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US Dept. of Agriculture to Woman Farmers: “A Loan? Why, You Women Can’t Run Farms, Honey.” Justice on the Horizon via Love v. Vilsack

Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/For the Capital Press

In October of 2001, nine of the approximately (at that time) 150,000 women farmers in the US filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination against women farmers in the administration of USDA farm loans.

Rosemary Love (center in the photo), who had grown up on a Montana farm and then became a rancher herself, had applied for a farm loan in Montana after a series of natural disasters during the economic recession of the 1980s.   Although male ranchers all around her were being given loans by the (all-male) FSA decision-makers, her applications were repeatedly denied.  When a loan was finally approved, it was with the imposition of the harshest of conditions, among them, that she must liquidate her ranching operations.  She was the only rancher upon whom such loan conditions were imposed.  She developed cancer, and during her treatment, she was hounded by USDA authorities about completing the liquidation.  At one point, 48 hours after she had undergone cancer surgery, an FSA supervisor visited her in the hospital demanding that she comply or agree to the filing of yet more government liens against her property. She could not run her farm, her animals were going without food as she lie ill, and finally, she sold her sheep and livestock to male ranchers in her area and declared bankruptcy.  She was left with nothing but her land. She went to work at a grocery store as a sales clerk.

Linda Bara-Weaver (right in the photo) operated a 16.5 acre farm where she hoped to raise Welsh ponies, holly trees and worms.  When she sought a loan from the Farm Security Administration in Loudon County, Virginia, she was told there were no funds or applications for funds available.  When her husband called the same office shortly afterwards, however, an application was mailed to him, no problem.  When at long last Bara-Weaver was able to obtain and submit an application, the FSA loan officer told her women could not run farms, called her “cutie,’ and “honey,” and made sexual advances towards her, not only then, but later when he appraised her farm. She rejected his advances and her loan application was denied.

Linda Bara-Weaver’s husband died and she moved to Florida, where she again applied for a farm loan from FSA.  When, after trying many times, she was finally able to obtain and submit a loan application, the loan officer threw her completed application in the wastebasket in front of her, asking her how she expected to run a farm without a man.

Joyce A. King, meanwhile, had tried to obtain loans from the FSA office in Lincoln County, Arkansas and  endured similar experiences.  After months of being jerked around by FSA officials, she was finally denied a loan and told that women were a “risk,” were “not cut out for farming” and “could not turn a profit.”

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of women have experienced similar discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, even by the USDA’s own accounts.  Finally, as of January 20, 2012, 11 years after the filing of the initial law suit, the USDA has proposed a framework for responding to the claims of women farmers who were discriminated against between 1981 and 2000.  Successful claimants will receive up to $50,000 as well as debt and tax relief

More here, here,  and here, also see the National Women’s Farming Association, and Women Farmers Litigation, Love v. Vilsack.

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