15,000 Pay $10 Each For Raffle Chance At Winning A Farm
Jun. 26, 1985
UNIONVILLE, Mo. (AP) _ Despite a $1,000-a-month public relations campaign and national publicity, Bud and Hazel Hirst aren't finding enough takers to make it worthwhile raffling off their 476-acre farm.
The couple, both 53, had hoped to raise $400,000, enough to pay off their $200,000 debt on the place and give them a stake when they move on.
But so far, Hirst said Tuesday, only about 15,000 people have sent in $10 for a copy of Mrs. Hirst's book of poems, ''Bitter Harvest,'' about the trials of farm life, and a chance to win the farm.
The Hirsts have been running their Bitter Harvest Great Farm Sweepstakes for a year. It was to have ended July 4 with a drawing in the town square of this farming community of 2,200 near the Missouri-Iowa line.
When interest in the sweepstakes declined earlier this year, the Hirsts decided to postpone the drawing until Labor Day, which is also their 34th wedding anniversary.
''I'd do anything rather than take bankruptcy,'' Hirst said. ''I've got pride and want to pay my bills.''
All money will be returned if there aren't enough tickets sold to raise the $400,000, he said. ''I hope it will pick up enough ... to get people to buy more books and get us over the hump. We're so unsettled.
''We don't know if we're going to make it. We don't know if we're going to stay here.''
In January, an interview on ABC's ''Nightline'' and a story in Time magazine sparked a flood of phone calls and book orders. The couple also has retained a public relations agency.
Farmers across the country have contacted them and thousands of nonfarmers called and wrote for information.
But sales of the books and raffle tickets are declining, because, the Hirsts say, of the nation's dwindling interest in the plight of the farmers.
''It's summertime,'' Mrs. Hirst said. ''People are eating at fast-food restaurants, they're swimming, they're golfing and they're having a good time. Nobody's talking about farmers.''
And things won't get better, added her husband.
''I tell you one thing: the farm problem is going to get very, very bad this winter,'' he said. ''Our prices are the same and there's no improvement on what we're getting on our production. If anything, it's down.''
The Hirsts bought their farm in 1972 for around $85,000, planning to raise cattle and hogs and grow corn and soybeans. High interest rates, low prices for farm products and bad weather kept their debts rising, they say.
Last year, the couple took out a $4,500 loan on their car, the only property they owned that wasn't already mortgaged.
Both have taken odd jobs to make ends meet. Mrs. Hirst tried selling mail- order recipes and did a stint as a $2.75-an-hour cook. Hirst got a real estate license.
They drummed up the idea for the sweepstakes to give up their way of life gracefully.
''We're resigned to leaving, if we have to,'' Mrs. Hirst said. ''Walking away with some pride and dignity is better than being sold out and having this place put on the auction block.''