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“Harvest Land”: A Lyrical Critique of John Farmer

In 1915, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) established a branch union, the Agricultural Workers' Organization (AWO). The AWO organized temporary harvesters, known as “harvest stiffs,” in railroad yards, migrant camps, and shelters. At its height in 1917 the AWO had more than 70,000 members, but like the IWW it was undermined by President Woodrow Wilson’s wartime attack on dissent and by local vigilante organizations. The AWO, like its parent organization, used folksongs, stories, and poetry to spread its message to migrants. One such song, “Harvest Land,” by “TD and H,” first appeared in the Little Red Songbook, a free booklet that IWW members regularly distributed to organizers and workers. Like most IWW songs, it set satirical lyrics to popular or traditional tunes, in this case “Beulah Land.” "Harvest Land“ attacked ”John Farmer" for recruiting laborers with false promises, and it urged workers to withhold their labor until they received better wages.

The harvest drive is on again,

John Farmer needs a lot of men;

To work beneath the Kansas heat

And shock and stack and thresh his wheat.


Oh Farmer John—Poor Farmer John,

Our faith in you is over-drawn.

—Old Fossil of the Feudal Age,

Your only creed is Going Wage—

“Bull Durum” will not buy our Brawn—

You’re out of luck—poor Farmer John.

You advertise, in Omaha

“Come leave the Valley of the Kaw.”

Nebraska Calls "Don’t be mis-led.

We’ll furnish you a feather bed!"

Then South Dakota lets a roar,

"We need ten thousand men—or more;

Our grain is turning—prices drop!

For God’s Sake save our bumper crop."

In North Dakota—( I’ll be darn)

The “wise guy” sleeps in “hoosiers” barn

—Then hoosier breaks into his snore

And yells, “It’s quarter after four.”


Oh Harvest Land—Sweet Burning Sand!

—As on the sun-kissed field I stand

I look away across the plain

And wonder if it’s going to rain—

I vow, by all the Brands of Cain,

That I will not be here again.

Source: "T. D. and H,“ [possibly T-Bone Slim], ”Harvest Land," I.W.W. Songbook. Reprinted in Joyce L. Kornbluh, ed., Rebel Voices: an IWW Anthology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964; 3d ed. 1968), 247.

See Also:Defending the Wheat Farmer: "The Farmer and Three Dollar Wheat"
"Eight Hours in the Forenoon, Eight Hours in the Afternoon": An IWW Organizer Describes the Horrors of Rural Work