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The Farm Security Administration was a Depression-era agency in the United States providing a variety of support programs to poor, rural farmers. The agency initially was known as the Resettlement Administration because of its primary function of moving farm families off of small, unproductive, unprofitable farms and resetting them in communities of similar farm families working large tracts of government-owned land. The resettlement mission was abandoned in the late 1930s as a result of political opposition, but the agency has survived to this day with other duties as the Farmers Home Administration.
In the Great Depression, many tenant farmers and sharecroppers could not produce enough crops to sell at market value and sustain their livelihoods. Too many farmers were chasing too few buyers for their crops. The Dust Bowl contributed to this as well, as both a long drought and soil erosion resulting from poor farming techniques reduced farm productivity. To combat both problems, the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt desired to educate the small farmers on modern farming techniques and reduce the overall number of farmers in the nation.
The federal government formed the Resettlement Administration in 1935 as part of the New Deal. Later that year, the Resettlement Administration was renamed the Farm Security Administration. The first task of the Farm Security Administration, or FSA, involved creating large, government-owned farms by buying the small tracts of struggling farmers who had productive land but could not make a living on it. The FSA relocated displaced farm families, and the families moved from unproductive farms to camps near the large tracts. There they received education in modern farm techniques and were paid to work the government land.
An increasing number of conservative members of Congress took issue with what they believed was the Farm Security Administration's Soviet-style collectivization of agriculture. At the same time, the displaced farmers argued for the right to buy small farms of their own and asked for government assistance. The FSA’s mission shifted as a result to providing low-interest loans that allowed small farmers to purchase their own tracts of land.
A lasting impact of the Farm Security Administration was a program implemented by its Information Division to send photographers into the U.S. farm country to put a human face on the plight of farmers for the rest of the country. Many of these photographers would go on to become famous artists. Their heart-rending images of struggling farmers and their families, which can be found online at the Library of Congress digital library, came to signify for many the hardships wrought by the Depression.
An aspect of the Farm Security Administrations resettlement efforts that often goes unnoticed or at least unmentioned is the way many people were displaced.
The farm land that was set aside for Farm Security Administration clients was often times already being farmed by other tenant farmers. These farmers were forced to move else where if they were not linked with the Farm Security Administration.
In many instances the farmers displaced were African American farmers. This added to already stressed racial relations between blacks and whites in many areas, particularly in the South.
Unlike many of the government programs created during tough economic times, the programs provided through the Farm Security Administration were not designed to provide free help to people. In other words, the administration was not in the business of giving people free handouts.
Clients who approached the Farm Security Administration were screened with the purpose of finding people who were experiencing hard times because of reasons beyond their control. The administration wanted to support people who were most likely to benefit from governmental aid. These were people who still had the desire and the physical ability to succeed with a little help.