Top Obama official: Rural America “becoming less and less relevant”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (Photo: USDA)

Politico is reporting that US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack got pretty intense at a gathering of farm belt leaders, telling them that small town America needs a wake-up call.

“It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America,” Vilsack, a Democrat, said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal. “It’s time for a different thought process here, in my view.”

The kicker?  Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, pointed to the “fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.”

Small town counties across the US voted overwhelmingly Republican in 2012, with the Democratic vote in that party of the electorate collapsing from 2008 levels.

Yet Barack Obama swept back to power, riding a wave of support in urban and suburban communities where most Americans now live.

According to Politico, rural Americans accounted for just 14% of the total vote.  But Vilsack’s talk wasn’t just about demographics and population trends.

Vilsack also chided farmers and small-town leaders for focusing on what he portrayed as red-herring issues.

“We need a proactive message, not a reactive message,” Vilsack said. “How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don’t have a proactive message? Because you are competing against the world now.”

Farmers and small town leaders aren’t used to this kind of rhetoric, but this may be more harbinger than outburst.

As the nation becomes more and more urban — a trend that is continuing without pause — finding ways to communicate across cultural, geographic, and party lines will likely become more and more crucial for rural folks.

This also isn’t entirely about politics, or farming.  This morning, the Sunday edition of the Washington Post has a profile of New Castle, Pennsylvania, a small rust belt town that has fallen into generational poverty.

Her New Castle was the one that existed now: white, working class, with poverty that had deepened into the second and third generations.

Nearly three-fourths of the students in Tabi’s school qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, and one-third of New Castle families with children younger than 18 had incomes beneath the poverty level.

The main source in the Post’s devastating article concludes wearily, “This town is dragging everyone down.”

These portrayals are painful, but maybe it’s not a bad thing for rural Americans — whose world has been wrapped in mythology and bromides for generations — to grapple with some home truths.

Something went wrong a long time ago and in most places it’s not getting better.  Now that the potboiler of an election is over, I wonder if it’s possible to have an honest conversation about that.

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102 Comments on “Top Obama official: Rural America “becoming less and less relevant””

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Once again we learn anew what we knew. Poor, rural whites vote to support the rich. They may think they are voting for “family values” but are in fact voting to support the rich who don’t give a darn about them.

  2. Peter Hahn says:

    The poor rural whites don’t like the direction the country is going in. It’s going urban. That’s where the jobs are, that’s where the culture is vibrant and pulling the country and the poor rural whites along. The problem for them is that attracting biotech clusters for example, isn’t going to provide opportunities for uneducated rural poor.and the factories that might employ uneducated workers are going to Asia.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    But voting for republicans isn’t going to help but it might delay gay marriage etc.

  4. mervel says:

    I think we are making broad assumptions about a large cross section of people.

    Yes there are problems, but right now rural states are booming. No rust belt small towns are indeed continuing the multigenerational collapse they have been in for the past 50 years (New Castle sounds like Ogdensburg or Massena); but agriculture states currently have the highest farm incomes in decades. The Dakota’s, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma Texas are doing far better economically than other parts of the country due to energy production, great farm commodity prices, and even alternative energy such as wind turbine production etc. Certainly politically as urbanization continues, which is a world wide trend not just in the US, they are just going to have less power. I think Villseck was getting that point across and also how to be less insular. But the idea that small town rural America is represented by dying poverty filled towns simply is not true. US agriculture is a sophisticated large business, it is still one of the largest sectors of the US economy.

    But he has a point about making a broader case politically and realizing that they are one part of a very diverse county.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It can be a frustrating experience to try to engage a conservative on issues where common ground could and should be found. Why conservatives feel that taking action to increase fuel economy, or pollution control, or diversification of our energy supply, or even on being a vegetarian and wanting to promote organic food or even promoting eating and buying locally produced products, for cry-eye — why wont they embrace those sorts of things?

