Farm Security Administration

Created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal, the Farm Security Administration was a depression-era agency that granted small farmers and tenant farmers in the United States money to purchase farms. The FSA was created when its predecessor, the Resettlement Administration, was moved to the Department of Agriculture in 1937.

The Dust Bowl, in particular, had provoked a disastrous dislocation of small farmers at the same time that economic depression in industrial centers reduced purchasing power for food consumers and industrial farming, both in Europe and the United States, increased pressure on small farm holders. The result was that many people were impoverished and moved off of their farm holdings. These individuals became migrant and tenant farmers. Their plight, and their migration (becoming "Okies" and "Arkies" moving toward California and Oregon, where their presence depressed wages and displaced low end labor) challenged both the moral and cultural values of the nation.

The FSA's primary mission was not to aid farm production or prices. Roosevelt's agricultural policy had, in fact, been to try to decrease agricultural production to increase prices. However, when production was discouraged, the tenant farmers and small holders suffered most by not being able to ship enough to market to pay rents. The FSA attempted to correct this problem by enabling farmers to purchase holdings. Once these share croppers and migrants had individual farms, they would benefit from the increased agricultural prices.

However, FDR needed to increase public awareness of the problems of migrants, and the FSA sponsored a documentary photography program. Photographers and writers were hired to go out and document the plight of the poor farmer. The Information Division of the FSA was responsible for providing educational materials and press information to the public. Under Roy Stryker, the Information Division of the FSA adopted a goal of "introducing America to Americans." Many of the most famous Depression-era photographers were fostered by the FSA project. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks were three of the most famous FSA alumni.

Together with fiction (e.g. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath) and documentary prose (e.g. Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), the FSA photography project is most responsible for creating the image of the Depression in the USA.

After the onset of World War II, it was increasingly difficult to justify either the economic or documentary functions of the FSA. In 1943, Congress disbanded the FSA as a budget waste, and the photographic unit was subsumed by the Office of War Information. fr:Farm Security Administration


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