Comrade Khrushchev and Farmer Garst: East-West Encounters Foster Agricultural Exchange

THE PARAGE OF FOREIGN POLICY usually skipped rural Iowa, but on September 23, 1959, the eyes of the nation focused on Coon Rapids. Invited guests, curious onlookers, anxious reporters and photographers surrounded Roswell and Elizabeth Garst’s white, wooden farmhouse. More than 700 National Guardsmen lined the highway between Des Moines and Garst’s farm awaiting the official motorcade. Soviet Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was touring the heart of the Midwest cornbelt to see for himself why “agriculture, America’s biggest success, [was] communism’s biggest failure.” [1]

Khrushchev explored capitalist agricultural practices hoping to adapt them to Russian kolkhozes. [2] His encounters with Iowa farmer Roswell Garst opened dialog between the world’s superpowers. Khrushchev believed that “an exchange of opinions would helpthe U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. come to understand each other better and show greater pliancy in settling controversial matters.” [3] Roswell Garst agreed. “You know,” Garst told Khrushchev, “we two farmers could settle the problems of the world faster than diplomats.” [4]

Khrushchev’s Rise to Power

Westerners knew little about Khrushchev when he emerged as the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union in 1955. Would he offer hope for peace? Or would Khrushchev trigger World War III and nuclear annihilation?

Born in 1894, Khrushchev’s parents were peasants. As a boy, Nikita worked tending sheep. “We children were lucky if we had a decent pair of shoes,” he recalled. “We wiped our noses with our sleeves and kept our trousers up with a piece of string.” [5] Khrushchev learned the blacksmith and locksmith trades, joined the Bolsheviks in 1918, served two years in the Red Army, and then climbed the Communist Party ladder one rung at a time until he reached Josef Stalin’s inner circle. When Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev’s comrades underestimated him because he lacked formal education. Loyal to Stalin for almost thirty years, the man political experts forgot to notice turned out to be the dark horse in Stalin’s stable. Ten days after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev became first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, “the springboard from which Stalin leaped to absolute power and which Stalin held until the day of his death.” [6] Khrushchev’s first priority was to shift from Stalin’s emphasis on industrialization and military expansion to the condition of Soviet farms.

Under Stalin, the Soviets produced little milk, meat, or eggs and suffered mass starvation. “My father thought that the Soviet political system could give people a better life,” explained Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son. War breeds destruction; increased agricultural production, Sergei’s father insisted, promised Russia a prosperous future. “Persons are much more important than missiles,” Sergei continued. “If you are producing missiles, you are wasting your resources. If you increase food production, you make life better for your people.” [7]
The U.S. and U.S.S.R., temporary allies during World War II, engaged in an intense ideological rivalry after the war. The resulting competitionthe Cold Warwas conducted through means short of direct military conflict. However, the threat of nuclear war remained. “The Americans thought that the Soviets wanted to build Communism on American soil,” Sergei Khrushchev said, “and we were scared that Americans would start war to forcefully implement their way of thinking on us.” [8]

Roots of East-West Agricultural Exchange

In a February 1955 speech before the Communist Central Committee, Khrushchev demanded an eightfold increase in corn production by 1960. [9] Offering a rareand well-publicizedexpression of praise for the United States, Khrushchev called for an Iowa-style corn belt in Russia, advocating the development of feed-livestock agriculture to boost food production.

“That’s just what the Russian economy needsmore and better livestock so the Russian people can eat better,” stated Lauren Soth, an editorial writer for the Des Moines Register. [10] Soth continued:
We have no diplomatic authoritybut we hereby extend an invitation to any delegation Khrushchev wants to select to come to Iowa to get the lowdown on raising high quality cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. We promise to hide none of our “secrets.” Let the Russians see how we do it. [11]

Soth also suggested sending a delegation of Iowa farmers, agronomists, and livestock specialists to the Soviet Union. At a time of increased polarization between Eastern Europe and the West, Soth’s editorial expressed a minority opinion in the U.S. He never thought the Soviets would see his proposal, much less accept it. “Soviet spies read the Des Moines Register, translated this editorial, and put it on Khrushchev’s desk within a few days of publication,” Liz Garst explained. [12] It was a surprise to everyoneincluding the U.S. State Departmentwhen Khrushchev accepted Soth’s bold invitation. That summer, twelve Americans traveled to the U.S.S.R and Khrushchev sent a delegation to Iowa. [13]

Roswell Garst recognized both superpowers’ problems in agriculture: for the U.S. it was surpluses; for the Soviets, it was scarcity. He believed U.S. surpluses could be a “weapon for peace.” [14] Garst intercepted the Soviet delegation and persuaded its leader, Vladimir Matskevitch, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, to visit his hybrid seed corn operation. Matskevitch spent a day with Garst, taking detailed notes he later delivered to Khrushchev. [15]

Farmer Garst: Corn Ambassador to the U.S.S.R

Roswell Garst began sowing the seeds of his agricultural empire in 1916. He explored cutting edge technologies: hybrid seed corn, intensive use of nitrogen fertilizers, and cellulose-enriched cattle feed. Garst and Thomas Seed Corn Company became the largest operation of its kind in the United States. When Matskevitch visited Garst in Coon Rapids, Roswell managed more than 5000 acres. Impressed with Garst’s operation and how his technology could be adapted for Soviet collective farms, Matskevitch invited Garst to come to the U.S.S.R. later that year. Garst believed a visit could ease Cold War tensions and hoped to sellwith the permission of a reluctant U.S. State Departmenthybrid seed to the Soviets. State Department officials remained suspicious after the initial agricultural exchange, but Garst argued that he should be free to discuss all he knew about agriculture and to sell equipment and seed if they wanted to buy. “It would be ridiculous to tell them about how rapidly we could plant corn and then say ‘we won’t sell you a corn planter.'” [16] After much deliberation, the State Department granted Garst an export license and permission to travel to Moscowalthough U.S. officials were sure Garst could not sell the Soviets anything.

The State Department learned not to underestimate Roswell Garst, a master salesman with evangelical enthusiasm for hybrid corn. “If it’s sound, it will sell,” Garst often said. [17] Garst ventured to Moscow in September 1955. Interrupting a speech about how American technology could improve Soviet agriculture, Khrushchev summoned Garst to a private meeting. Khrushchev and Garst talked about corn production, livestock, and possibilities of East­West trade. After the meeting Garst asked Khrushchev how the U.S.S.R. could know so little about American agriculture when they had easy access to U.S. farm journals, yet they had been able to steal the atomic bomb in three weeks. Khrushchev laughed and raised two fingers: “It only took us two weeks. You locked up the atomic bomb, so we had to steal it. When you offered us information about agriculture for nothing, we thought that might be what it was worth.” [18] The next day the Soviets ordered 5000 tons of hybrid seed. Accounts of Roswell’s meeting with Khrushchev appeared in Moscow’s newspapers, and C.B.S. telephoned Garst for news of the exchange. [19]

Upon his return, Garst expressed excitement to Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Benson: “We thought of ourselves as Marco Polos when we were in Russia; they think of themselves as descendants of Columbusdiscovering the United States for the second time.” [20]

Garst often hosted agricultural delegations from the Soviet Union, Rumania, and Hungary. “There were always Russians at the farm,” Liz Garst remembers. [21] Eastern Europeans were impressed that Roswell, Elizabeth, and their children all worked on their farms. [22] “The image of the absentee capitalist landlord, living in luxury on the proceeds of his wage slaves, was a preconception they all freely admitted having brought with them. They were completely unprepared for the Midwestern lifestyle.” [23]

Roswell’s FBI dossier grew with his successes as a citizen diplomat. Sometimes he cooperated with the FBI; other times he was confrontational. Reviewing Garst’s file in 1959, the bureau saw “no indication of any subversive activities, membership in communist front groups or the Communist Party. [I]t is quite apparent that his main interest in Russia and the satellites is in the sale of his product.” [24]

