The farm and food movement has lost a critical leader with the passing of Lou Anne Kling, Minnesota Farm Advocate. All of us at Farm Aid feel blessed to have worked with Lou Anne—some of us for more than 20 years. Lou Anne enriched our lives personally, with her sense of humor, sharp mind, and willingness to fight for any family farmer she met.
Lou Anne farmed with her husband Wayne in Granite Falls, Minnesota. She began her career as a Farm Advocate during the farm crisis of the 1980s, when she advocated for farmers who were unfairly being foreclosed by the federal Farmers Home Administration (FmHA). Farmers had been pushed to use the equity in their high land values to borrow more money to “get big or get out,” and with the fall of land values, farmers who had never missed a payment found themselves in non-monetary default.
Lou Anne refused to stand idly by and watch her way of life- and her neighbor’s way of life- be destroyed. Lou Anne planned a plow-down- plowing under one acre of growing grain as a protest against the government policies behind the farm crisis. In response to her activism, a neighboring farmer reached out for help with his foreclosure case with FmHA. Lou Anne ordered a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations that governed the agency, and she learned that a farmer had a right to appeal the FmHA decision. She went with her neighbor to the appeal hearing, and he won. This story spread through the farming community, and soon Lou Anne was traveling all over the state to help farmers with their foreclosure cases. Thousands of family farmers were able to remain on their land because of Lou Anne’s work.
Lou Anne’s work, along with that of the first volunteers she trained, became the Minnesota Farm Advocates program, now part of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Lou Anne’s work also highlighted the need for lawyers who understood agriculture law. Together with legal aid attorneys Lynn Hayes and Jim Massey, Lou Anne asked Willie Nelson to fund a farm law center that could provide free legal support to farmers. The Farmers Legal Action Group, which was founded with funding raised at Farm Aid’s first concert in 1985, still serves farmers across the country.
Lou Anne spent her entire life working tirelessly to keep family farmers on their land. In the 1990s, she served as USDA Deputy Administration of Farm Loan Programs in Washington, D.C. She also received the Virginia McKnight Binger Award for Human Service. After officially retiring, Lou Anne generously continued to take hotline calls from midwest farmers who reached out to Farm Aid through our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline. She also served as a mentor to newer Farm Advocates, coaching them through complex lending rules and regulations.
Tonight, Farm Aid premieres Homeplace Under Fire, a film about Farm Advocates, including Lou Anne. We will dedicate tonight to Lou Anne and continue this work with her strength and in her memory. When we set out to make this film, we felt an urgency to record the stories of people like Lou Anne. We planned to bring the film to the communities where Farm Advocates live and work, often without full understanding and appreciation of the hard work they do. We are devastated that we did not make it to Minnesota in time to honor Lou Anne in person, but we will bring the film there soon to celebrate the life and work that she lived with such dedication and concern for others.