    Young people in this country, primarily left of center young people in this country, are very interested in agriculture, the Earth, and issues surrounding the environment? If it weren’t a fact it would be inconceivable that rural conservatives wouldn’t be trying to learn what young people want and trying to educate them in fact based discussions on rural issues.

  6. The Original Larry says:

    Wow, now this? It was bad enough being an older, white, Christian conservative.

  7. Walker says:

    “…but agriculture states currently have the highest farm incomes in decades.”

    Well, yeah, but jobs in agriculture are continuing to decrease as farms become increasingly mechanized and are controlled more and more by large corporations; farm workers presently make up less than 1 percent of the labor force. So that’s not really likely to keep your rural areas healthy.

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, the point you make, “US agriculture is a sophisticated large business” is a big part of the problem. Small family farms are being gobbled up out in the plains states by what are big corporate farms – even though some of the owners feel like they are running a family farm that has been in their family for generations. But when your “family farm” consists of tens of thousands of tillable acres you have to stop believing your self-mythology of being a dirt clod kicking 4th generation sod-buster. Hedge funds are buying up farmland on the great plains as investments. Rural people better stop living in a Jeffersonian fantasy and make some new allies if they want to save their way of life, because the groups they have been counting on to defend them, like the NRA and the Republican party are selling them out.

    As far as the economy in those states you mention goes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska are among the largest recipient and the largest recipients per capita of government subsidies. They are the Takers. Check out this cool interactive map:

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/01/us/government-incentives.html#ME

  9. Ken Hall says:

    “The Dakota’s, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma Texas are doing far better economically than other parts of the country due to energy production, great farm commodity prices, and even alternative energy such as wind turbine production etc.”

    I think you would find a substantial amount of government subsidies supplied to the mid-western/western agricultural industries. From 1995 through 2009 the federal agricultural subsidies program funneled about $250 billion into the coffers of agricultural industries of which the following states received the percentages indicated:

    Texas – 9.4%
    Iowa – 8.5%
    Illinois – 7.1%
    Minnesota – 5.8%
    Nebraska – 5.7%
    Kansas – 5.5%
    North Dakota – 4.7%

    Any chance those gifts had any influence on their economic viability?

  10. Walker says:

    “Any chance those gifts had any influence on their economic viability?”

    And what fraction of that money made it into the hands of farm workers?

  11. Paul says:

    What is he even talking about? His comments seem very vague.

  12. PNElba says:

    “….for cry-eye — why wont they embrace those sorts of things?”

    Because it takes away their freedom and moves us towards socialism or worse, communism.

  13. Paul says:

    In the part on NYS that I live this time of year (pretty agricultural) there is a rise in the number of smaller family run farms. Not really the trend that is being described above. Dairy farmers are being driven out of business and they are often replaced by folks doing things like raising grass fed beef and free range stuff.

  14. Paul says:

    Many of the urban lower classes are not voting democrat for environmental reasons. Many of them hope that democrats are the key to a cheaper tank of gas. Maybe.

  15. Walker says:

    “Many of them hope that democrats are the key to a cheaper tank of gas.”

    Based on…? How many of the urban poor even have a gas tank?

  16. Peter Hahn says:

    When I was an agricultural grad student -a long time ago – a viable farm was 1 guy and a minimum of 500 acres. Maybe he would hire some people at harvest time etc. that’s a lonely life. It also doesn’t provide much in the way of economic opportunity for poor rural young people. It takes a pretty big investment and you have to know what you are doing.

  17. Peter Hahn says:

    There’s public transportation in urban areas.

  18. Peter Hahn says:

    What the urban poor guy might want is a federal subsidy for public transportation because he/she can’t afford a car, let alone gas. The rural poor guy thinks its a waste of taxpayer money.

  19. The Original Larry says:

    As the digital age progresses and remote access to jobs becomes increasingly viable we may see growth in rural areas, especially as the already excessive cost of urban/suburban living continues to rise.

