This week on Rural Minnesota Radio, Jim talks with Dr. Shannon Fisher of Minnesota State University Mankato’s Water Resources Center. They discuss the problem of nitrates and other runoff found in the Minnesota River watershed.
At the National Rural Assembly in Bethesda, Maryland, this past Wednesday, I listened to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tell us that rural Americans should be outraged at the failure of Congress to pass a Farm Bill yet again. Instead, according to Secretary Vilsack, rural advocates only expressed “utter disappointed.”
Should we be outraged? That’s a good question. Rural people aren’t into outrage. We just don’t do outrage, at least not very well. Individually, yes. We can get ourselves worked up about a lot of things sitting in the coffee shop or standing around the coffee maker at the office. Some of us can even get pretty whipped up in public, at a city council or town council meeting. Although it’s usually only one person, maybe two, and the rest of us just cringe and wish they would sit down because their volume and anger is making us uncomfortable.
So maybe what we’re asking ourselves is, do we have a right to be outraged? Considering that 80% of the “Farm” Bill is actually nutrition programs, shared by both urban and rural America, and it is this part of the bill that is holding up the actual rural portions of the bill—for example, funds for assisting small businesses and funds used for grants to rebuild wastewater treatment infrastructure—maybe we do have a right. Maybe this is one more symptom of the breakdown in Washington, where in the past, the one bill that always did pass with little controversy was the Farm Bill. Maybe it is up to rural to tell Congress that America is fed up with the delays and excuses.
But what can we do? The rural population only makes up 16% of the total population (depending on which definition of rural you use). We don’t have the votes or the money to put pressure where it counts—do we? Well, the day before Secretary Vilsack’s visit, an analyst for the Center for Rural Strategies in Nebraska informed us that Mitt Romney lost last year’s presidential election because he didn’t campaign in rural areas. His campaign chose nine “strategic” states to concentrate on and basically skipped rural areas. An interesting thought. Could it be that finally rural can say “Ignore us at your peril”? Can we get together and say the same thing to Congress?
One genuine intersection of policy and public opinion can be seen in the raw milk debate. Here’s a clear collision between those who believe we need public policy to protect the greater good and those who think the government shouldn’t be telling them what they can and can’t eat.
In keeping with the theme of dairy month, Jim talks with Dave Minnar of Cedar Summit Farms about being a specialty dairy producer today.
This week on Rural Minnesota Radio, Jim and Marnie talk with Eric Larson of the St. Peter Food Coop in St. Peter, MN, about the local food economy and how many starting farmers are interested in specialty crops and products.
As we mentioned on Rural Minnesota Radio last week, the Center has created an infographic on the summer meals program for children who receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. While we were putting this illustrated fact sheet together, we learned a couple of interesting things: first, hunger isn’t just an urban issue. We noted plenty of rural counties with percentages as high as or higher than those of Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Also, we learned that the Minnesota Department of Education administers an extensive summer food program, but rural areas have some unique challenges when it comes to making the program work there.
This infographic is titled The Rural Reality, and it’s the first in what we hope will be several infographics we create this year to show the reality of life in rural Minnesota, good, bad and neutral. It’s all part of our effort this year to help rural Minnesota find its voice. As the Blandin Foundation’s recent Rural Pulse survey found, even metro residents believe rural Minnesota is being left out of many statewide discussions.
So check back periodically and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out when we release further research and pieces like The Rural Reality.
To see The Rural Reality infographic, “Who Feeds Our Children During the Summer?” or our report “Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota,” visit our home page and look for the links.