Lou Anne Kling, 77, a Granite Falls native, a grassroots activist, national farm advocacy educator and former U.S. Department of Agricul-ture Manager, died on May 17. A tribute to Kling was read on the Minnesota House floor as legislators passed a budget hike for Farmers’ Legal Action Group. It said, in part: “Lou Anne Kling has made an enduring impact on agriculture in Minnesota and across the country. ... Over her several decades of advocacy, Lou Anne personally saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of family farms. In some cases, she literally saved the lives of farmers who had become frustrated and did not think they had anything to live for.” Randi Roth, who met Kling as a law student in rural Minnesota in the 1980s, recalled the first time they met. “I’ll never forget the first day I met her, we drove to a farmer threatening suicide.
She and another advocate sat with him and explained how the problem wasn’t him, it was the farm economy. Then we drove to another farm, where the farmer had broken his back ... She connected him to resources to fight foreclosure ... That’s what it was like all summer.” Kling became a trusted farm advisor to state DFL leaders including former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and former Gov. Rudy Perpich. Kling was born in Granite Falls, on August 14, 1939, to Lloyd and Alta Beito. She married at 17 and had five children before a divorce. She remarried and had two children with Wayne Kling, a nearby farmer. Kling said they had a typical life until the farm economy collapsed. Neighbors got foreclosure notices from the federal Farmers Home Adminis-tration (FmHA). Lou Anne Kling later learned the agency wasn’t telling farmers their legal options to stay on the land. Kling was among a group of farmers who planned to plow under an acre of grain to protest low farm prices. Ultimately, only the Kling farm, and veteran farm activist Anne Kanten did it. But the event drew major media coverage and created a partnership between two women who were Minnesota’s leading farmer advocates.
After that Kling started helping farmers all over the state and became an expert in FmHA financing, negotiating settlements. “The map in her car had a dot for every visit and there were dots all over the place,” said daughter Shari Kottke of Walnut Grove. Son Matthew Kling, of Lonsdale, said joining protests and visiting desperate farmers were a normal occurrence. “She taught us to stand up for ourselves,” he said. In 1992 Kling was appointed director of the Minnesota FmHA. in 1993, she was appointed deputy administrator of the USDA’s farm loan programs. Working in Washington D.C., she later developed the Farm Service Agency’s out reach program, focusing on minority farmers and ranchers. In 2000 the Klings returned to Granite Falls. She continued advising farmers, mentoring young advocates and serving on boards. In addition to her husband, Wayne, Kling is also survived by seven adult children.