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The New York Review of Books: The Farmer's Lawyer featured

On January 19th, The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm was featured prominently in a striking analysis of our current farm and resource crisis in The New York Review of Books. This timely and well-informed piece was written by the interminable Ian Frazier, author of thirteen books, including Great Plains.

Sarah is thrilled and honored to have her story and work featured in this stunning and urgent piece on one of the most crucial issues of our time: the intersection of farms, food, climate, resources, and human beings. The essay also prominently reviews another essential book of our time, Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It by Tom Philpott.

From The New York Review, “Grim Reapers: Mega-agriculture is destroying the Corn Belt and the Central Valley, which the country’s food system depends on. Can midsize farms survive to save it?”:

“[Vogel] was the farmers’ lawyer and hero. The Coleman victory created public awareness of what farmers were going through.”


Read the full “Grim Reapers” piece on The New York Review of Books website.

Screenshot of the opening paragraphs of the NYR piece entitled “Grim Reapers.”

Sarah was honored in September with the University of North Dakota’s Sioux Award for Distinguished Achievement and Leadership. Here’s what they had to say:

Sarah Vogel, ’67, first rose to prominence when she took on the federal government on behalf of farmers in the 1980s. Her David versus Goliath battle to win the class-action lawsuit Coleman v. Block is the subject of a book she wrote last year, “The Farmer’s Lawyer.” Following that case, Sarah would go on to be elected North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, the first woman to be elected a commissioner of agriculture of any state. After two terms, Sarah returned to private practice, where she won a $680 million settlement for Native American farmers impacted by USDA discriminatory lending practices.

Read the full details here.

Want to learn more? You can also watch the Beyond the Pages interview UND did with Sarah in April, 2022.

Her book and our interview begin with a long view of the Vogel family’s commitment to justice for farmers, beginning with a history of the Nonpartisan League, the left-wing political party founded by North Dakota socialist Arthur C. Townley to protect farmers during the Great Depression. Sarah’s grandfather Frank Vogel, a dedicated Nonpartisan Leaguer, was the most trusted advisor of “Wild Bill” Langer, governor of North Dakota from 1933-1934 and 1937-1939 who in his first speech as governor insisted that there can [quote] “be no return to prosperity in North Dakota that doesn’t begin with the farmer.”

Read the full transcript here

Reading the West shortlist

The Reading the West Book Awards are sponsored and promoted independent booksellers across many western and mid-western states. The awards honor the best fiction, non-fiction, and illustrated books for adults and children set in the region, or created by an author or artist living or working in the region. The awards, given to books published in the previous calendar year, celebrate the spirit of the west and the rich variety of writing in and about this region, and reflect the extraordinary diversity of the reading public.

See the full shortlist and vote for your favorites, including The Farmer’s Lawyer.

Anyone 50 or over will remember the 1980s farm crisis that choked the nation’s heartland. Family farm after family farm fell to the auctioneer’s block.

It was much more than the loss of a business, though. For many farmers, it was their inheritance and legacy threatened by Administrative Notice 580 handed down by the FmHA that accelerated payment schedules of borrowers behind on their payments or who had violated any agreement terms of their loans.

North Dakota attorney Sarah Vogel, in her exhaustively researched account, “The Farmer’s Lawyer,” tells the heartbreaking but later inspiring story of how she as a young lawyer fought and beat the federal government in the landmark class-action case Coleman vs. Block that originated with a lawsuit in which Vogel represented nine North Dakota farmers against the FmHA.

Read the full review on Sarah and The Farmer’s Lawyer here.

The Star Tribune:

Farming has never been an easy profession. The work is physically demanding and at times dangerous, commodity prices are capricious, agribusiness giants control the market, and the whims of Mother Nature are often cruel. Also, the hours suck.

That’s all to say it’s always required hardy souls to make a living working the land. And, at least in recent history, that was perhaps never truer than in the early 1980s, when low prices and widespread debt drove thousands of family farmers across the U.S. and particularly in the Midwest out of business. More than a full generation later, the ’80s farm crisis still echoes across rural America.

Sarah Vogel returns to that grim era in “The Farmer’s Lawyer,” which recounts her work as the lead attorney for a group of North Dakota farmers whose lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture led to a nationwide class action that eventually overturned the heavy-handed lending practices that drove rampant farm foreclosures. Part memoir, part populist political history and part courtroom drama, Vogel’s book is a charming, at times compelling recollection of a singular time in U.S. agriculture.

