When the New Deal began in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt experimented with social planning and with programs to move people out of drought areas. The main program, the Resettlement Administration, created 160 new communities in the U.S. for those whose livelihoods had been crushed by the Depression. On this date in 1936, New Deal officials released information about how the resettlement program was planning to purchase 1.2 million acres of submarginal land and spend $3.3 million dollars for moving the farmers.
Two of the resettlement projects were in North Dakota. One was the Burlington Project, in which 35 lignite coal miners got eight-acre farms for growing vegetables to augment their miner’s income. The other was the Red River Valley Farms Resettlement Project. The federal government moved 101 farmers from the drought-parched regions in western North Dakota to greener lands in the Valley.
The project began in 1935 when the federal government bought 150 tax-forfeited farms scattered in Traill and Cass counties near Fargo. Banks and insurance companies and other investors had bought up these farms.
The federal government hired workers to build new farmhouses, barns, or outbuildings, then sold or leased the farms to the resettled farmers. Purchase was on a forty-year payment plan at three percent interest.
The center of the patchwork of farms in the project was at Grandin, which had been the original location of the Grandin Bonanza Farm in the 1880s to 1890s. The project constructed new buildings on 90 farms, at a cost of $4,000 for each set of buildings, and remodeled buildings on the others, using workers from the Works Projects Administration, the WPA.
Some observers were skeptical, wondering if a resettled farmer could successfully make payments on a 160-acre farm purchased for $55 per acre, even on a forty-year payment plan. Others thought the Red River Valley Farms project was a worthy effort to rehabilitate farmers and to put tax-forfeited lands back into production.
The farmers generally appreciated the Resettlement program, as one of them said: “We are getting [back] on our feet again.” Others farmers in the project were disappointed by the small acreage, for it was based on an outmoded farming model – raising chickens and milking a few cows on a 160-acre farm – at a time when mechanized farming was leading to much larger farms.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “New Drought Threats Spur Government Aid,” New York Times, June 28, 1936, p. E7.
“Sarles Will Open Offices At Fargo,” Bismarck Tribune, January 29, 1936, p. 3.
“Counties Worry Over Resettled Farmers,” Bismarck Tribune, November 4, 1937, p. 9.
W.W. Derne, “Unusual Facts of History: Rural Resettlement Administration Project,” Traill County Tribune [Mayville, ND], April 22, 1937, p. 6.
“Hopkins Says U.S. To Take Farmers Off Drouth Lands, Minot Daily News, July 6, 1936, p. 1.
“Million Dollar Federal Farm Projects In Valley Rouse Comment, Criticism,” Fargo Forum, January 4, 1938, p. 2.
John P. Johansen, “One Hundred New Homesteads in the Red River Valley, North Dakota: A Study of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Farm Families,” Department of Rural Sociology, North Dakota Agricultural College [NDSU], Fargo, ND, Bulletin 304, June, 1941, p. 3-7, 42-47.