Charles Walters: The Farming Scene in 1986, from Downturn to Opportunity MP3

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Charles Walters, in his 1986 address to farmers at the Acres U.S.A. annual conference, talks about what farmers can do in a downturn economy to protect themselves in the long-term.

"I didn't have the money to buy a paper, so I started one," said Charles Walters in 1995, remembering the origins of Acres U.S.A. for the journal's 25th anniversary issue. "I wanted the freedom that went with making my own decisions without the blessings of higher approved authority."

A confirmed maverick in his early forties, Walters had more than a passing acquaintance with the havoc unleashed by higher authorities and historical forces. The son of a poor Kansas farmer, his childhood was marked first by the Dust Bowl, then by the Great Depression. He came of age doing military service in the waning days of World War II, and earned a master's degree in economics on the G.I. Bill. As he made his way in several major urban centers, finally settling in Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife, Ann, Charles Walters never lost his connection to the world of farming. It was not lost on him when a flood of corporate money pushed the American farmer into an expensive new dependence on supercharged fertilizers and powerful new pesticides — about which little was known.

Rachel Carson's;Silent Spring, a devastating attack on DDT and other agricultural chemicals that shocked the world, became a cornerstone of the unique point of view Walters would bring to Acres U.S.A. Equally crucial was his experience as editor for the National Farmer's Organization (NFO), a group dedicated to the idea of using collective bargaining to obtain a better deal for the family farmer.

Assembling NFO's house journal every month and working in his spare time on Unforgiven, a book about visionary farm economist Carl Wilken, Walters made a breakthrough. He realized how the methodical cheating of small farmers and the enforced swing toward chemical agriculture were gears in the same machine, working in tandem to transform the countryside. And not for the better. Corporate power and public policy were colluding in the destruction of the family farm, and the process of annihilation was gathering speed.

After faltering leadership hobbled NFO, Walters knew he had to fight the good fight on his own terms. Acres U.S.A. was his base camp, and while he struggled to keep it afloat in the early years, the journal immediately attracted a throng of fascinating figures. It seemed there were other mavericks out there who needed a forum, and they came out of the woodwork. Soil scientists, farm policy experts, economic thinkers, insect researchers, philosophers of the land — Walters met many of them through Acres U.S.A., interviewing them, commissioning articles by them, and inviting them to speak at the annual conference he began in 1975.

(47 minutes, 28 seconds) 

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