  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul illustrates exactly the kind of mentality Vilsack is fighting. The guy is an ex Governor of Iowa and the Secretary of Agriculture so you’d think that he has some idea of what he is talking about. Instead of acting like a mule that doesn’t think the cart is worth pulling why not see what is in the cart?

  21. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Gee, I’m glad Brian noticed this article and chose to comment on it. This hits real close to home for me. I’d like to comment on a few of the observations made.

    Mervels right about the boom in the states he mentioned, commodity prices are at record highs. What he doesn’t note is that inputs and costs are also at record highs. Consider that bag of seed corn, approx 80K seeds, is running over $200.00 a bag now. It costs about $350.00 an acre to plant corn and that’s leaving out the cost of land and machinery/labor. In a good year you may do well, as long as the gov’t keeps corn prices artificially high with the ethanol foolishness. Corn and bean farmers are doing pretty well at the moment, but it’s not like they’re making money hand over fist. That artificially high corn price affects everything else downstream. a few years back I was buying corn at $7.50 per hundred lbs. Now I pay about $18.00 per cwt. Diesel is about $4.00 per gallon on the farm, you know what gas costs, fertilizer is crazy high, I don’t even buy any anymore. Everything related to farming is high. Beef prices are high now but have fallen off, along with lamb and pork, because of the drought and people selling off stock. I bet you didn’t see any falling prices at the market though, did you? Point is that while the prices might be record high, profits aren’t.

    I’d like to take issue with the assumption so very many here made in this thread- “poor, uneducated rural whites” voting for Republicans. I’m sure some of you must know the poor, uneducated rural whites. A lot of them are my neighbors. They didn’t Republican. They voted for their food stamps and HEAP and Medicaid and free school lunches and free whatever else they could get. They voted for Santa Claus, just like the poor, uneducated urban blacks and whites and browns and yellows. You guys are labeling and making assumptions that those people that did vote R were po’ white trash. I don’t think so. I don’t think the R voters were necessarily poor or uneducated, much less trash. Why do they vote R? Because Obama and the Dems tend on the whole to represent urban values. The Dems tend to dismiss rural people altogether. The R’s tend to connect with people that drive trucks, hunt and fish, ride dirt bikes and ATVs, log, work construction jobs, own guns, don’t look at taking welfare as a noble act, people that still hold tradition a bit closer to the heart, that don’t understand the urban agendas. I think some of it is just that simple. And there is the whole tax issue. To me, it’s perfectly understandable that someone who’s lived in a urban setting their whole life where the gov’t is so apparent in so many ways- cops, firemen, EMTS, public workers, public transportation, public buildings all around, rent controls and public health care, public employees all around you- you’re going to look at things differently than some guy out in the sticks that might see the town plow truck go by once a night during a storm and see a sheriff once a week and that’s pretty much your entire weekly contact with public service and gov’t. That’s about what it’s like where I live, so when you hear of the “need” for more public spending it just doesn’t make the same impact as it would to a city dweller. That doesn’t make the rural folks uneducated either, just different. Education doesn’t make you liberal or conservative, life experience is going to do that for you. Honestly, I used to be very liberal. Life gave me a set of circumstances that convinced me that wasn’t going to work for me. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone else. So please reconsider your terminology because I have very serious doubts that everyone voting R in rural areas could be an extra in a real world Deliverance.

    Peter made the statement that the country is going urban, that the city is where the culture is vibrant and is pulling the country. News flash! The country has been going urban since it began. Go as far back as you want and you’ll find people in the country asking how they keep the boy on the farm when the city with it’s decadence and high wages was so alluring. Nothing has changed in that respect.What has changed is that the chance to make something in a rural area has diminished. Biotech? Hardly. I know a lot of people, not kids but grown men and women, that would love to be able to stay on the farm. The reality is that life is just too expensive to make it on the farm alone. Those costs I mentioned earlier, living a “normal” life wearing normal clothes, doing normal things, that’s pretty hard in todays world. You can have a Phd. in the hottest field in the world, that’ doesn’t mean you can live in Speedzoneahead NY and make a living.

