On the surface, Farmer John Peterson’s story doesn’t seem very remarkable: young man inherits family farm, the Farm Crisis of the 1980s brings financial hardship and near-ruin, and man struggles to overcome. We hear often about the challenges small-scale and family farms face, including expensive inputs (i.e. fertilizers), cost of machinery and fuel, excessive regulations, and unpredictable weather. We hear about the large number of defunct family farms. We hear about our government regulation and how often legislation seems to favor large agribusiness.
Perhaps then, Farmer John’s story really is remarkable. He inherited his family’s Illinois farm at 19 years old after his father’s death. During the 1970s, he enthusiastically embraced the era, attracting artists and hippies, at the cost of turning off his traditional neighbors. He became the object of rumors and death threats, accused of dealing drugs and sacrificing animals in worship to Satan.
The Farm Crisis of the 1980s nearly destroyed his farm. He had to sell off equipment and much of his land when the bank foreclosed on his loans. Farmer John managed to keep enough land to eventually start anew, and what arose from that, as a phoenix from the ashes, is Angelic Organics, a CSA farm that provides organic produce for over 1600 shareholders.
I embedded the documentary about his story, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, below.