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The Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circus

The Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circus: The Buying and Selling of the Rural American Dream

Joseph A. Amato
Foreword by Paul Gruchow
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circus
    Book Description:

    In 1981, near the end of America’s second post-World War II energy crisis, and at the onset of the nations most recent farm crisis, American Energy Farming Systems began to sell and distribute what it deemed a “providential plant” destined to be a new and saving crop—the Jerusalem Artichoke. This volume recounts this story of the bizarre intersection of evangelical Christianity, a mythical belief in the powers of a new crop, and the depression of the U.S. farm economy in the 1980s.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8547-9
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    Paul Gruchow

    This story has everything: tragedy and pathos, comedy and farce, greed and piety, ambition and failure, vision and willful disregard of reality. There is even an unlikely David — a resourceful county attorney armed with doggedness and righteous indignation. IfThe Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circuswere not history, it might have been a novel by Sinclair Lewis.

    This is, at heart, a story of the consequences of disintegration in countryside America. The seeds of swindlers prosper in the soil of despair. There have been far greater hucksters than the small-timers who created American Energy Farming Systems in the early 1980s to...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxix-xxxiv)
  6. Introduction: A Beckoning Plant
    (pp. 1-14)

    Entrepreneurial princes emerge from time to time to court plants that have the promise of becoming great economic crops. One such prince was Fred Hendrickson, who appeared in the late 1970s as the American farm economy sagged and the nation was racked by an energy crisis. Along with James Dwire, Hendrickson in 1981 cofounded American Energy Farming Systems (AEFS), and more than any other person was responsible for the horticultural boom associated with its great initial success. Hendrickson’s love was no common love. He had a mania to transform a plant that farmers had long considered a weed into a...

  7. 1 A Country Prophet
    (pp. 15-28)

    Fred Hendrickson’s love for the Jerusalem artichoke rivaled that of Fred Johnson. Hendrickson loved it for everything he imagined it could be. He believed it was a gift from God that would save America, make him rich, and “provide the challenge and the thrill of making it.”¹

    Born in 1935, Fred Hendrickson was the adopted son of two college-educated teachers. His father had a master’s degree in education and earned his living first as a school teacher and then as a superintendent in Philip, a town of 1,100 on the Bad River in west-central South Dakota. Philip is “a dry,...

  8. 2 A Bulldozing Businessman
    (pp. 29-48)

    James Dwire thought—and to this day still thinks—Fred Hendrickson was “a real idea man.”¹ He believed Hendrickson not only could build him an alcohol plant and put him in contact with the alcohol fuel movement but was, in truth, a kind of prophet. Dwire had hardly heard Hendrickson’s pitch before he decided to make him his partner. Dwire didn’t bother to check on Hendrickson’s background. “I sized him up,” Dwire recalled, “as we in the Midwest do: by his word and a handshake.” He didn’t even bother to make a few telephone calls to Rapid City to find...

  9. 3 Buyers and Sellers of Seed
    (pp. 49-76)

    A local Marshall barber said of AEFS’s sales, “It took a lot of skill to sell weeds to farmers.” In truth, it took more than skill to sell the Jerusalem artichoke to more than 2,500 American farmers. It took an energy crisis and a farm-credit crisis in combination with a resurgence of affirmation about the uniqueness of America, its land, its countryside, and its farmers. In fact, without recourse to profound myths and metaphors about the nation’s covenanted greatness, AEFS could not have sold the Jerusalem artichoke as the God-appointed “plant of renown.”

    Boosterism, the spiritual breath of the American...

  10. 4 A Perfect Consultant
    (pp. 77-88)

    When a former employee of the Reverend L. D. Kramer read that Kramer had been hired as a consultant for AEFS, he remarked that Kramer would be “a perfect consultant for Jerusalem artichokes.”¹

    Kramer came to AEFS flat broke, yet he was never short of energy or intelligence; he brought a kind of vitality to whatever he did. Also, Kramer had business, financial, and personnel skills that both Hendrickson and Dwire lacked.

