August 31, 2009

The Farmer’s Wife

After its debut over a decade ago on PBS, David Sutherland’s documentary for Frontline, The Farmer’s Wife, remains a unique and compelling glimpse of an American family struggling to survive.

Juanita and Darrel Buschkotter are Nebraska farmers caught in a cycle of debt and never-ending work, that leaves them exhausted, on the brink of financial collapse and both dreaming of a better life for themselves and their three young daughters. The debt and lack of revenue from the farm force both Darrel and Juanita to find jobs “off the farm.” In addition to their responsibilities on the farm, Juanita cleans upper middle class homes while Darrel works on an assembly line. Not surprisingly, this leaves both husband and wife no time for relaxation, but gives them much time for reflection.

The Buschkotter’s story is all the more relatable 11 years later at a time when many Americans are caught in a financial struggle. The current U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 9.5% and presidential economic advisers warn that it could hit 10% by year’s end*. What is striking now is the fact that a decade ago, Americans could find second jobs to help put food on the table. (Sadly, for the Buschkotter’s that was a mere $11,000 to feed a family of five for a year.) Now, those jobs are few and far between.

What is most compelling about this documentary is the raw intimacy of it. The viewer is invited into some of the most private conversations between Darrel and Juanita - in bed, late a night before they turn out the lights. We get the opportunity to watch them meet with bankers to discuss their debt and see their individual reactions to each other’s day-to-day actions and decisions. It is this guileless intimacy that makes The Buschkotters immediately relatable whether you are a farmer in the Midwest or a young professional on the East Coast. There is no sensationalism in this three part documentary, instead raw honesty about love, life, family, money and poverty.

The Farmer’s Wife is available on DVD for rent or sale through the following vendors:

Blockbuster (online only)

To learn more about the documentary and the filmmaker, visit:
David Sutherland Productions

Source: *”First Time U.S. Jobless Claims Fall Again”, New York Times, August 28, 2009

This post was written by Leslie Marie, a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Leslie lives in New York City and has done outreach and research for the Ad Council. For the past year she directed the marketing and recruiting efforts for an alternative teaching certification program run by a national education consulting organization. Please leave your comments or email with your questions.

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