One of my all-time favorite coworkers was a farmer from Pretty Prairie, Kansas. Doug was a friendly fellow, with a high-pitched Andy Rooney voice, who, it seemed, knew all one million-plus Kansas residents.
Like a lot of Midwest ag producers, he made the bulk of his living working off the farm, as a television photojournalist.
Doug used to say, “If I’m lucky, I’ll only lose a few thousand dollars running the farm this year.” He had a small operation – a few hogs and about 1000 acres, mostly growing wheat and alfalfa.
Like most city folks, I never understood why he stuck with it. “Why not just sell the land, put the money away for retirement?” I’d ask.
“I don’t want to be the one who gave up the family farm,” he’d say.
The ag industry has changed tremendously over the last generation. Fewer producers tend to larger swaths of land. Input costs are dramatically higher. With cooperatives’ advancements, individuals possess much more information and market leverage.
What hasn’t changed is the work ethic and a commitment to keeping traditions alive. While fewer people tend to live on farms and in rural areas, those who choose to remain dedicate themselves to preserving their community.
Like Doug and his Pretty Prairie neighbors, rural Minnesotans fight to keep their public schools strong. They want local governments to maintain the roads leading from farm to town. Opening new clinics and doctors’ offices is critical. You can see hope’s birth in each new Main Street opening.
Doug was a conservative guy but knew the dividends investing in Main Street’s development and rural schools would return to the state as a whole.
In Minnesota, state revenue-sharing cutbacks with counties, cities and school districts, stunt potential growth. Local governments, especially in rural areas, need infrastructure, amenities, and great schools to attract new development projects, potential employers, and young residents. Using the fact that “this is a safe, quite town,” only goes so far as a marketing slogan.
Let’s not concede the small town’s defeat to current conservative public policy.