Willie Nelson has joined forces once again with Farm Aid to create the organization's first ever film, Homeplace Under Fire, which looks at the farm crisis of the 1980's, and the grassroots activists who were born of that tribulation.
If you're unfamiliar with that era, here's a quick recap. The 80's were a difficult time for farmers. A drought in 1983 and another in 1988 hurt crop yields. Farmers took another blow with a Russian trade embargo that forbade the export of American grain.
These issues, combined with skyrocketing interest rates, caused a financial crisis among the farmers of America. Banks began foreclosing on rural farms at a staggering rate.
Farms that had been in operation for over a hundred years in many cases were sold at auction for pennies on the dollar. As many as 250 farms were being foreclosed every day.
All over the nation, farmers hammered white crosses, like grave markers, into the lawns of city halls and statehouses. Each cross was a symbol of a foreclosed farm.
People lost farms that had been in their families for generations. There was a rash of suicides. There are even reports that the suicide rate for farmers went up permanently after the 1980's farm crisis.
Rather than sit back and watch as American family farming crumbled, a small group of farmers took action. They researched the law, organized marches on Washington, and set up hotlines for people to call for both legal and emotional help. They made their voices heard nationwide. Homeplace Under Fire is their story.
Mona Lee Brock is one of the eight farm advocates featured in the film. Willie Nelson called Brock "the angel at the other end of the line" for her constant and untiring fight to save suicidal farmers. When distraught farmers would call the hotline, Brock would contact someone nearby to go and check on them, while she kept the farmer on the phone talking. She still answers the hotline even today.
The movie also chronicles the struggles of black farmers during that time, and how the farm crisis brought them together with white farmers in an unprecedented way.
Farm Aid is a benefit concert that has been held nearly every year since 1985 to raise money to help American farm families keep their homesteads and livelihoods. Willie Nelson is one of the organization's founding members. He has participated in every Farm Aid event ever held, including 1989 when he took the whole show on the road.
Nelson wrote the song "Homeplace Under Fire", which is where the film got its name.
The premier of Homeplace Under Fire was in May, but more screenings will be coming soon. You can even sign up to bring the film to your own community.
The film seeks to inspire the next generation of farm advocates to continue the network of support that has been built and to keep the voices of the farming community alive the United States government.