Community Spotlight: Walnut Grove, Minnesota

October 7, 2007

“Little House on the Prairie” Opposes Grassley-Dorgan Pay Limits Amendment

Tom and DeVonna Zeug have a lot in common with the famous Charles Ingalls family who, in the late 19th century, settled on a farm just seven miles away from what is today the Zeug family’s fifth generation farm.

“Believe it or not, John Zeug, who first settled here with his wife Anna in 1877, actually played fiddle with Pa Ingalls, who all of us remember Michael Landon playing on ‘Little House on the Prairie’,” DeVonna said.

DeVonna and her husband raise their four children, Mitch, Marie, Matthew and Myles, in their farmstead home that once served as a make-shift Catholic church where Mass was said once a month when the priest could make it to town. “We go to Mass in town now, but Tom’s dad still remembers going to church in our living room!”

“The Ingalls were a farm family of six, just struggling to make ends meet, with no control over the weather and the markets. Sounds familiar!” DeVonna said. “We obviously have a lot better technology and equipment now, and thank goodness we have a farm bill that helps us get through some of the tough times. But we still have the same unpredictable weather and markets – and a lot, lot bigger bills to pay on top of it.”

Tom and DeVonna Zeug are anything but the fabled land barons written about in the big city newspapers. The Zeugs farm with Tom’s parents, Donald and Alice, and Tom’s brother, Paul, who has a wife, daughter and another baby on the way. Joe, Tom’s other brother, also helps out on the farm, though he works full time in town.

“By working together, we preserve our fifth-generation family farm, which is extremely important to us, but we also do it to try and hold down costs,” DeVonna said. “You won’t believe this, but Tom is actually talking to local restaurants right now about using their kitchen grease to make some of our own diesel, with prices where they are today.”

When they’re not running the family business, Tom and DeVonna also have their eyes on Washington, D.C. And they are worried about the possibility of harmful payment limitation amendments being offered during the Senate debate on the 2007 farm bill.

“Tom and I have to laugh out loud whenever we hear on TV or read in the newspaper about how farm families like us are ‘big factory farms,’ ‘agribusinesses’ or ‘landed gentry’ because you would think we all walk around in top hats and tails here in Walnut Grove,” DeVonna said. “I think that’s just an attempt to drive a wedge between us and the public.”

“But what is really disappointing is when we hear about pay limit proposals in Congress that are supposed to take out that rich guy who lives in Manhattan or Los Angeles – but instead is aimed directly at us,” DeVonna continued.

“I’d say the average farm family can easily borrow a half million dollars these days just to plant and harvest a crop and to pay our equipment bills – and that does not include land rent or loans,” she explained. “All I ask is that Senators consider the reality we face every day in the field and take that into account when they vote on the farm bill.”

“The bottom line is that the values that we all watched on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ are still alive and well around Walnut Grove today,” concluded DeVonna. “It just costs a heck of lot more to farm here, that’s all. While I think the Ag Committee made some needed pay limit reforms, Tom and I really worry that the amendments being talked about now would hurt a lot of real farm families.”