Friday, April 1, 2011
The Non-Partisan League was started in North Dakota in the early part of the 20th Century as a cooperative effort to help farmers resist the power of out-of-state corporate interests. I’ve always had a dim notion of it, and have always wanted to see the movie which was made about its beginnings, called “Northern Lights”. Studying the NPL now, I am surprised to find how far reaching some of its reforms were. According to Wikipedia, laws enacted while the Non-Partisan League held sway, “still in force today, after having been upheld by both State and Federal courts, make it almost impossible to foreclose on farmland, as even after foreclosure, the property title cannot be held by a bank or mortgage company. Thus, virtually every farm in existence today in North Dakota is still a ‘family-owned’ farm.”
Never mind that the entire population of the state of North Dakota is less than the city of San Francisco by 150,000 people! It grows many of the cereal grains, oil seeds such as sunflowers and flax, and sugar beets. The weather is typical for the middle of a continent, very cold winters and hot summers with four pronounced seasons. I lived there from age 5 until age 12, and, as I knew nothing else, don’t remember that weather was a big problem. Our houses were well-insulated and big furnaces in our basements kept us warm with coal, shipped in by rail. Railway trains ran so close to our house they shivered the cups off their hooks and broke them!
As a Lutheran pastor, my Dad loved the people of his North Dakota parishes. The cultures of the little towns revolved around their churches, and because farmers didn’t keep a lot of livestock, they were available all winter for active participation! One of the people in our church was a North Dakota state senator. I know there was a lot of political talk that went on around him and his delightful wife [who lived to be 100 years old, I recently learned: Obituary of Lena Sorlie], but I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention.
I do remember that there was some difference between the town kids and the farm kids in school, probably mostly due to the availability of cash in those years. I found out another difference when my teacher for the fifth and sixth grades introduced us to square dancing, as mentioned previously. The town boys had soft hands, while the farm boys’ hands were strong, calloused and hard. It was probably never in the cards for me to end up on a North Dakota farm, but the idea does have a certain romance.