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  • Words by Woody Guthrie
  • Farmers use plows to turn the soil for planting. Intense cultivation in the Great Plains in previous decades was one of the causes of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
  • Native prairie grasses have deep roots that keep soil in place. When these plants were tilled up, shallow-rooted plants like wheat and corn couldn’t stop erosion.
  • Over-plowing, coupled with a severe drought, led to one of the world’s worst man-made ecological disasters: The Dust Bowl.
  • A dust storm envelops houses in Stratford, Texas, 1935. These massive storms, called ‘black blizzards’ or ‘black rollers,’ could reduce visibly to just a few feet.
  • Residents of the Great Plains were in danger of dust pneumonia, a possibly fatal illness that results when lungs are filled with dust.
  • A Dust Bowl farmer raises his fence to keep it from being buried in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936.
  • In an effort to humanize the Dust Bowl, the Farm Security Administration hired photojournalists like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.
  • This iconic image known as “Migrant Mother” depicts Florence Owens Thompson and two of her seven children looking for work in California.
  • Lange took six photographs of Thompson and her family. Despite the photo’s fame, Thompson’s identity remained unknown until 1978.
  • In 1935, soil conservation pioneer and Soil Erosion Service director Hugh Hammond Bennett (right) timed his speech to Congress to coincide with an approaching dust storm.
  • As the sun was blotted out and dust fell on the Capitol, Bennett said, “This, gentlemen, is what I’ve been talking about.” Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act in 1936.
  • By 1940, 2.5 million residents of the Great Plains had been displaced by the Dust Bowl. It remains the largest migration in American history in that short a time period.
  • Approximately 15 percent of the population of Oklahoma alone left the state. Called ‘Okies,’ their plight was depicted in John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”
  • Conservation programs initiated by the Soil Conservation Service, as well as farming practices like terracing and contour plowing, helped stop erosion and end the Dust Bowl.
  • Many of these conservation measures continue in the U.S. Farm Bill. Since 2008, The Nature Conservancy has helped guide $200 million per year to priority landscapes and watersheds.
When the Dust Settled
U.S. Farm Bill Conservation Programs Have Roots in Dirty Thirties

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