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.