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Plan To Raffle Off Farm Is Pure Poetry
UNIONVILLE, Mo. Hazel and Raymond Hirst, nicknamed Bud, call it the Bitter Harvest Great Farm Sweepstakes. And the prize they're offering is a 476-acre slice of rural American good life they couldn't sustain: their farm.
The rules are simple enough. If, the financially strapped Hirsts say, they can sell 50,000 copies of Bitter Harvest, a collection of 14 poems by Mrs. Hirst, one of the buyers could win the farm.
And to comply with "no-purchase necessary" lottery rules, even those who don't buy the illustrated booklet will be able to compete simply by sending the couple a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
The plan by the Hirsts, who say they're about $200,000 in debt, has drawn national attention and skepticism. But Missouri Assistant Attorney General Bill Van Hook says it's "perfectly legal ¨ and a nifty idea."
The raffle, says Tam Ormiston, Iowa assistant attorney general, is "a perfect mirror of American agriculture. It's high-risk and chancy ¨ like the situation that exists right now down on the farm."
But if, the Hirsts add, they can't raise enough to pay off their debt, the sweepstakes will be canceled and the book-purchase money refunded. "We'll either sit and wait for foreclosure or bankruptcy," Mrs. Hirst says. "Maybe we'll think of something else - I don't know."
They started making their offer public in July. Right now, they're 48,000 book sales short.
Still, there's little question they're offering an abundant prize: a modern, one-story, three-bedroom home valued at $100,000; a private lake stocked with bass and catfish, rolling hills near the Iowa border that are home to wild deer and turkeys.
Total value of the package: $500,000 - the amount the Hirsts hope to raise at $8 a book plus $2 for postage and handling.
For 20 years, the Hirsts owned and operated a motel and tavern in Decatur, Ill., at one point employing 14 persons.
"Then I just said, 'Hazel, why don't we publish your poems you keep writing?' We thought, 'Why don't we give the farm away and let somebody else fulfill a dream?' We weren't going to sit back and let somebody take our farm away."
"It was a good business, but we just got burned out," said the 53-year-old Mr. Hirst, whose father and uncles had farming experience. "We wanted to just move out into the hills somewhere and get away from it all."
The couple looked in southern Illinois and Indiana before a friend mentioned the property near Unionville, about 180 miles northeast of Kansas City.
In 1972, they packed their gold Cadillac and moved, intending to make their profit by raising cattle and hogs and by growing corn and soybeans. They paid $100 an acre for the land, cleared some timber and built their brick home.
"I used to think that I didn't have enough experience - that it's me," Mr. Hirst says. "But when I went to the sale barns and got the same price for corn as the rest, I knew I wasn't alone."
It just wasn't a lack, of skill, he maintains. "You know it doesn't mean a damn thing if a sow lays out 10 pigs or two pigs - you lose money on every one of them."
By last January, the couple had a second mortgage from the Farmers Home Administration. To make ends meet, Mrs. Hirst says, they took "anything and everything" as second jobs.
She tried selling recipes to mail-order catalogs, sold food at area farm auctions and worked as a part-time store clerk. Mr. Hirst obtained a real estate license.
They even thought about building a dam, flooding the property and selling lake lots. But an engineering survey showed their lake would be so shallow that "to drown, you'd have to lie on your back," Mr. Hirst says.
He remembers hearing the wind whipping outside last January, sitting with his wife around a wood stove "about as depressed as anybody could get."
In one of her poems, titled "The Naked Truth," Mrs. Hirst writes:
The fault is yours, right here at home. You just stood idly by,
I heard your laughter, saw your tears, But not your battle cry .. .
I say good-bye to fields of grain, To hills of sweet red clover.
You never made a stand, my friend,
- The war is almost over."
If all goes accordin


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1985 - Volume #9, Issue #1