Photographs Show How Colorado Farmers Weathered The Great Depression
While the United States was attempting to pull itself out of the Great Depression, a team of photographers were dispatched to every corner of the country to document the lives of the rural poor. They gathered images from across Colorado, and many of these are now available in a searchable database, thanks to the hard work of Yale University researchers.
The photography project was originally funded by the Farm Security Administration, and launched the careers of some of the most famous Depression-era photographers, like Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Marion Post Wolcott.
In Colorado, photographers like Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee and John Vachon crisscrossed the state's plains and mountains from 1935 to 1945 to capture the lives of recipients of federal loans set up and distributed as part of the New Deal.
In total, the collection amassed by the Farm Security Administration topped 170,000 photographs. Last year, researchers at Yale Universitygeotagged and cataloged thousands of those photographs into an online database.
The photography project wasn’t just an artistic endeavor, though. Many New Deal programs were highly controversial when first rolled out, including the Resettlement Administration which provided small loans to farmers. Part of the photography project was meant to sway public opinion that the money being spent was worthwhile.
The Farm Security Administration photographs from Colorado illustrate how the state's agriculture industry has shifted and changed in the decades since the Great Depression, but also how it has stayed the same. The Arkansas River Valley remains a hub for melon-growing, much like it was in the 1930s. Same is true for potatoes in the San Luis Valley. Many farmers still grow sugar beets along Colorado's Front Range.
Parallels to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s too can be drawn from today's landscape. A persistent drought has parched many of the same lands affected by the Dust Bowl. The harsh economic climate of the 1930s forced many crop farmers to flee, becoming Dust Bowl refugees. That hasn't necessarily happened during today's drought, where agricultural technology and practices have kept a similar economic shutdown from taking place.