Read the full review on Sarah and The Farmer’s Lawyer here.

Excerpt from AG WEEK:

FARGO, North Dakota — In 1981, Sarah Vogel was out of her upper echelon U.S. Treasury Department job in Washington, D.C., because Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter for the presidency.

Vogel moved from Virginia back to Bismarck, North Dakota. She incorrectly thought banks might hire her for “advice,” much as she’d given advice to the Secretary of the Treasury. She and her son Andrew moved into a house on the Missouri River.

A financially troubled farmer-friend, Chuck Perry from North Dakota, now was traveling the country, raising funds for the “Farmers and Ranchers Protective League.” And he was promoting Vogel’s legal services to farmers in trouble with the FmHA.

In her book, “The FARMER’S LAWYER,” Vogel said she was “building a law practice for farmers who couldn’t afford my fees.” She was receiving child support, making only monthly minimum payments on all of her credit cards. She still owed $100,000 on the Virginia condo. Her loan was in default.

She held out hope she might get paid in these farm cases because Congress had passed the Equal Access to Justice Act. The EAJA said that if a citizen or small business sues (or is sued) by the U.S. and wins, the government should pay the winner’s legal fees.

In the “The Farmer’s Lawyer,” she describes how she accumulated a string of financially weakened clients.

Read the full feature, the second of a three-part story by Mikkel Pates, Agweek staff writer, about Sarah Vogel’s new book — THE FARMER’S LAWYER: The North Dakota nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm.


From Prairie Public:

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 – Efforts continue in North Dakota to fill the gap left by the closing of Lutheran Social Services. One such effort comes from USpireND, which is maintaining the Healthy Families program. Healthy Families looks to strengthen families so children can avoid entering the foster-care system. Joining us is Missi Baranko, executive director. ~~~ Tom Isern has a Plains Folk essay, “The Farmer’s Lawyer.” ~~~ Plantology is a North Dakota company that makes CBD products that are organically and locally produced. Ashley recent talked with Plantology’s Troy Goltz at a Pride of Dakota event. Bismarck’s Pride of Dakota is this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Listen to the full episode here.

Excerpt from: Civil Eats

In a true-life David and Goliath fight, lawyer and former North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel won a remarkable victory in the class action lawsuit she brought against the federal government on behalf of struggling North Dakota farmers facing foreclosure in the 1980s. Amid high interest rates and low crop prices, farmers were experiencing the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and many who had borrowed money through the federal Farmers Home Administration faced foreclosure. In her new memoir, The Farmer’s Lawyer, Vogel recounts the story of the hard-won battle. Her first-ever trial was fought despite much personal hardship—Vogel was a single mother who faced foreclosure of her own home and, serving financially struggling farmers, she was often paid in baked goods and frozen fish. Nevertheless, the trial drew national attention to the farm crisis, and Vogel’s striking success shaped her career. After she won, she became assistant attorney general, and later, North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner, the first woman elected to the office in the nation. Vogel’s inspiring legal battle is a call to action to fight for the injustices faced by many American farmers, and it also ensures her legacy: Congress later passed a law enacting some of the reforms she and the farmers she represented sought, including fairer appeal procedures.

—Naomi Starkman

Access Civil Eats: Our 2021 Food and Farming Holiday Book Gift Guide here

AG Week Feature

Excerpt from AG WEEK:

FARGO, North Dakota — Sarah Vogel’s memoir, “The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm,” looks at Vogel’s career as a lawyer/advocate, with a gritty, behind-the-scenes account of the 1980s farm credit crisis from one of its central figures, and her David and Goliath struggle against the federal government on behalf of broke farmers.

Vogel, now 75, living in Bismarck, won Coleman v. Block, in 1983. The national class action suit stopped foreclosures by the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and its Farmers Home Administration, an agency designed to help farmers. It protected some 240,000 farmers across the country.

The Farmer’s Lawyer was released on Nov. 3, 2021. In the book, Vogel tells how — and why — she made history in agriculture, which helped lead to national ag lending reforms in the 1987 Agricultural Credit Act.


Read the full feature, part of a multi-part story by Mikkel Pates, Agweek staff writer, about the book THE FARMER’S LAWYER: The North Dakota nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm.