Traveling exhibit focuses on WPA program

See the Uncle Sam’s New Deal traveling exhibit at the Carver County Historical Society in Waconia. (Submitted photo)
See the Uncle Sam’s New Deal traveling exhibit at the Carver County Historical Society in Waconia. (Submitted photo)

Introduction by Wendy Peterson Biorn, director of the Carver County Historical Society
The Carver County Historical Society is proud to announce we are hosting a new traveling exhibit, Uncle Sam’s New Deal. This exhibit features the depression era, Works Progress Administration, later renamed Work Project Administration in 1939 (WPA), programs and deals.
One program that heavily impacted Carver County was the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Volunteer Jill Frahm has spent many days and weeks researching how the AAA affected Carver County.
The following was written by Jill in her preparation of the Carver County contribution for Uncle Sam’s New Deal.

Like Americans all over the country, residents of Carver County felt the ill-effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some lost their jobs, some lost their farms, and many struggled to make ends meet. To alleviate some of the suffering, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal, a series of federal aid programs to help Americans in need. One often forgotten program that had a huge impact on Carver County was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
Congress passed the AAA on May 12, 1933. It required participating farmers to limit production of specific crops in exchange for government payments. By reducing yields, the government hoped to drive up crop prices.
Although it is unclear how many Carver County farmers participated during the program’s first year, nearly 540 signed contracts in 1934 to reduce production, particularly of wheat, corn and hogs. AAA programs were not without controversy, particularly when farmers were instructed to plow crops under or slaughter hogs when Americans in cities were going hungry.
Long time Carver County resident Marlene Magnuson recalls hearing her parents talking about having to “kill and bury the hogs for the government.” Yet, the U.S. government saw this as the only way to cut back production to fit the demand. An association of local farmers was established to make sure the farmers who registered for the payments were following the rules of the plan.
Its president was Harris Tesch of Mayer. The AAA proved profitable: in 1934, 537 county farmers together earned $130,000 in AAA payments. This money not only benefitted farmers, but their increased spending power helped the entire community. By January 1936, when the AAA was declared unconstitutional, county farmers, according to the Waconia Patriot, had received $229,571.34.
The 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act was replaced by a new program which paid farmers to adopt good soil conservation practices. By paying farmers to plant a percentage of their land in crops that helped the soil, the government indirectly encouraged them to grow less corn or wheat.
Apparently this was not successful for a revised Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in 1938. The new program was introduced at a meeting in St. Paul on April 11, 1938 attended by several county farm agents including George A. King, Ralph Effertz, Otto Mesenbring, Jerry Haasken, and Edward Mock.
The revised AAA program continued payments for soil conservation. Additionally, it provided loans to farmers with harvested crops as collateral and paid farmers to limit production of crops for which there was a surplus. The government provided clear specifications as to how much acreage each farmer could devote to crops like corn. Approximately 1,400 Carver County farmers participated in at least the soil conservation part of the program in 1938 which in total paid them between $150,000 and $200,000 in subsidies.
Over 2,400 farmers received corn loans that same year. Farmers that grew too much corn, offered poor quality corn, or grew corn to feed their livestock were ineligible for loans.
With the coming of World War II, farm prices rebounded as Americans had to feed the troops and the allies in Europe. But during the Depression, the various New Deal programs to benefit farmers went a long way to helping the residents of Carver Country.
Interested in learning more about the New Deal in Minnesota and Carver County?
Visit the Carver County Historical Society to see Uncle Sam’s New Deal, on display now through May 27. The Historical Society is located at 555 W 1st Street in Waconia. Hours are Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. There is no charge for admission.