In 1956, Garst returned to Eastern Europe accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth. Earlier that year at the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev had condemned Stalin’s crimes in a “secret speech” which triggered an uprising in Hungary. [25] The Garsts were in Budapest when Soviet tanks rolled into the city, stranding them for ten days while Khrushchev’s army obliterated the rebels. Roswell and Elizabeth escaped up the Danube River to Czechoslovakia on a Polish coal ship. Disgusted with military actions that contradicted Khrushchev’s commitment to peaceful agricultural exchange, Garst called a personal moratorium on East-West relations: “I am afraid to sell even as innocent a product as seed corn to the Russians for fear the material would not be loaded on ships withoutbad publicity.” [26]

Khrushchev in America

Garst’s determination to end relations with the Soviet government faded in 1957. Monitoring progress in the Soviet Union, Garst became angry because they had not complied with his recommendations for fertilizing and planting corn. Predicting a colossal failure if the technology was incorrectly applied, Garst wanted to see Khrushchev again to set things straight. He also wanted to discuss “getting this armaments race stopped,” something he considered “the most important single thing” facing the world at that time. Garst’s message to Khrushchev was blunt: improving relations between the United States and U.S.S.R. was necessary so that the world could quit wasting its industrial capacity “preparing for a war that nobody wantsnobody expectsa war no one could survive.” [27] Roswell and Elizabeth visited Nikita and Nina early in 1959. The men discussed agriculture and prospects for world peace during conversations salted with anecdotes, proverbs, and humor. Their exchanges were sometimes aggressive and argumentative, but they both wanted comprehensive change most of all. [28] Their relationship became international news when, on August 6,1959, Roswell was informed that Khrushchev had asked to visit Coon Rapids. [29] Iowa Governor Herschel Loveless initially opposed Khrushchev’s planned visit, fearing the encounter would fuel Soviet propaganda. The hostility of Eastern European immigrants toward Khrushchev, Loveless declared, might make the visit a “precarious venture.” [30]

On September 23, 1959, the Khrushchev family stopped at the Garst Farm during their 12-day trip to the U.S., which also included stops in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Camp David for discussions with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to the Chicago Tribune, Garst was the only individualexcept for President Eisenhowerthat Khrushchev specifically asked to see while in the U.S. [31]

Before arriving here I had a picture of Mr. Garst’s good farm from accounts and films. I have known Mr. Garst for years; however it is always better to see than to hear. Let us exchange experience. This will be useful to our countries. [32]

Hundreds of reporters greeted Khrushchev’s entourage. Photographers roosted in trees, barn lofts, and upstairs windows. [33] Garst showed the visitors his large-scale planting, harvesting, and livestock feeding operations. Over lunch they discussed trade, armaments inspection, and the ability of their countries to shift to peacetime economies. [34] “Father often reminisced about the American farmer,” Sergei Khrushchev wrote. “Garst and his sons produced more than any of our collective farms.” [35]

Garst’s pursuit of peace through agriculture paved the way to Khrushchev’s negotiations with President Eisenhower. “It was Roswell Garst, pioneering seed corn genius of Coon Rapids, who grubbed most of the underbrush out of the tangled pathway leading to Camp David,” wrote journalist Fagan D. Adler. [36] In a television interview conducted in Garst’s backyard, Khrushchev stated, “Every conversation I have had with Mr. Garst since 1955 has been important in the build-up for the meeting at Camp David.” [37]

Critics denounced Garst as a communist sympathizer. To the contrary, Garst was a capitalist eager to open new markets and make a profit. [38] Roswell also insisted that “Hungry people are dangerous people.[T]he peace of the world is dependent upon solving the world’s food problems.” [39]

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities disagreed, warning that the “great expectations aroused by the exchange [of visits between U.S. and Soviet representatives] reveal the tragic failure of Western statesmen to recognize the character and the magnitude of the Communist challenge.” [40] Citing the Soviet response to the Hungarian uprising and Khrushchev’s unprovoked threat on Berlin, Henry Kissinger stated that ending the Cold War depended on political issuesnot the Soviet’s ability to produce enough food. “The exchange of visits will assist the cause of peace only if itreverses the course which has repeatedly brought the world to the brink of war.” [41]

Khrushchev changed the view of himself and his country for the better among U.S. citizens. “While fearful that this changeable man might someday ‘push the button,’ many agreed that there is a practical element of sincerity in his attempt to ease tensions,” observed Richard Wilson, the Des Moines Register’s Washington correspondent. [42] Although many of Khrushchev’s explorations into American agriculture translated into successful Soviet reforms, ultimately these exchanges contributed to his political downfall. Khrushchev’s 1957 pledge to overtake America in agricultural production turned into an embarrassing disaster when he tried to push through too many reforms with too few resources and inadequate infrastructure. Despite his awkward efforts to ease Cold War tensions, Khrushchev’s foreign policy blunders triggered the period’s most dangerous international crises when he ordered construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and placed missiles in Cuba in 1962 (see Timeline, Appendix I).

“I am old and tired,” Khrushchev said following the 1964 Presidium meeting that ousted him from power.
Could anyone have dreamed of telling Stalin that he didn’t suit us anymore and suggesting he retire? Not even a wet spot would have remained where we had been standing. Now everything is different. The fear is gone, and we can talk as equals. That is my contribution. [43]

Condemned for his failures as a leader and his earlier complicity in Stalin’s brutal crimes, Khrushchev became a “non-person” in the U.S.S.R. His name was suppressed by his Kremlin successors, ignored by Soviet citizens, and erased from the country’s history books. “After I die,” Khrushchev said, “they will place my actions on a scale on one side evil, on the other side good. I hope the good will outweigh the bad.” 44 Khrushchev’s attempts to reform communism prepared the ground for its eventual collapse, planting seeds of perestroika 45 and glasnost 46 that would germinate under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in decades to come. In the late 1980s, Washington realized (or finally admitted) that the “evil empire” had been rotting from withinsomething Roswell Garst, an unorthodox diplomat, knew all along. Comrade Khrushchev and Farmer Garst recognized that agricultural exchanges provided a legitimate path toward international peace.