    I would also note that the “vibrant culture” mentioned is part of what drives some of those people to vote R. Your vibrant culture is some peoples nightmare. Drugs, gangs, crowds, OWS, PETA, rap and hip hop, metrosexuals and all that goes with it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Believe or not there are still young men and women out here that actually LIKE it out here.

    KNuckle, I’m not picking on you, but you made some points that just make my eyes bleed in your 12/9 11:40 post The reason conservatives feel that way is because no matter what you do, you can’t haul a 24 ft stock trailer full of cattle or 3 tons of feed with Prius, because every new pollution control device means it’s just that much harder to get it through inspection when it malfunctions, because diversification of our energy supply already has us at $18.00 cwt corn and $24.00 cwt beans, because we LIKE MEAT, because we’ve seen the “organic” farmers sneaking the chemicals onto their farms and we’ve seen the sorry excuse for crops on the ones that don’t and because we know trying sell locally means a heck of a lot of work on our part for very little return- we’ve done the “local thing” and got burnt and we’ve bought into the schemes for cheese plants and milk plants and goat milk and alpacas and organic and free range and all the other things people tell us they want that they never seem to be willing to actually buy when push comes to shove. In the end people buy what is easiest on their wallets. And yes, because getting on the Democrat liberal bandwagon does take us more towards socialism or worse. Why would you support the same people that want to do you harm?

    Which brings us to subsidies. Yup, I’d love to see all subsidies ended in every way. Not that it would make my life any easier but simply because it would lessen the artificial nature of so much of our economy. What you would get without subsidies, or tax deductions in many cases, would be something like $10.00 a gallon milk and gas probably even higher. Bread would likely be $7-8 a loaf, beef would be $15-20.00 a pound. You’d have maybe 1/10 the farmers you have know and they’d all be owned by 3 or 4 multinational conglomerates. Yeah, there’d be some small farms, assuming they weren’t outlawed, but the prices would be similar. All those subsidies and deductions and write offs and breaks and whatnot make it possible for people to stay in business. You cannot stay in business when you get $15.00 cwt for milk that costs you $18.00 cwt to produce. That is what years and years and years of artificial supports and restrictions has brought us to. Knuckles Jeffersonian fantasy, is really more of a Wendel Berry/Gene Lodgsdon fantasy and it’s all we have to cling to.

    Finally, while the urban guy might want a Federal subsidy for public transport, chances are the rural guy wants to know why he should have to pay for it and all those other urban/suburban programs and projects when the gov’t and it’s regulations and taxes are the reason he lost his job at the coal mine or the plant or factory and he’s watching his town die. It’s the urban/rural divide and it’s not getting any better.

  22. Paul says:

    Walker, gas is a huge expense for folks that don’t have much money. I don’t care much about 4 dollar gas I can afford it but for some folks it is a huge expense. Even if they don’t have to fill a tank high fuel prices cream lower income folks. And it hurts them first. They want their elected officials to make life better for them. One thing they need is lower fuel prices. Higher fuel prices (even if the “fuel” comes from the sun into a solar panel) is a killer for lower income individuals. Lots of us here can probably afford the new green economy because we have the money to pay the higher prices it will bring.

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Arlo, I never said you need to use a Prius as a work truck, by the same token most work trucks on the road aren’t being used for work, they’re being used for passenger cars. If your vehicle has problems with the emissions system that you feel aren’t ordinary wear raise hell with the dealership and manufacturer and buy a more dependable vehicle next time. But there will be costs in reducing pollution, no doubt about it.

    “because we LIKE MEAT,” because you’ve been trained to like meat and because meat is ridiculously cheap. There are lots of people who are demanding better meat and will pay a premium to get it. I don’t know what the economics are in other areas but I do know that there are plenty of farmers in the Hudson Valley and north into Washington County who are selling in the greenmarket in NYC and getting good prices for their products. They’re not getting rich, but they’re making a living.

