Erwin A. Thompson tells Folk Stories from the Soil Conservation Program
As part of reading the river, Pop told me two dryly humorous folk stories from the 1932 US Soil Conservation Program.--JGR
"The brown color of the Mississippi is tied-in to an issue of land conservation, too. As more and more of the land is cleared for housing and farming, more soil is eroded away in these heavy rains and ends up in the river. In 1932 the federal government started a program of soil conservation.
"To sell this Soil Conservation program to the community, the government hired neighborhood folks to go around to talk to farmers to get them to sign up.
"Leonard Hall, a naturalist later in life (and the author of a column Going's On in Possum Trot) farmed as a young man and did this job of selling the program down in Missouri.
"One of the farmers he approached, told him, 'Well, Leonard, I just don't believe I will. I'm not farming half as well as I know how to now.'
"One of the main objects of the program was to prevent erosion, a word some people didn't understand.
"One of the agents canvasing the neighborhood to sell the soil conservation program encountered this gap in comprehension, and wired his supervisor, saying, 'Send me 100 pictures of the Grand Canyon.'
"In the pioneering days of the Soil Conservation Program, the government took arial photographs to measure fields. By applying a formula, they were able to calculate the size of the fields. No one locally had ever seen this done before. We still have the photos of our fields around somewhere."
And, so saying, Pop went off to see if he couldn't just find them!
Our land is more like the Missouri rolling hills than the broad stretches of Illinois cropland. To see the updated version of this program as practiced in Missouri check out the mission statement and wonderful photos for the Missouri Department of Natural Resource Soil and Water Conservation Program. --JGR
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