Annotated Bibliography
Primary Sources

“25,000 Greet Khrushchev: He Challenges U.S. to Contest in Corn and Meat.” The Des Moines Register, 23 September 1959: 1, 8, 10, 16.
The front page of the register heralded Khrushchev’s arrival in Iowa, and described his first encounter with an American hot dog, which cautious security agents had checked with a Geiger counter before the Soviet Premier ate it. News coverage portrayed Khrushchev’s sense of humor and described Iowa’s friendly if not enthusiastic welcome. An estimated 25,000 curious spectators crowded around Khrushchev’s Des Moines hotel. I was able to use this to find out how vulnerable Khrushchev was in America and how difficult it was to maintain security. This problem was compounded when he visited rural Coon Rapids.
Adler, Fagan D. “Seed Corn Genius Garst Helped to Pave Way for Historic Session at Camp David.” Undated newspaper clipping. Garst Papers. Iowa State University Archives: Alumni Affairs/Alumni and Former Students. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Box 84, file 4.
Adler stated that Garst “grubbed most of the underbrush out of the tangled pathway leading to Camp David where President Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev met last week to brighten the chain of peace.” I liked Adler’s metaphor because it mirrors agricultural experience. In Taubman’s biography of Khrushchev, one reason given for agricultural failure in the Soviet Union was that farmers would plant corn, then not have the machinery required to cultivate the soil or the herbicides to destroy weeds. Adler’s comment illustrates how political weeds impeded the process of cultivating peace and credited Garst with clearing the way.
“Astray in Hawkeyeland: A Day in the Country.” Iowan 8 (Oct.-Nov. 1959): 49.
Few events in American history have been as well covered as the visit of Nikita Khrushchev to the farm of Roswell Garst, claimed this editorial. I classified this as a primary source because the writer witnessed what he described as the “carnival mob scene,” and the “comic opera” it became. Despite the more than 1,500 highway patrolmen, national guardsmen, reporters, caterers, and television technicians at the farm, “the original simple purpose of the visit did shine through.” I also learned from this article that Soviets wanted to see Garst’s farm because it was closer to the scale of Soviet farms that could be 70,000 acres in size.
Atwood, Mary Miller. “Disagrees With Views Of Garst.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 8.
Atwood’s letter to the editor illustrates opposition to Garst’s opinions. Many who disagreed with Garst, as this letter showed me, thought it was wrong to lend aid to tyrannical Russian regime.
Childs, Marquis. “Nikita Visit Called Dialogue of the Deaf.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 10.
Writing from San Francisco, columnist Marquis Childs described this East-West encounter as a dialogue of the deaf, because neither side wanted to hear what the other side was saying. “It is a deafness conditioned by decades of fear, suspicion, and naked hostility.” For me this editorial emphasized the importance of Garst’s contributions as a citizen diplomat because he looked ahead to a peaceful futureand had plans for how to achieve itinstead of being held back by fears.
Clabby, William. “Mr. K & Corn: He’ll Learn in Iowa How U.S. Lifts Output Through Acreage Drops.” The Wall Street Journal, 1 September 1959.
The upcoming visit with “Farmer Garst” would demonstrate farming methods including the use of heavy doses of chemicals to boost yields and grain dryers to permit picking corn before it dries in the field. Clabby pointed out how far Russia lagged behind American agriculture, but admitted that Garst, a leading corn grower, was probably “many years ahead of most of his contemporaries in the science of corn productions.”
Cooley, Harold D. “Facts About U.S. Agriculture for Khrushchev.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 10.
Cooley’s editorial compares the efficiency of U.S. farms to communist farms in their abilities to feed their respective populations. This helped me understand the reason for the disparity: in Russia half the population worked on farms to feed their people a subsistence diet; in America 10% of the population provides more than enough food for the entire country, freeing up the other 90% for other work. Food costs were lower in the United States than anywhere else in the world.
Crankshaw, Edward. “Mr. K. Needs U.S. Trip for Prestige at Home.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 10.
Crankshaw disputed Khrushchev’s stated motive for his excursion to the United States. The Soviet Premier did not come to ease Cold War tensions or learn about American agriculture, Crankshaw claimed. “The most important aspect of this remarkable excursion is that he is making it,” wrote Crankshaw, who specialized in Soviet Affairs for the London Observer. This showed me how complicated and tangled opinions about Khrushchev’s visit to America were around the world.
“Details of Nikita’s Itinerary for First Nine Days.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 6.
Newspapers kept people of Iowaand the nationupdated on details of Khrushchev’s itinerary for his planned visit to the United States. Roswell Garst was the only individual besides President Eisenhower that Khrushchev specifically asked to see while in this country. This helped me understand the significance of the relationship between Garst and Khrushchev.
Encounter with Garst: Challenger of Tradition. Scrapbook. Coon Rapids Public Library, Coon Rapids, Iowa.
After my day touring and conducting research at the Garst farm I stopped at the Coon Rapids Public Library to read the local newspaper’s coverage of Khrushchev’s visit. The librarian set me up with the September/October 1959 roll of microfilm, and then, after asking questions about the nature of my research, returned with a crumbling scrapbook stuffed with photographs and clippings that chronicled Roswell Garst’s work as a citizen diplomat. The librarian did not know who had compiled and titled the scrapbookshe only knew that it had been in a library cupboard for years. The scrapbook was an extremely valuable source of information about Roswell Garst.
Faltermayer, Edmund K. “Farmer Khrushchev: He Has Better Luck in Space Race Than With Milk and Meat.” The Wall Street Journal, 10 August 1959.
Faltermayer’s article helped me understand the difficulties faced by Russian agriculture. Improving techniques and equipment, largely through the help of Roswell Garst, had helped increase harvests. However, the Soviet Union lacked the storage capacity needed to preserve harvests and the roads necessary to transport agricultural goods. The article also provided me with information to compare agriculture in the U.S. and in the Soviet Union. In the U.S. at the time, 8.1 million farmers grew enough food to feed 175 million people. By contrast, 45 million Russian farmers worked to feed a total population of 209 million. U.S. farmers grew about twice as much as their Russian counterparts, and U.S. per capita meat consumption in 1959 was nearly double the 85-pound Russian average.
Film Memories: Roswell Garst. Videotape. Garst Farm, Coon Rapids, Iowa.
Following my tour of the Garst farmhouse and interview with Liz Garst, she allowed me to watch a videotape compiled of newsreel footage from Khrushchev’s visit. Newscasts showed the crowd of reporters, photographers, and curious onlookers as they crushed in around Garst and Khrushchev throughout their inspection of Garst’s farming operations. I had read so many accounts of the crowded scene, but as Khrushchev often said in quoting a Russian proverb: “It is a hundred times better to see than to hear.” I enjoyed watching the chaotic scene for myself while sitting in the farmhouse at the center of the event. Looking out the dining room windows, I could almost imagine the excitement of the day. A sense of place helps bring history to life.
Frankel, Max. “Soviets Told Heckling of Khurshchev.” The Des Moines Register, 21 September 1959: 1.
Frankel’s article illustrates the exchange of information about Khrushchev’s visit between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in newspapers. Soviet Papers told of instances where Khrushchev was heckled but did not describe exchanges where U.S. representatives disagreed or presented counter arguments to Khrushchev’s statements. Russian reports described Khrushchev as being in control of discussions while American participants were silent or unresponsive. This article showed me how the public was given the wrong impression about the other country, and also how misconceptions of each other were allowed to grow.
Gallup, George. “Public Likens Khrushchev to Shrewd Businessman.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 7.
Mr. Gallup’s poll illustrated the preconceptions held by normal, every-day people before the Soviet Premier came to Iowa. Ironically, many people described the world’s top communist as a “shrewd businessman and wonderful salesman”terms more often used to describe Khrushchev’s capitalist opponents, or his friend, Iowa farmer Roswell Garst. Some expressed kind thoughts toward Khrushchev; others described him as “ruthless, cruel, domineering and deceitful,” opposing his trip to America. This poll helped me understand just how polarized the views of the citizens of the United States were about our Soviet rivals.
Garst, Elizabeth “Liz.” Interview by author, 11 February 2004. Garst Farm Resorts, Coon Rapids, Iowa. Tape recorded.
While at the farm of Roswell and Elizabeth Garst I interviewed their granddaughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Garst. While interviewing her I was able to learn things that were not disclosed in published accounts such as: none of the 700 national Guardsmen activated to protect Premier Khrushchev in Iowa were given bullets for their guns because our State Department was afraid of an assassination attempt from the inside. Liz was eight years old when the visit took place and the memories she shared with me of her childhood encounters with the Soviets (during the 1959 visit and others before and after) added another dimension to my research. While many American children were conditioned to believe that the Soviets would start a nuclear war, Liz followed Russians around her grandfather’s farm, collecting medals from the Soviet visitors and spying on Khrushchev’s food-tasters hoping to find out what would happen if “one them dropped dead.”
Garst Farm Resort. Historic Site Tour. 1390 Hwy. 141, Coon Rapids, Iowa. 11 February 2004.
