The posting states that the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) was
established in 1935 to aid Depression-stricken families. Actually, FmHA was
established in 1946, but more important than the precise date is that the
FmHA most decidedly was not a Depression-era agency in spirit either.
The reason for the mistake is that FmHA was the successor -- sort of -- to a
true Depression-era agency, the Farm Security Administration (FSA, but no
connection with the current agency with those initials). FSA was established
in 1937, when the Resettlement Administration, an independent agency founded
in 1935, became part of USDA. FSA was red-baited to death during World War II
by reactionary elements in Congress, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and
others. After the war, the newly established FmHA took over just the credit
function of FSA.
"Red-baited, you say? A USDA agency -- red-baited?" Yup. Besides providing
credit to low-income and marginal farmers, FSA instituted many innovative
programs, intended mainly to help sharecroppers, tenants, farm laborers, and
submarginal farmers. Most controversial were their cooperative farms -- not a
popular notion in the 1930s, smelling dangerously of Bolshevism. Also not
popular, at least not in the Jim Crow South, was their defense of tenants and
sharecroppers, including blacks, against abuses by landowners. FSA also
founded several "Greenbelt" communities, including Greenbelt, Maryland, most
famous today (at least among SANETers) as the home of the Henry A. Wallace
Institute for Alternative Agriculture, publisher (as you know, or should
know) of the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. FSA also
established excellent camps for Dust Bowl refugees, one of which was
sympathetically (and realistically) depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.
Unfortunately, most of its activities were short-lived. It did, however,
bequeath us a national treasure of inestimable value: the greatest
documentary photography project of all time, in the form of some 80,000
pictures showing every aspect of American life during the Depression,
especially migrant workers, sharecroppers, Dust Bowl refugees, and others at
the bottom of the "agricultural ladder." Even if the name "Farm Security
Administration" is unfamiliar to you, you no doubt have seen some of these
pictures, if only the justly famous "Migrant Mother," by Dorothea Lange.
Other important photographers in the group included Walker Evans, Ben Shahn,
Russell Lee, and several more. The collection is alive and well, I am happy
to say, and accessible to the public in the reading room of the Prints and
Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
In summary, the difference between FSA and FmHA is a lot more than 9 years
and a couple of letters. If FmHA were the true successor to FSA, its
shortcomings as the farmer's "lender of last resort," as described in the
Farm Aid posting, might never have arisen.