Homeplace Under Fire

The story of the grassroots work of American farm advocates and their 30 year fight to keep family farmers on the land.

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About the Film

The Farm Crisis of the 1980s drove hundreds of thousands of family farmers into foreclosure. Yet, out of that crisis arose a legion of farm advocates who refused to stand idly by and watch their way of life be destroyed.

Ordinary Americans taught themselves extraordinary skills. As fellow farmers, farm wives, and rural leaders, they studied laws and regulations, started hotlines, answered farmers’ calls from their kitchen tables, counseled their neighbors, and went toe-to-toe with lenders – giving their all to keep their neighbors on the land.

Homeplace Under Fire celebrates these advocates and their remarkable work. Thousands of farmers are alive and on their land today because of them. As Willie Nelson has said, these advocates are the best of America.

Homeplace Under Fire was directed by Charles D. Thompson, Jr. and produced by Farm Aid in cooperation with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

“ These Folks Represent The Best of America. ”

-Willie Nelson

About the Director

Charles D. Thompson Jr

Professor of the Practice of Cultural Anthropology and Documentary Studies at Duke University

Back in the early 1980s, I worked as a farm advocate at the Rural Advancement Fund, operating a hotline and responding to calls from farmers all over the Carolinas.

Becoming part of the growing national network of people responding to the Farm Crisis, my colleagues and I chose a local dairy farmer to attend the first Farm Aid concert. He returned ready to organize his neighbors and fight farm foreclosures. I cheered this creative and powerful response by musicians, always grateful to Willie Nelson and his friends for caring about family farmers.

In the decades since, I have continued to work on international agricultural crises, endeavoring to tell about what I have learned in lectures, books, and films. But I have always looked to the years I spent as a farm advocate for inspiration.When Farm Aid came to me in 2015 to ask me to direct the project that would become Homeplace Under Fire, I was deeply grateful. The opportunity allowed me to bring my years of experience – from growing up working with my grandparents on their farm to my documentary work – into a compilation of so much that I care about. Working with Willie Nelson and the Farm Aid staff felt like a homecoming. The team I put together to make the film are some of the best in the field.

Most special of all, this opportunity gave me the chance to work with the Farm Advocates featured in this film. Their stories make me believe all over again in liberty and justice for all. They make me believe that we can make a difference if we try.

See the Film

Homeplace Under Fire is being screened at exclusive events around the country. Stay tuned for your chance to see the film.

Film Premiere, hosted by John Mellencamp

What is a Farm Advocate?

A Farm Advocate is someone who works one-on-one with individual farmers to help them navigate the complex world of farm lending, state and federal regulations, contracts, and government programs in a way that increases their chance to stay on the land and be successful. A Farm Advocate helps to uncover injustice, bias or flawed servicing, and in doing so is able to identify opportunities for legal and political action at the systemic level.

Today, Farm Advocates throughout the country act as referrals for farmers and ranchers who seek assistance via Farm Aid’s hotline (1-800-FARM-AID) and Farmer Resource Network. The mission of Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate Link is to train, support and recruit a new generation of Farm Advocates in service to America’s family farmers.

Watch Mona Lee Brock's Story

Meet the Advocates

Benny Bunting

Part of RAFI-USA, Benny counsels between 75 and 100 farmers each year, devoting an average of 60 hours to each client. Ninety percent of the farmers he works with have realized their goals. In addition to his advocacy, he farms today with his son near Oak City, North Carolina.

Linda Hessman

Linda has worked as Project Manager and Family Resource Specialist for the Kansas Rural Family Helpline, a non-profit direct service program dedicated to meeting the unique needs of rural Kansas families. She was the first woman to chair the Interfaith Rural Life Committee. She and her husband raise horses near Dodge City, Kansas.

Shirley Sherrod

Shirley is a celebrated civil rights leader and served as Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She continues as Executive Director of the Southwest Georgia Project, which she founded with her husband, Rev. Charles Sherrod in Albany, Georgia.

John Zippert

John has worked as a community organizer for over 45 years. He is the Director of Program Operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund at their Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama.

Lou Anne Kling

Lou Anne farmed with her husband for 25 years. After starting the Minnesota Farm Advocates program, Lou Anne conducted FmHA trainings across the country, receiving the Virginia McKnight Binger Award for Human Service. She also served in the 1990s as USDA Deputy Administrator of Farm Loan Programs in Washington, D.C.

Betty Puckett

Betty farms with her husband Pete and their son near Alexandria, Louisiana. She has worked as a farm advocate for decades at the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, and has traveled nationwide to train farm advocates. Betty also served as a key response team member for farmers devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Mona Lee Brock

Mona Lee, whom Willie Nelson has called the “angel on the end of the line,” is known nationally for her suicide intervention work. Beginning with the Oklahoma Council of Churches, she ran the National Farm Crisis Center and hotline. Mona Lee continues to take Farm Aid hotline calls. Her son Ronnie visits her nearly every day.

Ralph Paige

Ralph served as Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund for 30 years. Under his leadership, the Federation received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award and the first Fannie Mae Excellence in Low-Income Housing Development Award. In 2004, Mr. Paige was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.

About Farm Aid

Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $50 million to help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

To learn more visit farmaid.org