After studying Roswell Garst’s papers at Iowa State University, this tour made the history of my project come to life before my eyes. Being in the place where this historic East-West encounter occurredeven though it was quiet and there were no reporters nesting in the treesgave me a sense of its significance. The farmhouse has been restored, maintaining its early 1900s flavor, and is filled with photographs of Khrushchev’s visit and the Garst family; memorabilia from the Garst and Thomas Seed Corn Company; gifts from Russian visitors; and hundreds of stories of the Garst family and their guests. With Liz Garst as my tour guide, it was as if the walls could talk.
Garst, Roswell. Papers. Iowa State University Archives: Alumni Affairs/Alumni and Former Students. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Roswell Garst’s papers were an invaluable source for my research. Garst wrote countless letters explaining his opinions about the importance of developing agriculture around the world in order to secure lasting peace. I accessed boxes 34, 81-89, and 90. These boxes contained extensive correspondence, newspaper clippings from all over the country, Russian newspapers Garst gathered on his many trips (he often made news in the Soviet Union), and transcribed interviews that Roswell granted following Khrushchev’s visit. These files also contained a 1959 publication of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities that detailed the crimes of Khrushchev and warned that the “great expectations aroused by the exchange [of visits between U.S. and Soviet representatives] reveal the tragic failure of Western statesmen to recognize the character and the magnitude of the Communist challenge.” This diplomatic opinion illustrates the contrast between the Government and Roswell Garst, who believed political systems could be set aside and peace could be achieved by standing on the common ground of agriculture.
“Global Crossroads: War and ‘Peace’As We Stand.” Newsweek 54, no. 11 (14 September 1959): 31-36.
Newsweek published this article prior to Khrushchev’s arrival to the United States. It described political hot spots around the world where “the Red and free worlds touch” and where every crackle of gunfire heightened cold war tensions and precipitated “anguished cries” for a summit to negotiate possibilities for peace. This helped me understand the enormity of the issues facing diplomats. Could Garst’s simple policy of feeding people really generate lasting peace?
“Great Encounter: The ‘Moon Man’ Cometh.” Newsweek 54, nos. 12,13,14. (21 and 28 September; 5 October 1959).
Throughout this three-part installment there was an in-depth analysis of Khrushchev’s encounters and exchanges in the United States. The series highlighted the recent Soviet triumphs in science and industry including the successful unmanned trip to the moonKhrushchev was very proud of this exploration. Leading the U.S. in the space race allowed him to “save face” when coming here for agricultural assistance. This helped me find out why Khrushchev’s desire was to compete peacefully with the United States and avoid World War III.
Hahn, Grover H. “Garst and His Farm Techniques.” Letter to the Editor. The Des Moines Register, 10 September 1959: 10.
This letter to the editor referred to an article previously appearing in the Register that described Garst’s “revolution” in farming. Written by an Iowa State University county extension director, this letter argues that Garst’s techniquessuch as application of fertilizer and the use of chemical pesticides and herbicideswere not new. What set Garst apart, thought Hahn, was Garst’s wealth; his ability to afford resources that the average farmer could not. This letter illustrated the rift between Garst and his Iowa State University counterparts. Like Khrushchev, Garst did not always get along with the “intelligentsia,” and perhaps he was not the “ordinary American farmer” he portrayed himself to be.
Harnack, Curtis. “Farm Messiah from Coon Rapids.” Iowan 4 (June-July 1956): 17-44.
Harnack describes how controversial Iowa farmer Roswell Garst sold his revolutionary farming ideas at home and a new agricultural era abroad. With gospel fervor, Garst’s most spectacular sale was to the Soviet and Rumanian Communist leaders. For me, this article underscored Garst’s belief that aiding agriculture in any country is “an aid to peace.”
“Iowa Governor Opposes Visit by Khrushchev.” Minneapolis Tribune, 23 August 1959.
When it was formally announced that Khrushchev would visit Iowa during his 12-day trip to the U.S., Iowa Governor Herschel C. Loveless announced that he opposed the Soviet premier’s visit. Loveless’ opinion helped me understand how polarized opinions were in this country about Khrushchev’s visit. Loveless feared the tour would be used for propaganda purposes. He also feared that the hostility of Eastern European immigrants might make the visit a “precarious venture.” Understanding this helped me put into perspective the impact of events such as Khrushchev’s suppression of the Hungarian uprising on opinions held in the United States.
“Jovial Nikita Leaves Iowa: Let’s Be Good Neighbors, He Says at Garst Farm.” The Des Moines Register, 24 September 1959: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13.
Khrushchev spent two days in Iowa during his 12-day trip to the U.S. From Roswell Garst’s living room in Coon Rapids, Khrushchev told reporters, “I have seen the way the slaves of capitalism live and I see they live pretty well. But the slaves of communism live pretty well, too. So let each one of us remain with his own way of life and be friends, living as good neighbors in the world.” As I look back on my research of these exchanges, I see the wisdom behind Khrushchev’s comment. One government trying to destroy the other would lead to war, but history revealed that communism would collapse on its own.
Kaiser, Robert G. “Roswell Garst’s Links With Soviet Union Being Renewed.” The Des Moines Tribune, 15 July 1971.
Garst’s relations with the Russians cooled after Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964. In 1971, Vladimir Matskevitch, the first important Soviet to visit Garst’s farm in 1955, was back in power as minister of agriculture and re-established contact with Garst, giving the Iowa corn farmer a voice in foreign policy once again. Garst hoped the United States would “get away from the arms race and get down to business.”
Khrushchev, Nikita S. For Victory in Peaceful Competition with Capitalism. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1960.
In his introduction to this volume of speeches, Khrushchev stated that “Mankind has approached a time when the peoples are faced with a choiceeither peaceful coexistence of states with different social systems, or a disastrous nuclear war.” Khrushchev published these speeches in English so that Americans could learn “what we Soviet people were preoccupied withand how we evaluated the most important international events.” His remarks emphasized for me how committed Khrushchev was to the peaceful exchange of information related to agriculture, science, and culture.
Khrushchev, Nikita S. Khrushchev in America. New York: Crosscurrents Press, 1960.
All of the speeches Khrushchev delivered during his tour of the United States were compiled and published in the Soviet Union as Live in Peace and Friendship! The English translation of that volume, Khrushchev in America, provided me with the Soviet point of view on various aspects of the Khrushchev trip, including his stop in Iowa.
Khrushchev, Sergei N. Interview by author, 4 December 2003. Digital recording of telephone conversation.
While searching the web for Khrushchev information I came across a CNN interview with Sergei Khrushchev, son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. I learned from this interview that Sergei had moved to the United States and became professor at Brown University. On the Brown University web site I located Sergei’s address and phone number, and then wrote him a letter telling him about my project and requesting an interview. We corresponded by e-mail several times before setting a date for an interview. Sergei Khrushchev accompanied his father to Iowa and it was interesting to discuss his memories of the visit. He corrected one rumor that has persisted in Iowa since 1959: legend has it that Khrushchev thought all of the farm silos were missile silos. “My father knew that there were no missile silos in the United States at that timethe U.S. started building missile silos in 1962,” Sergei said. “He knew that Mr. Garst’s silos stored food for pigs and cows. My father was interested in pigs more than missiles.”
Khrushchev, Sergei N. Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
In one of my earliest correspondences with Sergei Khrushchev, he told me I should read this, his book, before interviewing him. The book records Sergei’s conversations with his father and documents events he witnessed throughout his father’s time as Premier of the Soviet Union. The part describing the visit to the Garst farm helped me see just how important the exchange was from Nikita Khrushchev’s perspective. Sergei accompanied his family to the United States.
“Khrushchev Story: How ‘Dark Horse’ Took Over.” The Des Moines Register, 9 February 1955: 1, 8.
This article appeared under the banner headline, “MORE SOVIET SHAKEUPS SEEN.” People in the United States knew little about Nikita Khrushchev when he took over the job of first secretary of the Communist Party, the platform from which Stalin vaulted into complete control. The article helped me understand just how turbulent the relationship was between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at the time and how complicated the leadership transition was after Stalin’s death.
“Khrushchev Urges Peaceful Competition.” The Des Moines Register, 23 September 1959: 12.
The text of Nikita Khrushchev’s speech in Des Moines and news analysis of his remarks helped me understand the local reaction to Khrushchev’s visit. Pages of photographs in this edition of the Register allowed me to see the crowds around Khrushchev’s hotel. Some members of the crowd, described as former political prisoners from Hungary, held up signs of protest.
Kihsa, Peter. “Groups Plan Protests on Khrushchev.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 5.
This article describes efforts of various anti-communist groups to protest during Khrushchev’s visit to the United States. A group of senators and representatives called for national mourning “for the victims of Communist terror” throughout Khrushchev’s stay. Kihsa, a New York Times writer, reported that National Review, a conservative weekly, claimed to have sold 30,000 “Khrushchev Not Welcome Here” bumper stickers and planned to print 10,000 more.
Kissinger, Henry A. “The Khrushchev VisitDangers and Hopes.” The New York Times Magazine, 6 September 1959: 5, 44.
