June 29, 2010
"The Farmer's Wife" a dvd review
Back in 1998 David Sutherland produced a series on PBS entitled "The Farmer's Wife." I remember watching the three episodes over three evenings. I have never lived on a farm. My Uncles had small farms that they maintained along with careers in teaching. We live in Iowa where there are a lot of farm operations. When the weather has been bad, such as now with the flooding, you can almost feel the tension in the air of farmers that are trying to get into their fields to spray the soy beans or watching their fields turn into small lakes.
I could never do it. Perhaps I don't have enough faith or enough resilience. I admire farm wives as they carry the burden of the farm operation along with their husband. They help on the farm, raise the children, keep chickens and a garden for their family's use and also to sell eggs and produce at the farmer's market. I think it is a life you either love or hate.
So, there I sat for three nights watching a farm family in Lawrence, Nebraska and seeing them fight to save their farm and also their marriage. David Sutherland followed Darrel and Juanita Buschkoetter for over three years on location at their farm. The cameras caught everything.
It showed a desperate struggle to save their farm operation. It also showed the stress and how it affected their marriage. Juanita went from being a passive farm wife to a wife that was fully involved in the farm operation down to understanding everything about FHA and all the finances of the farm. Darrel at one point was working in a factory and coming home to farm. One time it showed him driving a truck during the day and coming home at night to farm.
Juanita cleaned houses. She was being paid by the hour and had to rush to clean the houses in order to get home when their 3 daughters got off the bus frrom school. Juanita was determined to be a good mother and wife. She did everything she could to create a happy home for her children. One scene showed how she had created a Halloween party for her kids and neighbor children with only $5. They had been wanting a Halloween party for years and she finally decided she wanted to do it for her children. She was quite inventive.
The hardest part for me was to see how little they had. Having little resources, having a husband with an anger management problem due to the stress and not having hope, was hard for me to watch at times. Then imagine that this doesn't go on for just a week, but for years. Add to that the lack of family support from Juanita's side of the family.
The expressions on Darrel and Juanita's faces during some of the interviews speak to their plight. They have very little or no money for food at one point. Juanita talks about not having meat and after awhile it gets to you. Juanita does get support from a local group that helps farmers that are struggling. She receives some food from a local food pantry and then they do end up going on food stamps. Juanita does it for her kids. They need nutritious food. She talks with a crisis counselor about not having enough money to take her daughter to the doctor for an ear infection. Juanita also attends a clinic with other farm families and shares her story about the farm and the long road they have to get out of debt. As the camera pans the room you see in the faces of the farmers' and their wives that if they had a chance, they would probably be telling the same story.
Juanita sees education as a future for their family so she enrolls in a community college. Towards the end of the series you see her graduating from the community college wearing a dress she borrowed from a friend. She looks amazing.
Every month and year they put their hopes on future crops, future sale of farm animals but the weather was against them. At one point Darrell makes a powerful statement, "If you have never had money problems, then you don't know what it is like."
In my marriage we have had dry periods when money was tight, but never to the level of the Buschkoetters. Actually, their story is not unique. I remember the farm crisis of the early 1980's and many farmers went bankrupt and had to abandon farming. The Buschkoetters were doing everything they could to save their family farm.
Towards the end of the series their life is getting better. However due to what they had been through, they were cautiously optimistic.
Why do I recommend this dvd series? It shows a family going through a crisis. It is honest in its telling of the entire story. Nothing is hidden. You need to watch it if only to see what it is like to live on a farm and see the stresses that farm families endure.
I bought the dvd series about 5 years ago when I saw it on sale. I hadn't watched it in about a year but with my recent conviction to get back on track in my finances, I pulled it out. I've been watching a little bit every day. Sometimes I need to see a story of a struggling family to make me appreciate what I do have. I don't have to worry about not being able to afford a doctor's visit or not being able to afford meat, but I do need to be more cognizant of what resources I do have. I need to respect those resources and value them enough not to waste them.
The dvd series is a 3 dvd set and is available on Netflix.