The unforgettable true story of a young lawyer’s impossible legal battle to stop the federal government from foreclosing on thousands of family farmers.
In the early 1980s, farmers were suffering through the worst economic crisis to hit rural America since the Great Depression. Land prices were down, operating costs and interest rates were up, and severe weather devastated crops. Instead of receiving assistance from the government as they had in the 1930s, these hardworking family farmers were threatened with foreclosure by the very agency that Franklin Delano Roosevelt created to help them.
Desperate, they called Sarah Vogel in North Dakota. Sarah, a young lawyer and single mother, listened to farmers who were on the verge of losing everything and, inspired by the politicians who had helped farmers in the ’30s, she naively built a solo practice of clients who couldn’t afford to pay her. Sarah began drowning in debt and soon her own home was facing foreclosure. In a David and Goliath legal battle reminiscent of A Civil Action or Erin Brockovich, Sarah brought a national class action lawsuit, which pitted her against the Reagan administration’s Department of Justice, in her fight for family farmers’ Constitutional rights. It was her first case.
A courageous American story about justice and holding the powerful to account, The Farmer’s Lawyer shows how the farm economy we all depend on for our daily bread almost fell apart due to the willful neglect of those charged to protect it, and what we can learn from Sarah’s battle as a similar calamity looms large on our horizon once again.
Meet the real people from the book!
Watch the replay of the Coleman Reunion, including plaintiffs and Sarah’s co-counsels, reunited for the first time in nearly 40 years! Click the video below to watch or go to the replay page for the full transcript too.
“This is my kind of story—the young, inexperienced lawyer facing big odds. It’s remarkably well told and heartfelt. I really enjoyed it.”
“Sarah Vogel and I share an ornery persistence in the face of bullies. This is her real life story of fighting for farmers as they were pushed off the land by a plan, ordered and carried out by top officials of our government. Sarah’s story, told in her unique voice, inspires me—and I’m sure it will inspire you—to fight for family farmers.”
“Vogel is a gifted writer, weaving history, politics and vivid descriptions of the people and landscape with personal challenges like her financial turmoil as a single mother in a male-dominated field … Both in court and in this book, Vogel is able to bring the farmers she works with fully to life, including the devastating heartbreaks they experience … Great for fans of legal dramas, Sarah Vogel’s The Farmer’s Lawyer will leave readers inspired as she details their fight for truth, justice and family farms in the 1980s.”
“Sarah Vogel is a consummate storyteller, using vivid, fast-paced narration to deliver a thriller that is difficult to put down. It is enthralling, honest, and insightful. In addition to following how the crises of her personal life and of her main plaintiffs were intertwined, readers will learn the intricacies of federal farm policy and about the machinations of ideological bureaucrats, unconcerned with the effects of their actions on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The ultimate lesson is that persistence, expertise, and commitment to people and communities can win out.”
“Sarah Vogel’s passion to save the family farm comes through in The Farmer’s Lawyer, which is not only a genuine and brilliant story, but a necessary one.”
“The Farmer’s Lawyer is a fascinating political history about farming in America, a gripping personal story about one person battling a vast, unjust system, and a clear-eyed investigation of the discriminatory systems and policies that drove so many family farmers out of business. Today, as small and midsized farmers across the country struggle for survival in the face of climate change and corporate consolidation, Vogel’s narrative of her David-and-Goliath fight in the 1980s couldn’t be more timely.” –