Kissinger did not agree with Garst’s position that Soviets with full stomachs would pose less of a threat. Kissinger’s insistence that political avenues were the only road toward peace helped me present both sides of the argument in my paper.
Lamberto, Nick. “Hungarians Urge: Don’t Stir Trouble.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 3.
A bold headline topped the page: “Nikita’s Peaceful Exchange.” This article illustrated for me how the Hungarians felt after Khrushchev squashed their attempt to remove themselves from the Eastern Bloc in the 1956 uprising. Members of an exiled Hungarian political organization visited places ahead of Khrushchev to caution against disorderly demonstrations. “We do not want to cause any trouble,” a Hungarian representative said. The Russians, he continued, could learn much about American agriculture that would contribute to a lasting peace.
Lippmann, Walter. “Why Both Sides Need Slowdown in Armaments Race.” The Des Moines Register, 26 September 1959: 4.
Acclaimed New York Herald Tribune columnist Walter Lippmann offered his analysis of U.S. and Soviet positions concerning the armaments race prior to the Camp David summit that followed Khrushchev’s visit to Iowa and exploration of the Garst Farm. Khrushchev had said that his friendship with Garst paved the way to a profitable summit. Lippmann did not think there would be enough time to thoroughly negotiate any of the “great issues,” but that any agreement would represent a significant gain. Lippmann’s analysis helped me understand how the arms race hurt both sides.
Miller, Frank. “Khrushchev’s Idea of American People.” Political Cartoon. The Des Moines Register, 10 September 1959: 10.
In a cloud above the Soviet Premier’s head, Miller drew Khrushchev’s preconception of the American people, depicting the average American as one weighed down by the shackles of capitalism. Under Miller’s cartoon read the caption, “A good handshake might get rid of some handcuffs.” The drawing depicted a portly Nikita Khrushchev extending his hand to shake the hand of an “average” American. As their hands come together, the image in Nikita’s mind begins to disintegrate. This cartoon, I think, illustrates the kind of diplomacy Garst practiced: personal encounters and exchange of mutually helpful information instead of political debate.
Mills, George. “A ‘Friendly’ Welcome is Seen HereBut Without Any Fawning.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 1, 16.
Simply stated, said Mills, “Today is a big day in Iowa History.” Never before had this agricultural state hosted so powerful an individual from a foreign land. Mills predicted that Iowans would be generous with their farming knowledge, even though Khrushchev and Communism were not popular in this state. The State Department warned Iowans not to make “needling” remarks. I found this slightly amusing since Khrushchev and Garst often addressed needling remarks to one another, underscoring for me Garst’s ability to speak bluntly to Khrushchev in ways the diplomats and politicians could not.
Mills, George. “Kind Words From Garst For Nikita.” The Des Moines Register, 9 September 1959: 1, 9.
Two weeks before Khrushchev’s visit, Garst granted an interview to the Register, explaining that he admired the communist administration but he wasn’t a communist. Garst also reported that even though Khrushchev had a difficult and dark history, his family would still welcome them and teach them what they knew about agriculture. This article showed me that the encounters and exchanges between these two men were not politically motivated, but were in the interest of helping the Soviet agricultural crisis.
Mills, George. “Nikita, Adlai May Meet at Coon Rapids.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 1.
Mills’ article demonstrated the significance of Khrushchev’s visit. Garst had arranged for Adlai Stevenson to be one of the dignitaries at the farm during the visit. Stevenson’s 1958 trip to the Soviet Union left him pessimistic as to the chances of real peace, but he looked forward to another encounter with Khrushchev.
Mitchell, Don. “Mrs. K. Gardener.” Newark, N.J. News. 2 September 1959.
Mitchell described Garst’s earlier visits to the Soviet Union and Mrs. Khrushchev’s interest in gardening. The interesting part of this article to me was that it confirmed that Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, and two daughters would also travel to the United States. I knew then that I would want to interview Sergei about his experiences in Iowa.
“Mr. Garst’s Mail.” Sunday World-Herald (Omaha), 6 September 1959.
Roswell Garst was flooded with mail after the announcement that Khrushchev would visit his farm. In every delivery, Garst was informed “that he is a savior of humanity and also that he is a rat, with countless variations on each theme.” This supported what Liz Garst told me in my interview with her: “[Roswell] got lots of hate mail, but nobody knows what they said because he put those letters in the trash can.”
“Mr. K. Can Be Charming.” The Des Moines Register, 26 September 1959: 4.
In this editorial the author straightened out the crooked beliefs that Khrushchev was an ill-mannered, tough man who had no respect for others. It also explained that the group visiting Iowa was a kind group that wanted to learn as much as they could about agriculture in the short time they had in the United States. Reading this editorial prompted me to ask Sergei Khrushchev what kinds of preconceptions they encountered in the United States, and what kinds of preconceptions they brought with them.
“National Affairs.” Time 74, no. 13 (28 September 1959): 9-17.
The peasant face of Nikita Khrushchev appeared on the cover of the 28 September Time Magazine. The author called Krushchev’s visit to the United states “one of the grand confrontations of the cold war and of all time,” quoting President Eisenhower’s tribute to the freedom he said is instinctive in all men. “We do not have a system,” Eisenhower told Khrushchev. “We have a way of life. We think that the systematized order observed in Russia is a step backward, not forward.” For me, this illustrated the differences between Eisenhower and Khrushchev and explained why Eisenhower distanced himself from Khrushchev during most of the 12 days the Soviet premier was in the country. Instead, Eisenhower selected U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. to be Khrushchev’s official host.
“Nikita Down to Earth at Iowa Farm.” Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), 24 September 1959.
What caught my eye in with this article was the 3-column photograph that accompanied it. The close-up picture showed Nikita Khrushchev bending over to kiss one of Roswell and Elizabeth Garst’s granddaughters goodbye. The girl in the photo was Elizabeth “Liz” Garst, who I was scheduled to interview the next day. The article described the chaos at Garst’s farm during Khrushchev’s visit and how difficult it was to move among hundreds of reporters and photographers. This information helped me set the scene in my opening paragraph and provided Garst’s quote about farmers being able to settle problems faster than diplomats.
“Nikita States the Communist Case in TV Speech.” The Des Moines Register, 28 September 1959: 1, 4, 6, 7, 13.
Khrushchev was a good communist; he believed whole heartedly that the communist government and economy would win out in the end. In this transcript of his speech, Nikita said that he was glad about these dealings and hoped for more of the same type of talks later on. I learned from this article that even though our countries’ governments were different both hoped to coexist on Earth together.
Orr, Richard. “Iowa Farmer Bob Garst Has Much to Show Nikita.” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 13 September 1959.
Orr’s feature in the Chicago Tribune introduced readers to Coon Rapids, Iowa, Bob Garst and his wife, Elizabeth, and the farm Nikita Khrushchev would visit during his trip to the United States. This article provided me with the information that Garst was the only individual except for President Eisenhower that Khrushchev specifically asked to see while in the U.S. The novelty of a foreign dignitary’s visit to rural Iowa caused stories like this to appear in newspapers throughout the United States.
Perkes, Dan. “Khrush No More Blunt Than Freethinker Garst.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 September 1959.
Perkes describes Garst’s promise to show Khrushchev “a thorough demonstration of how Americans overthrew agricultural tradition and multiplied nature’s blessingsa type of revolution he willingly would share with the Soviet Union.” The article reinforced similarities between Khrushchev and Garst that I have noticed in other sources: both were candid and blunt, not inhibited by conventional diplomatic restraints.
“Questioning Stirs Soviet Boss to Fury.” The Des Moines Register, 21 September 1959: 1, 5.
This article demonstrates Khrushchev’s conviction that communism would be the social system that triumphed over capitalism. He was meeting with American union leaders who expressed their contempt for communism. The union leaders’ questioning caused Khrushchev to become quite agitated. I compared this confrontation to similar confrontations between Garst and Khrushchev. Garst, a true capitalist, often disagreed with Khrushchev, sometimes in loud arguments, but their friendship compensated for this kind of an exchange.
Raskin, A.H. “Nikita Worse Than Stalin, Say Unions.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 1, 11.
Agriculturalists, it seemed, got along better with Khrushchev than did labor leaders attending an A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention. Raskin reported that labor leaders’ differences with Khrushchev were “irreconcilable.” I thought this was ironic because Khrushchev envisioned communism as a worker’s paradise. This was one of the first articles I encountered that deemed Khrushchev to be worse than Stalin.
Reston, James. “Halt Armed Forays, Ike To Tell Red.” The Des Moines Register, 15 September 1959: 1, 8.
Reston describes President Eisenhower’s plans to postpone talks about sensitive issues including arms control and Berlin until after Khrushchev has completed his American tour. This article demonstrated how delicately diplomats must proceed, in contrast to Roswell Garst’s blunt statements to Khrushchev. For Garst, no issue was “too sensitive” to discuss.
“Roswell Garst Helped to Spur Big Changes in Agriculture.” Pioneer Horizons Pamphlet. Winter 1978.
Printed after Roswell Garst’s death in 1977, this newsletter of the Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company paid tribute to Garst’s agricultural accomplishments and contained a transcript of his obituary. I learned that Garst considered his greatest accomplishment to be his role in “talk and trade” with communist governments, actions which helped ease world tensions.
Salisbury, Harrison. The Des Moines Register, 8-15 September 1959: “Finds Khrushchev’s Russia Freer, Happier.” 8 September 1959; “Only Khrushchev Can Make The Decisions.” 9 September 1959; “Labor Camps Gone, People Talk Freely.” 10 September 1959; “Fear of China Spurs Russia’s Peace Quest.” 11 September 1959; “Why Khrushchev Trip May Soften His Stand.” 15 September 1959.
Salisbury, a New York Times reporter who served as Soviet correspondent from 1949 to 1954, wrote a series of eight articles describing changes that had taken place in the U.S.S.R. since the death of Stalin. This series, especially the articles noted above, was a valuable resource I encountered early in my research. His synopsis of the pre-Stalinist and Stalinist periods compared with changes emerging during the Khrushchev era gave me a good foundation in Russian history from which I could understand the context of the agricultural exchanges.
Salisbury, Harrison. “Sees Americans at Work, Eats Cafeteria Apple Pie.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 1, 6.
Khruschev refuted a long-standing position of Soviet propaganda by announcing that he drew no line of distinction between the American people and the American government. Soviet propaganda had claimed that there was a vast difference between the views of ordinary Americans and the views of the American government. Khrushchev’s desire for friendship with the American people, I believe, was an outgrowth of his friendship with Roswell Garst whose brand of citizen diplomacy blurred the lines between public representative and private citizen.
Soth, Lauren K. “If the Russians Want More Meat” The Des Moines Register, 10 February 1955.
Soth’s Pulitzer Prize winning editorial is often quoted in published material dealing with the beginnings of East-West agricultural exchange. I located this editorial as it originally appeared in the Des Moines Register while looking through the Iowa State University Library’s microfilm files. Soth wrote in a very casual voice, as if the Russians were sitting across the kitchen table from him while talking about farming. This helped me understand the roots of the agricultural exchange involving Roswell Garst.
Stanford, Neal. “Eisenhower, Khrushchev to Swap Visits.” The Christian Science Monitor, 4 August 1959.
“A new chapter in East-West diplomacy is opening,” stated Stanford, who described the informal talks planned between Eisenhower and Khrushchev. This article underscored for me how important the encounters between Garst and Khrushchev had been in setting the stage for Khrushchev’s historic visit to the United States and meetings with President Eisenhower.
“State Department Gets a Lesson.” The Cedar Rapids Gazette. 24 September 1959, Editorial Page.
This unsigned editorial pointed out the different opinions regarding Khrushchev’s visit to Iowa. The writer quoted Ambassador Lodge as saying, “I never knew it would be like this. I’m learning an awful lot about this country myself on this tour.” Government officials, I believe, often represent people they do not know. I share the editorial’s opinion that “one of the best things that could happen to some of our state department officials would be for them to share Ambassador Lodge’s discoveries by touring our country on their own sometime.”
Comrade Khrushchev and Farmer Garst: East-West Encounters
State Historical Society of Iowa Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa. 25 March 2004.
When I visited the State Historical Society Special Collections I viewed pictures taken while the first delegation of Soviets was visiting Iowa in response to Lauren Soth’s editorial in the Des Moines Register. The photographs helped me see the importance that Khrushchev placed on agriculture: he sent Soviets to study American farming techniques, admitting American superiority in this area, and he allowed an exchange so that Iowa farmers could visit the Soviet Union.
Strohm, John, NEA Special Correspondent. “Why is U.S. Far Ahead of Russia in Farming? Mr. K. Seeks The Answer.” Kingsport Times, 21 September 1959.
Strohm describes Garst as the “one man who told Khrushchev the truth about what’s wrong with Soviet agriculture.” This article made me wonder if the Soviets would have been so far behind in agriculture if their leaders had been able to tell the truth to the Soviet Premier. Telling Stalin unpopular news signed one’s death warrant. Taubman’s biography of Khrushchev described him as being surrounded by sycophants who were conditioned to tell the top Soviet exactly what he wanted to heareven if it did not represent reality. This led Khrushchev to make unwise decisions and implement ineffective reforms based on incorrect information. Khrushchev’s agricultural failures contributed to his ouster.
“War and ‘Peace’As We Stand.” Newsweek. 14 September 1959: 31-37.
In this article the author discusses Nikita’s visit to the U.N and the effects of the Laos situation on the world at the time. It also described the opposition to Khrushchev and how that affected his power during this crisis. This article helped me to understand the immense pressure Khrushchev was under at the time of his visit.
Wilson, Richard. “‘Highlight of Trip,’ Lodge Tells Garst.” The Des Moines Register, 24 September 1959: 6.
Khrushchev’s visit made Garst’s farm the most famous establishment of its kind in the world, Wilson stated. “It was the place where Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev preached peace in the barnyard and living room and enjoyed himself immensely.” Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Khrushchev’s official host in America, told Roswell Garst that the day spent at his farm had been the highlight of the whole trip. Lodge, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, admitted that he learned almost as much about Midwestern life as did Khrushchev. This gave credence to the Garst quote I used on the first page of my paper: “we two farmers could settle the problems of the world faster than politicians.”
Wilson, Richard. “Hope to Keep Red Premier in Good Mood.” The Des Moines Register, 22 September 1959: 1, 4.
Wilson’s article was a big help for me to see the misunderstandings and assumptions that our government had about Khrushchev. The U.S. thought that Nikita would not cooperate while he was in the United States, but those thoughts were totally wrong. Escorts of the Khrushchev party found out in a hurry that the delegation from the Soviet Union was here to work with us to learn about agriculture.
Wilson, Richard. “Ike Asks Courtesy to Nikita: Hopes Visit Will Result in Progress.” The Des Moines Register, 11 September 1959: 1, 6.
President Eisenhower called upon the American people to receive Khrushchev “with traditional American courtesy and dignity.” This article illustrates the complexity of working between two countries for peace. Eisenhower had to go over many details with Khrushchev before peace talks could even be arranged. Having studied the reasons Garst and Khrushchev’s relationship worked so well, I could contrast the stiff, formal, “official” talks that would later take place.
Wilson, Richard. “Ike to Meet Plane, Ride in 15-Mile Parade.” The Des Moines Register, 15 September 1959: 1, 5.
News of Khrushchev’s arrival in the United States dominated the front page. His first stop would be in Washington, D.C. for the first direct two-way discussion ever held between the President of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet Union. After the talks, Khrushchev would tour the United States before returning to Camp David for continued talks with Eisenhower. This helped me appreciate the significance of Khrushchev’s historic trip.
Wilson, Richard. “Khrushchev Rise Causes U.S. Concern.” The Des Moines Register, 9 February 1955: 5.
Wilson Stated that Nikita S. Khrushchev’s emergence as the “strong man of Russia” caused great concern here over the future of Soviet-American relations. This article helped me understand Khrushchev’s mercurial ways; on one hand he was ominous and threatening, on the other he was peaceful and offered words of reassurance. Americans, who were already drilling their children for nuclear attacks, were all the more alarmed at the news of Khrushchev’s rise to power.
Wilson, Richard. “Nikita Says He Won’t Go, Crisis Ends.” The Des Moines Register, 21 September 1959: 1, 13.
Two days before coming to Iowa, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev was offended by his frosty reception in Los Angeles. Khrushchev threatened to break off his visit and return immediately to Moscow because he didn’t feel welcome in the hostile, anti-communist Los Angeles atmosphere. Khrushchev declared, “if the U.S. wants war, Russia is ready to meet the challenge.” This article helped me understand the volatile nature of the diplomatic relations between the U.S.S.R. and the United States, illustrating just how quickly Khrushchev vacillated between positions of war and peace. It also helped me appreciate his friendship with Roswell Garstthey could argue and discuss matters in ways that diplomats could not.
Wilson, Richard. “Sees Crumbling of Cold War Ice.” The Des Moines Register, 17 September 1959: 1, 4, 11.
Under the banner headline, “RUSSIA HINTS POLICY SHIFTS,” Wilson described Khrushchev’s statements about disarmament and the Berlin issue that might indicate a shift in his position. To President Eisenhower Khrushchev said, “The ice of the Cold War has not only shown a crack but has begun to crumble.” This article helped me comprehend why Khrushchev came to the United States and what he hoped to gain from the venture.
Wilson, Richard. “Think Nikita Has Altered U.S. Opinion.” The Des Moines Register, 27 September 1959: 3.
Wilson covered Khrushchev’s entire 12 day visit to the United States. This article offers his analysis of Khrushchev’s impact on the American public. Before he came, Americans saw Khrushchev as oafish and rude. Wilson described the “shocking impact” of the visit on American preconceptions of the Soviet leader. The encounter allowed Americans to see Khrushchev’s intellectual sophistication in international politics, the quickness of his mind, and the ruthlessness of his wit. Wilson’s viewpoint helped me develop my own analysis for this paper.
Wolfe, Thomas. “Official Nerves to Jangle In Salute to Khrushchev.” Washington, D.C. Post, 21 August 1959.
A month before Khrushchev’s trip to the U.S., nearly 300 cities, towns, organizations, clubs and individuals had submitted invitations requesting the Soviet Premier to visit. Invitations arrived at the U.S. State Department and Soviet Embassy every day. Wolfe credited America’s unofficial Corn Belt Ambassador to Moscow, Roswell Garst, with starting it all when he invited Khrushchev to see his Coon Rapids farm. This, for me, emphasized the significance of Garst’s encounters with Khrushchev.

Secondary Sources

Conquest, Robert. “Loudmouth.” The New Yorker, 31 March 2003: 99, 100.
This New Yorker book review first introduced me to William Taubman’s book, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. Conquest offers a synopsis of the book and describes Taubman’s work as the first comprehensive and scholarly biography of Stalin’s successor, pointing out that such a book would not have been possible until recently since the research relies in part on countless pages of archival material that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Elbert, David. “Historical Farm Will Become Resort Site.” The Des Moines Register, 3 May 1997: 1, 5.
The Garst farm that opened doors to Soviet-U.S. relations rolled out its welcome mat to tourists in the Summer of 1997. This article brought the Garst farm to my attention as an historical site that I must visit in order to complete my research.
Graham, Loren R. Science in Russia and the Soviet Union. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1993.
Graham’s assessment of science in the Soviet Union contained a section on agriculture that explained why the Soviets lagged behind the United States in agriculture, supporting the statement I make in the opening of my paper. The Soviets collectivized agriculture based on the principle of socialist ownership and on the conviction that “the full potential of modern agricultural machinery could not be fulfilled as long as the land was divided into small private plots.” They sought a technological fix for an economic and social problem.
Grathwol, Robert P. and Donita M. Moorhus. Berlin and the American Military: A Cold War Chronicle. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
The text of this book was very helpful to me when I was putting the events of the 1950s and 1960s in context. It helped me find out how Khrushchev’s foreign policy blunders contributed to his eventual demise. This book also helped me prepare my timeline.
“JFK: A Presidency Revealed.” History Channel Documentary produced by David Taylor. A&E Television Networks: 2003.
I saw this documentary on the History channel and then purchased the DVD set because it included never-before released source material including Kennedy’s White House audiotapes and Soviet footage from his sole superpower summit with Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It helped me understand Khrushchev’s preferred negotiation style: long unhurried conversations, as he had demonstrated with Garst. This documentary illustrated how Khrushchev was irritated by Kennedy’s brusque and efficient manner.
Lee, Harold. Roswell Garst: A Biography. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1984.
Lee described Roswell Garst as an independent, strong-willed, free-spirited original thinker who had a major impact on East-West cooperation in agriculture. This first comprehensive biography of Garst demonstrated his unique roll on the international stage. This book first introduced me to Roswell Garst and Lee’s notes led me to Garst’s papers at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
Lucas, Marlene. “Garst Farm Resorts in Coon Rapids Opens Doors to Visitors.” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, 4 October 1998: 1D, 12D.
The Gazette featured the Garst farm in a series profiling Iowa’s agriculture entrepreneurs who developed non-traditional ways to increase their incomes. Proprietor Liz Garst makes sure that guests staying in her grandparents’ farmhouse know that it is more than a typical bed and breakfast; it is a piece of international history. This article provided me with the farm’s phone number, website, and email address.
Malcolm, Andrew H. “Coon Rapids: Unchanged Since Khrushchev.” The New York Times. 23 May 1972.
Malcolm recalled that Khrushchev’s visit to the Garst Farm was “12 summers, 13 falls, 13 winters, and 13 springs ago.” The article described the impact of the Soviet Premier’s 1959 visit, the one time Coon Rapids was plucked from obscurity. It demonstrated for me how Garst, as a self-appointed agricultural missionary to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, also had a major impact on his hometown.
Muhm, Don and Virginia Wadsley. “Roswell Garst.” Iowans Who Made a Difference: 150 Years of Agricultural Progress. West Des Moines, Iowa: Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996: 80-82.
The chapter describing Roswell Garst provided a brief, but very helpful, overview of his life and achievements. It helped me understand how Garst’s role on the international stage was unique for his time. His selection for this volume underlines how important he was to Iowa agricultural history.
Pins, Kenneth. “FBI Saw Garst as ‘Difficult,’ Say Secret Files.” Des Moines Register. 27 August 1989.
Pins described Garst as a blunt-talking, globe-trotting, seed corn merchant who was an exasperating pain in the neck for the U.S. State Department and the FBI during the Cold War. Garst berated agents that shadowed him, and accused the FBI of intercepting cables sent by his Eastern Bloc friends. This article led me to Garst’s FBI file, released to the Des Moines Register under the Freedom of Information Act. The redacted file yielded more black ink than information.
Sloan, William David and Laird B. Anderson, eds. Pulitzer Prize Editorials: America’s Best Writing 1917-2003. Third Edition. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 2003.
This volume included Lauren Soth’s editorial, “If the Russians Want More Meat” which won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize. The editorial itself is a primary source, but I used this book for the commentary that it offered about the editorial. It also described the selection criteria for Pulitzer Prize editorials and explained how rare it is for an editorial to have a direct effect on a major public event, as Soth’s did.
Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
This Khrushchev biography, written by Amherst College political science professor William Taubman, describes the contradiction of Khrushchev’s legacy. Taubman’s book is a page turner that really got me caught up in the drama of Soviet history. The author’s analysis helped me understand how Khrushchev, who worked closely with Stalin and approved many arrests and executions, eventually introduced reforms that led to the downfall of Soviet communism.
Taubman, William, Sergei Khrushchev, and Abbott Gleason, eds. Nikita Khrushchev. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
Contributors to this volume of essays included Russian, Ukrainian, American, and British scholars; a former foreign policy aide to Khrushchev; the executive secretary of a Russian commission investigating Soviet-era repressions, and Khrushchev’s own son Sergei. The collection describes how the spotlight once again fell on Khrushchev in the late 1980s when Gorbachev finally lifted the taboo on Khrushchev’s name. Comparing analysis in these essays helped balance older sources about Khrushchev written before Soviet-era archives were opened for study. Especially helpful was Anatolii Strelianyi’s essay describing Khrushchev’s role in agricultural reform and why many of these reforms failed.
Thomas, Evan. “Cold War: Bluster Before the Fall.” Newsweek, 15 September 2003: 10.
Thomas wrote this article a week before the Russian government was to release documents related to the deliberations of the Politburo from 1954 to 1964. These documents were expected to show Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev and his comrades worrying about “planes that won’t fly and bread lines that won’t go away,” while at the same time taking risks that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war they were not strong enough to fight. Until the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s, Washington did not realize that the “evil empire” had long been rotting from within. Roswell Garst did, and I believe his efforts to strengthen their nation by helping the Soviets develop better agriculture was truly a superior path to peace.
Weinberg, Steve. “Iowa State Press Collects Best, History-Changing Writing.” The Des Moines Register, undated clipping.
This clipping led me to the book, Pulitzer Prize Editorials: America’s Best Writing, 1917-2003. Featured in this is Lauren Soth’s editorial, “If the Russians Want More Meat.” The article also reproduced a Des Moines Register file photo of Khrushchev inspecting corn that I used in my paper.
Whitman, Alden. “Khrushchev’s Human Dimensions Brought Him to Power and to His Downfall.” Obituary. New York Times, 12 September 1971.
I classified this as a secondary source because, in addition to notification of Khrushchev’s death, the article offered a detailed history of the former Soviet Premier’s rise to power and causes for his downfall. The obituary was extremely helpful in putting events in Khrushchev’s life in context and in developing my timeline (Appendix I).

Notes

1. John Strohm, “Why Is U.S. Far Ahead Of Russia In Farming? Mr. K Seeks the Answer.” Kingsport Times, 21 September 1959: 2.
2. Kolkhozes, or collective farms, in theory were agricultural cooperativesa voluntary union of free peasants. In reality, collective farms were regimented, state-controlled operations into which peasants were forcibly herded and from which they were forbidden to leave.
3. Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev in America (New York: Crosscurrents Press, 1960), 25.
4. “Nikita Down to Earth at Iowa Farm.” Mountain News (Denver, CO), 24 September 1959: 1.
5. William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.): 21.
6. “Khrushchev Story: How ‘Dark Horse’ Took Over,” Des Moines Register, 9 February 1955: 1.
7. Sergei Khrushchev, interview by author, 4 December 2003. Sergei accompanied his father to the United States in 1959. Sergei explained that Leonid Brezhnev, Khrushchev’s successor, halted his father’s agricultural reforms and that agricultural science in Russia today is declining. “In Russia today they import most of the food that they consume. They are selling oil and buying food.”
8. Sergei Khrushchev, interview by author, 4 December 2003.
9. Part of the reason the Soviet economy lagged behind the United States was the communist system’s reliance on a command economy where the government told farmers and other workers how much to produce without regards to production capacity or how much was really needed.
10. Lauren Soth, “If the Russians Want More Meat” The Des Moines Register, 10 February 1955.
11. Ibid. Soth won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for this editorial because of the impact it had on a major public eventencouraging exchanges between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. that helped thaw the chill that had developed between the two nations. After a Soviet delegation visited Iowa farms, Soth toured the Soviet Union with an American delegation.
12. Elizabeth “Liz” Garst (granddaughter of Roswell and Elizabeth Garst), interview by author, Coon Rapids, Iowa, 11 February 2004. Sergei Khrushchev confirmed this in my interview with him.
13. After extensive negotiations, the U.S. State Department required that only scientists and agronomistsno politiciansbe included in the Soviet delegation. Their plane flew directly to Des Moines, never going near Washington, D.C. The U.S. Federal Government wanted nothing to do with the initial agricultural exchange.
14. Elizabeth “Liz” Garst, interview by author, Coon Rapids, Iowa, 11 February 2004.
15. According to Liz Garst, the Iowa Farm Bureau selected only small family farms with no hired labor for the Soviets to tour in an effort to prove to them that 80-160 acre family farms were superior to Soviet collective farms. “The smallest farms in the Soviet Union were at least 20,000 acres,” she explained. Garst Farms, totaling about 5,000 acres, were omitted from the tour even though they employed the latest technology in grain and livestock productionexactly what the Soviets had come to see. Roswell Garst arranged to meet Matskevitch at a reception and described his techniques to the Soviet official. Determined to see Garst’s farm, Matskevitch refused to accompany his delegation to the next day’s scheduled stop. Instead, Matskevitch accepted the ride Garst provided to Coon Rapids.
16. Harold Lee, Roswell Garst: A Biography (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1984), 183.
17. Ibid, 186.
18. Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, 372; Lee, 189.
19. Garst provided western correspondents the first news of Khrushchev’s family. Up until this point people in the West knew very little about Nikita or his family. Early newspaper coverage of Khrushchev’s rise to power said the new leader was known to have been married, but it was not known if his wife was still living. Khrushchev’s first wife died of hunger and exhaustion during the famine following the Russian civil war. He divorced his second wife, and Nina, his third wife, would later host agricultural delegations from the U.S. and accompany her husband to Coon Rapids. This represented a shift from Stalin’s era when leaders’ wives and children were kept away from official events. Family, under Stalin, was a sign of weakness.
20. Roswell Garst letter to E. Bensen, 12 December 1955, Garst Papers, Iowa State University.
21. Liz Garst interview by author.
22. The Garsts owned their home farm and managed many others.
23. Lee, 200.
24. Copies of Garst’s FBI file are archived in the Garst Papers, Iowa State University Parks Library, Special Collections. Of the 205 pages in the file, 180 have been released under the Freedom of Information Act. Information on virtually all of those pages has been redacted. Few words remain visible between thick lines of black ink.
25. The speech was a devastating attack on Stalin and the former ruler’s abuse of power. Moscow ordered Soviet satellite governments to read Khrushchev’s secret speech at their own party assemblies. A transcript of the speech was leaked to the West in 1956, but not published in the U.S.S.R. until 1989. In light of Stalin’s crimes, many Hungarians wanted to overthrow their government which in 1956 was still ruled by a Stalinist hard-liner.
26. Roswell Garst, quoted in Lee, 215.
27. Roswell Garst letter to Nikita Khrushchev, 8 February 1959, Garst Papers, Iowa State University.
28. Liz Garst described both men as “quite gregarious and quite cantankerous. They were both showmen, and they were both very much peasants, neither of them were refined men. To tell you the truth, they were both kind of crude.” Angry outbursts over their personal opinions of the arms race often interrupted agricultural discussions. Garst could speak bluntly to Khrushchev in a way that official diplomats could not.
29. Khrushchev’s request to visit Garst was the product of Garst’s wife, Elizabeth’s, invitation. She invited Nikita and Nina Khrushchev to visit their home to reciprocate the Khrushchev’s hospitality.
30. “Iowa Governor Opposes Visit by Khrushchev,” Minneapolis Tribune, 23 August 1959.
31. Richard Orr, “Iowa Farmer Bob Garst Has Much to Show Nikita.” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 13 September 1959.
32. Khrushchev in America, 161.
33. Liz Garst recalled that they anticipated that 300 reporters might show up for the Khrushchev visit, but estimates ranged from 1,500 to 3,000 were actually on site. “As my grandmother said, ‘The reporters were really much worse than the flies,'” Liz described. Reporters asked all the wrong questions, Roswell Garst had complained. “They were more interested in what Mrs. Garst was going to serve for lunch than what the exchange could do for world peace.” See “Notes on the Khrushchev Visit” file. Garst Papers, Iowa State University.
34. Photographs of the luncheon displayed at the Garst Farm show that Khrushchev shared a table with Garst, Henry Cabot Lodge (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who served as Khrushchev’s official host in the United States), and Adlai Stevenson (Illinois governor, U.S. senator, and 1952 democratic presidential nominee).
35. Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 338.
36. Fagan D. Alder. “Seed Corn Genius Garst Helped to Pave Way for Historic Session at Camp David.” Undated clipping. Garst Papers, Iowa State University Archives. Box 84, File 4.
37. Morgan Beatty interview with Nikita Khrushchev. 23 September 1959. Garst Papers, ISU.
38. Liz Garst reported that any profit Roswell’s company made on selling seed to the Soviet Union was offset by cancellation of orders by U.S. farmers who refused to do business with a “commie sympathizer.”
39. Roswell Garst responded this way to everyone who wrote to him prior to the Khrushchev visit to his farm. Eighty percent of the mail he received, Garst estimated, expressed hope and confidence that tensions between the USA and U.S.S.R. would decrease as a result of this exchange. The rest contained bitter condemnations. Garst Papers, Iowa State University.
40. Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 86th Congress. “The Crimes of Khrushchev: Part I.” 4 September 1959.
41. Henry A. Kissinger, “The Khrushchev VisitDangers and Hopes,” The New York Times Magazine, 6 September 1959: 5. Kissinger, who later became Secretary of State in the Nixon administration, was associate director of the Center for International Studies at Harvard University when he wrote this article.
42. Richard Wilson, “Think Nikita Has Altered U.S. Opinion,” The Des Moines Register, 27 September 1959: 3.
43. Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, 13.
44. Taubman, introduction xx.
45. Economic restructuring.
46. Openness.

 

 

By Stephen J. Frese

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