When you hear “dust bowl,” iconic images likely pop into your head: black clouds over the prairie, dead cattle scattered across the range and tractors buried in the field.
Those images are easy to remember, but the circumstances are easily forgotten. Ken Burns’ new documentary, ‘The Dust Bowl,’ which is set to air Nov. 18 on PBS, examines the worst man–made ecological disaster in American history, documenting its causes, impact and lessons, as well as the personal stories of survival and human endurance.
The documentary chronicles the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s, which nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews, dramatic photographs and seldom-seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance.
Humans rely on soil to sustain life through the production of food, fuel and fiber. Yet soils are a natural resource still often misunderstood. Soil quality, often called soil health, is the capacity to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water quality, and support human health and habitation.
Locally, the mismanagement of soil was felt long after the 1930s. Many farmers expressed concerns over the extreme soil erosion occurring in the county. Sylvester Rademacher of Melrose Township stated “there is a place north of us where they could drop any average size house in a gully.” J.M. Kunkel of St. Augusta Township stated “He actually lost some land…if that had been seeded down it never would have done this.”
The 1930s dust bowl sparked the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 that allowed local landowners to form soil conservation districts. “The lessons learned from the dust bowl are as relevant today as they were in the 1930s,” said Dennis Fuchs, Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District administrator. “We can build a stronger future for Stearns County by better understanding our relationship to the soil resource that sustains us.”
Learn more about conservation projects that work to protect soil health by contacting the Stearns County SWCD at (320) 251-7800, ext. 3 or by visiting the SWCD website at www.stearnscountyswcd.net.
For more information about the documentary, visit www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl.