Rural

Amy Mayer / IPR

When communities watch young people grow up, go off and never return, remaining residents and politicians often bemoan there’s been a “brain drain” — especially when such population loss means schools and businesses close.

But plenty of residents are full of love and pride for those communities, and some are working to identify their towns’ best attributes so they can attract new residents and achieve “brain gain.” This effort is happening across New England and in the Mountain West, and is also evident in two Iowa towns.

Bellevue

Amy Mayer / IPR

In an annual survey, Iowa State University economists found the age of farmland owners continues to climb, and with that the number of acres owned debt-free also has increased.

About a third of the land is owned by people who are at least 75 years old and 82 percent of land is owned debt-free.  Typically, the older the landowner, the lower the debt load.

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colorado. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow chute, where their legs are restrained and they’re lifted onto a hydraulic table.  

Amy Mayer / IPR

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture first piloted a program to offer free summer meals to children. The program became a permanent fixture in 1975, and last year, schools, libraries, recreation centers and other groups in Iowa served more than 1.3 million meals and snacks to children under 18 through the Summer Food Service Program.

Ashley Leal parks in front of the Plains, Kansas, Community Library. It’s about to close, but she doesn’t care. She pulls out her blue laptop.

“I’m ... using the Wi-Fi,” Leal says with a laugh.

Her home internet was so slow, she came to the library parking lot. Cars often idle there in the evening while their drivers tap into a plodding, but treasured, link to the internet.

“I’m just thankful that we have somewhere to go,” Leal says.

It’s the only free internet in this small western Kansas town. For many people, it’s the only internet, period. Surprisingly, part of the problem and the solution, for rural areas may lie in Netflix traffic.

Waterville weebly / https://waterville.weebly.com/history-of-waterville-school.html

This week the one and only school in the Northeastern Iowa town of Waterville will close its doors permanently. But while school district consolidation can certainly change a community, it doesn’t have to be the end of it. 

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

 At The Law Shop in Van Meter, attorney Amy Skogerson untied a piece of blue yarn from around a bunch of craft sticks.

Each stick had a word or short phrase stamped on it, and she read from them as she placed them on her desk: “negotiate, court representation, research law, draft documents.”

Wearing a heavy smock and rubber boots, Amadedin Eganwa stands over a large conveyor belt that’s carrying unconscious lambs. He faces east, towards Mecca, gently lifts the animal’s head in the same direction and under his breath he quickly says a prayer — bismillahi allahu akbar, or “in God’s name” — before swiftly cutting the lamb’s throat.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Big cities in the Midwest are gaining ground on the rural communities that, for many decades, have thrived on the edges of urban development.

Since 1980, the amount of land being farmed or grazed in the U.S. has dropped 13 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Much of it now flaunts housing subdivisions, big-box stores and computer-server farms.

Outward growth from metropolitan areas can strain courts, schools and traffic. It also can change the cultural and regional identity of once-rural communities — something visible on the outskirts of two metro areas connected by Interstate 35 and an agricultural heritage: Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri.

The Trump administration wants to show rural communities, which voted for him by wide margins in the 2016 election, they are still on the president’s mind. It suggested a list of broad ideas in January to spark growth and carved out rural interests in an infrastructure plan.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Iowa’s senior senator says shouldering most of the cost of President Trump’s infrastructure plan will be challenging for states. But, Republican Chuck Grassley says crumbling bridges and unreliable locks and dams are an impediment to Iowa’s economy.

“Being able to move agriculture goods out of the Midwest and into the world market is critical to our competitiveness in the coming decades,” Grassley says. “To do that, we need to ensure that we have adequate river, rail and highway infrastructure to move billions of bushels of grain.”

Ninja Cherepashka/flickr

As large consolidated rural school districts struggle with soaring transportation costs, a bill advanced in the Iowa Senate that could reduce costs for some districts.  

Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students.    

The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.  

John Pemble / IPR file photo

Congress faces a deadline Friday to pass a budget or a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. Iowa’s senior senator says multiple issues are caught up in the current impasse.

One of those is the status of young adults living under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Republican Chuck Grassley says he supports “legalizing” immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents, if that’s paired with other restrictions on immigration. 

Amy Mayer / IPR

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Ali Zifan / wikipedia, creative commons

Election night 2016 put Iowa's divisions on display. The state was a sea of red dotted with blue islands representing Iowa's largest metro areas. Iowans talk a lot about the rural urban divide. But voting in the presidential election allowed those divisions to be mapped. On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbes talks with experts about the economic, political, and social differences between Iowa's rural and urban areas.

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

$750,000 for payroll. $500,000 for a bond payment. $1.25 million total. One August day in 2013, the hospital’s CEO Kerry Noble had to face facts: The money just wasn’t there. It took an emergency bailout from a local bank to keep their doors open. For now.

Sidney, Nebraska, has prospered while many rural cities have struggled. For decades, the city has been home to Cabela’s, a major outdoor retail chain.

As Cabela’s completes a deal in which it will be bought by a rival, however, the future of Sidney’s economic engine is in doubt. As in other rural cities that have faced the loss or closure of major industry, the question is how the community will move on and grow in the 21st Century.

Nan Palmereo/flickr

The Iowa Utilities Board today issued an order deregulating landline phone service quality in Iowa.  

That means that local telephone exchanges will no longer be required to meet customer service and quality standards.   

With the growing use of cellphones, deregulating landlines has become more common across the country.  The Iowa order cites the widespread availability of effective competition for local service, including mobile wireless and cable.  

Indian Helath Service

At least 35 people at the podiatry clinic of the Indian Health Service hospital in Winnebago, Neb., have possibly been exposed to Hepatitis and HIV. An instrument at the IHS clinic, which is near Sioux City, may not have been properly sterilized between patients. 

IHS is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides healthcare to American Indians and Native Alaskans. The Winnebago clinic serves members from the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes of Nebraska who live in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. 

WIKICOMMONS / Iowahwyman

A nationally recognized gynecologist testified Tuesday at Polk County District Court. Dr. Dan Grossman of California is an expert witness in a trial that questions the constitutionality of new abortion restrictions.

Iowa’s new law requires a woman to have an ultrasound three days before an abortion. Grossman told the court, in some cases, he believes this requirement is "cruel" and "unacceptable."

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Schools in rural school districts often don’t have the budget or the teachers to offer students all of the courses they would like to take. One rural district in a Missouri county decided to offer credit for online classes in an effort to give its students the educational opportunities it can’t otherwise afford.

Amy Mayer/IPR

As Highway 30 enters Denison, a city of 8,000, the national fast food chains stand next to Mexican groceries and restaurants. In this small city near the Nebraska border, waves of immigrants have been arriving since at least the 1980s.

 

In small, rural, diverse towns like this one, religious institutions can play an important role. Often, they provide needed social services. Many are a small slice of home. And they can serve as some of the most prominent points of connection between the different communities in town.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

The Diocese of Sioux City is rolling out changes that will close or consolidate many Catholic churches in northwest Iowa as part of its Ministry 2025 plan.

A shortage of priests and declining participation in weekly Mass fueled the Diocese to find more efficient ways to serve Catholic communities. Father Paul Kelly celebrates Mass in English and Spanish at St. Rose of Lima in Denison, a small western Iowa city that may soon welcome more parishioners from nearby communities.

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

USDA

In her address after being sworn in Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds highlighted the importance of high-speed internet being available in all parts of the state, regardless of a community's size and location. 

"A connected community means better jobs, safer communities, better education and a better quality of life," said the governor. "And it really is the expectation of our young people." 

A significant amount of money is likely needed to make this goal a reality in rural parts of the state.

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

At the public library in the rural Morgan County town of Brush, Colorado, Marissa Velazquez welcomes her students to class. It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and today marks the halfway point in Velazquez’s class, a ten-week crash course on American history, civics and English.

Everyone in it has the same goal: become an American citizen. In two hours, Velazquez runs through voting rights, the legislative process and some grammar tips.

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

Flickr / wabisabi2015

Every school day at 7:30 am, fifth-grader Ava Perrett catches the first of two bright yellow buses that drive her to the Greene County Intermediate School in Grand Junction.

Due to a 2014 consolidation, the Greene County Community School District is the state’s eighth largest in geographic size. It spans 388 square miles. So it’s a good thing Ava says she usually doesn’t mind riding the bus.

“But sometimes it takes a while,” she says. “When we’re switching buses it gets really cold out when we’re waiting for the buses.”

Plan To Shakeup USDA Worries Rural Advocates

May 12, 2017

Advocates for rural issues are up in arms after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a plan that changes the position of a lieutenant that had been focused on rural issues in order to create one focused on trade.

USDA is limited in its number of undersecretaries. Creating a position focused on trade, which the agriculture industry maintains is vital to its economic growth, may force Perdue to scrap a current mission area.

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