    In his middle forties, Kramer, a former televangelist of the Assemblies of God, had developed a $30 million nursing home chain called Challenge Homes. As its CEO, Kramer...

  11. 5 What Made the Company Run
    (pp. 89-105)

    American Energy Farming Systems defined itself as a Christian company and made religious faith part of its sales pitch. Its first sales list was the membership list of Pastor Pete’s radio ministry, Prayer Power. The first employee AEFS hired was John Peterson, Pastor Pete’s son. The Reverends Jerry Knapper and L. D. Kramer were hired because they could preach; Richard Spencer, the head of AEFS’s research team, attended Dwire’s church, the Marshall Evangelical Free Church.

    AEFS dressed itself in Christian trappings. Its meetings began and ended with prayer. The workday often began with a prayer service and organ music. Prayers...

  12. 6 Killing off the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
    (pp. 106-124)

    In the course of the company’s history, Dwire and Hendrickson made their own good AEFS’s good. And in doing this they failed to meet the requirement of fiduciary trust. Fiduciary trust insists that owners, directors, and in some instances, consultants engage in “good faith and fair dealing” and that they take “due care” in managing their affairs.¹ As if providing a yardstick by which to measure the actions of Dwire, Hendrickson, and other AEFS associates, fiduciary trust prohibits owners and managers from competing with their own corporation, usurping its opportunities, and having interests that conflict with those of the corporation....

  13. 7 Folding up the Tent
    (pp. 125-153)

    No sooner was Jim Nichols—farmer, teacher, and state senator from Lincoln County in southwest Minnesota—appointed commissioner of agriculture in January 1983 than he began to push the attorney general’s office to broaden its investigation of AEFS. AEFS leaders saw this as a personal vendetta on Nichol’s part. They believed that he sought to pay Dwire back for the strong support Dwire had lent Republican Vin Weber, who defeated Nichols in his 1982 bid for the U. S. House of Representatives. (Dwire’s support had included a sizable contribution to Weber’s campaign and the hosting of a large reception for...

  14. 8 The County Attorney and His Investigator
    (pp. 154-178)

    Bankruptcy judge Robert Kressel converted AEFS’s bankruptcy from a Chapter 11 to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy on September 13, 1983. There would be no more plantings or harvests for AEFS. Kressel based his order to convert the bankruptcy to Chapter 7 on the fact that the company’s owners took $4.5 million from the company and disbursed almost $600,000 on the eve of its declaration of bankruptcy. Also, Kressel could find little reason to be hopeful about AEFS’s future.¹ With less than $500,000 in cash, he asserted, the company was in no position to pay $6.4 million in rescission claims against...

  15. 9 The Lost Covenant
    (pp. 179-193)

    As the times swept Hendrickson, Dwire, and Kramer on to the stage of history, so the times discarded them. Of the three, Hendrickson alone remains loyal to the vision, while continuing to assert his innocence and issuing a stream of legal appeals. His wife and son have left him, and poverty has driven him to return to live with his parents.

    After bouncing around in Colorado and out west for a while, Dwire eventually reestablished his household in southern California where he again works in construction. After a period of separation, he has been reunited with his wife and children....

  16. Conclusion: The Planets Went Astray
    (pp. 194-202)

    As the planets were in order for the creation of American Energy Farming Systems in the early 1980s, so they were out of order for AEFS by the middle 1980s. Kramer was correct when he commented on the meteoric rise and fall of AEFS: “Timing is everything.”

    In the early 1980s, when Hendrickson and Dwire gave birth to AEFS, the times favored their work. The cost of oil soared, the Arabs were feared, and the presumption was that the nation desperately needed new sources of energy. Earlier hopes of an alcohol industry, lost in the 1950s and 1960s to low...

  17. Chronology
    (pp. 203-206)
  18. AEFS Organizational Structure
    (pp. 207-208)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 209-232)
  20. Sources
    (pp. 233-242)
  21. Index
    (pp. 243-244)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)