cow, and more eggs per chicken.
Then, as the decade drew to a close, the start of World War II in Europe soon placed farmers on the frontlines at home, producing the agricultural commodities needed in the United States and in war-torn locations abroad. The federal government quickly called on county agents to push farmers to meet historic production quotas—not an easy task with farm machinery, tires, and fuel rationed, and a severe labor shortage resulting from farm workers being drafted for military service or opting for higher-paying jobs in factories.
Using the observations and reports of county agents, Planting the Seeds of Hope offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to live through these historic events in rural Indiana. The agents’ own words and numerous accompanying photographs provide a one-of-a-kind perspective that brings their stories and those of the agricultural community they served to life at a pivotal time in American history.
Part 1: Pioneering a New Field of Work (1887–1928)
1 Neither the Agent nor His Farmer-Constituents Knew Very Much About What to Expect of One Another Part 2: Outlasting the Great Depression (1929–1939)
2 The Shattering, Sledge Hammer Economic Blows of the Depression
3 Building Support Through Advisory Boards
4 Does the County Agent Do Anybody or Group of Farmers Any Good or Justify His Expense?
5 Live Out of the Garden, the Smoke House, and Cellar
6 Cash Is the One Article That Is Scarcest and Hardest to Get
7 The Man With the High-Producing Soil, Hen, Cow, and Sow That Kept Operating Expense Down Was Able to Return a Profit
8 Farmers Hanging On by a Mere Thread Reached Out for Benefit Payments to Save Their Farms
9 Conservation of Soil Is the Solution on Which Will Hang Future Extension Activities
10 Erosion Is One of the Major Problems Which Must Be Faced
11 Land Use Planning Not Altogether a New Idea
12 Extension Work Interrupted by Extreme Droughts and Flood
13 There Is Convenience and Satisfaction of Flipping a Switch and Getting Light
14 Shall I Sell One Team on a Four-Horse Farm and Buy a Tractor?
15 The Average Farmer Has Not Learned the Principles of Economic Uses of Wood Lots
16 Hybrid Corn Is With Us to Stay Until Something Is Found to Take Its Place
17 The Necessity of Knowing the Soil Before a Good Crop Can Be Produced
18 Growing Wheat Is One Thing and Growing Quality Wheat Is Another
19 Farmers on the Lookout for Some New or Different Crop That Offers More Promise for Fair Returns
20 Not More Cows but Fewer and Better Dairy Cows Is the Imperative Need
21 Sheep Have a Place on Most Every Farm
22 Runts and Diseased Pigs Seldom Lift the Mortgage
23 A Bushel Basket of Eggs Brings In as Much Money as 100 Bushels of Corn
24 The Life of an Extension Worker Is an Honorable Occupation and an Interesting One
Photographs Part 3: Soldiers of the Soil During World War II (1940–1945)
25 Fitting the Extension Program to Wartime Conditions Has Required Some “Give and Take”
26 The County Agent Is Expected to Be a Walking Encyclopedia on Government Programs
27 Production Goals That Looked Impossible Were Reached
28 Higher Hog, Dairy, and Poultry Prices Created an Interest Like Never Before
29 For Patriotic Reasons as well as for Profit, Acreage Has Been Expanded
30 Tomatoes Have Become a Major Crop
31 The Total Increase in Home Production and Consumption Would Be a Staggering Amount of Food
32 The Armed Forces Have Taken 1,500 Men, Including Farmers. Why Wouldn’t It Create Many Problems?
33 All Agricultural Workers Seeking Employment in Industrial Factories Must Have a Statement of Transfer From the County Agent
34 Farm Women and Children Will Ride the Machinery to the Desired 10 Percent Increase in Production of Meat, Milk, and Eggs
35 Explaining the Red Tape That Farmers Must Go Through to Get Electricity
36 Machinery Will Need to Be Replaced Before the Supply of Baling Wire Is Exhausted
37 Patriotic Duty to Get the Most Possible Mileage From Tires
38 Farmers Were Second Only to the Army in Needing Fuel
39 Extension Meetings Will Be Curtailed Due to Gas Rationing, Thin Tires, and Busier People
40 School Children of America! Help Save Your Fathers’, Brothers’, and Neighbors’ Lives by Collecting Milkweed Pods
41 American Hemp Will Go On Duty Again
42 Draining the Woodlots of the Larger Oaks, Walnuts, Maples, and Sycamores
43 Think More of the Soil as a Heritage to Be Conserved and Passed On to Those Who Follow
Photographs Part 4: Beyond World War II (1945–1946)
44 Boys Are Having a Hard Time Making “Fox Hole” Dreams Come True
45 Effort Must Be Directed Toward Building for the Future
Epilogue Now as Never Before Farmers Have Put Into Use Many Practices Advocated by the Extension Service
Frederick Whitford works for the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service in the College of Agriculture. He has authored more than 350 research, extension, and regulatory publications, and has delivered 6,000 presentations to a wide array of audiences. Whitford has written six previous books on the history of Indiana agriculture, including Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J. C. Allen.
"During the Great Depression and World War II, Extension agents' transfer of research-based knowledge and their perseverance gained the trust and friendship of countless Indiana farm families. Their efforts laid the foundation for the technological revolution of Indiana agriculture during the second half of the twentieth century. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in firsthand details on the pioneering efforts and transformative nature of the Indiana Cooperative Extension Service as it enhanced the lives and livelihoods of Hoosiers." —Marshall A. Martin, professor of agricultural economics, senior associate director of agricultural research and graduate education, and assistant dean of agriculture, emeritus, Purdue University
"This story is told in the words of those who lived it—agents, specialists, farmers, and others—and is supplemented with photographs and documents of the time that provide important context to the reader. This is an important read for anyone with an interest in Indiana history, especially the evolution of agriculture that has brought us to where we are in food and fiber production today and the struggles, successes, and frustrations of those who paved the way in uncertain times." —Roy Ballard, former county Extension educator, Purdue University
"Whitford shows how inadequate the agricultural Extension agent label was for the expanded roles they embraced to serve their communities in the 1930s and 1940s, ranging from land use planning to job creation to wartime rationing. Because their communities trusted them, they became the source, conduit, and translator between local communities and state and federal governments as well as facilitators within their communities. That trust was critical to their ability to do so much." —Otto Doering, former professor of agricultural economics, Purdue University
"If you're not sure what it was like to live during the early 1930s in a depression, or before REMCs formed and brought lights to the country, or before your ancestors grew hybrid seed corn, or why it was so difficult to get a new hay baler during the early 1940s, your questions will be answered as you read this book. Whitford includes plenty of vintage photographs and artwork from early Extension bulletins to help you grasp the flavor of those days." —Tom J. Bechman, editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer
"This comprehensive and well-illustrated history of agricultural extension in Indiana during the Great Depression and World War II merits the attention of anyone interested in American agricultural history and the history of Indiana. It is the story of dedicated agricultural and home demonstration Extension agents who worked during difficult times to bring science-based solutions to farmers who needed help to improve the efficiency and profitability of their agricultural operations." —R. Douglas Hurt, professor of history, Purdue University
"This latest book by Fred Whitford helps me better visualize, appreciate, and, frankly, envy the challenges, excitement, optimism, and satisfaction that Extension workers must have felt during that period of history as they worked side by side with farmers." —R. L. (Bob) Nielsen, former state Extension corn specialist, Purdue University
"The firsthand stories and reports from Extension agents makes the flow of information enjoyable to read." —James Beaty, former superintendent, Purdue University Agronomy Farm
"The original pictures, flyers and information pieces displayed in the book are fascinating. They document unprecedented times when Extension, government and farmers cooperated to feed the world and turn back tyranny. Whitford takes us back to difficult days and helps us relive what it might have been like to work with farmers as an Extension agent." —Indiana PrairieFarmer