    Rewind a few years when liberals were telling the Bush administration that subsidies for corn based ethanol production was a dumb idea.

    Nor am I advocating you getting on any bandwagon. What I am advocating is being open to other ideas. No single idea will work for everyone. Nor am I saying you aren’t going to have to work hard to try to scrape by.
    When did people get the idea that making a living wasn’t hard work?

    And getting all pissy about urban/rural divide isn’t going to help anything. Working cooperatively so that people understand your point of view and you understand theirs may lead to some solutions. There are plenty of urban liberals who are well aware of the difficulties of farm life and they are ready to support common sense solutions. Dont pick fights with your allies.

  24. tootightmike says:

    Walker. Far too many of the urban and sub-urban poor indeed have a gas tank. Inefficient or inconvenient mass transit forces the folks who can least afford it to own cars. It’s even worse in rural places like here, where you have to drive to do absolutely everything.
    I’m familiar with New Castle PA, and what everybody seems to have missed in Brian’s article is that New Castle is NOT a farm town. Pennsylvania is pretty rural, and there are farms in every part of the state, but places like New Castle were industrial towns. Coal, oil and gas refining, timber, and the steel industry is what they used to do there, and for many reasons, that has disappeared. Truth is there’s no reason to live in a town that doesn’t have it’s own industry, whether it’s coal, or fishing, or skiing. Since we don’t seem to be interested in making anything in this country anymore, I guess we’ll have to go on welfare and shop at WalMart.

  25. tootightmike says:

    Arlo, I’m with you on the subsidies. If gas actually cost the consumer what it really costs, we’d use a lot less of it. Wind and solar power would be competitive if we stopped supporting everything the coal and oil companies do. Passenger trains would still be handy in every town if we didn’t spend so much federal money on highways and airports.
    I’m also with you on the ethanol thing. In a world where so many people are hungry, it is immoral to burn corn. It would be better to have $10 gas.
    Rural America used to have a vibrant culture too….then they invented television.

  26. mervel says:

    No its not subsidies there simply is not enough of them. It is a lack of care for the working men and women of states that are blue collar.

    But as long as we are talking states lets look at unemployment rates an poverty.

    New York State: Poverty Rate: 14.5% (#38) Unemployment Rate: 8.7% (oct 2012) (#41)

    South Dakota: Poverty Rate 11.8% (#26) Unemployment Rate: 4.%% (#3)

    Nebraska: Poverty Rate 9.5% (#10) Unemployment rate: 3.8% (#2)

    Kansas : Poverty Rate 12.5% (#31) Unemployment Rate 5.7% (#10)

    Utah: Poverty Rate 9.2% (#7) Unemployment Rate 5.2% (#5)

    North Dakota: Poverty rate 11.2%( #20) Unemployment Rate 3.1% (#1)

    So where would be a better place to live for a working lower income family New York with all of our liberal sensitivities and welfare or North Dakota with a 3.1% unemployment rate AND a lower poverty rate?

    I don’t know rural America seems to be doing just fine.

  27. mervel says:

    We can praise God for States rights. So as the country begins to act more like New York an dCalifornia (poverty rate 13.5%) (#35) Unemployment rate 10.1% (#49) we can at least see the results of these policies and let states decide their own futures.

    Fracking is not banned in North Dakota, and indeed it may cause some problems but they have made a decision to support working men and women versus supporting those who are very wealthy already and want to make sure their second homes are not around any oil wells, like the movement against both fracking and wind turbines in New York State.

  28. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, my brother in law worked in North Dakota for a while. It ain’t all you’re cracking it up to be. Sure the unemployment rate is low, that’s because of the types of jobs that have been traditionally available and the high number of self employed. And there is nothing much to hold someone there. If you are out of work in ND and you don’t want to be a tracker you move on to somewhere else.

  29. mervel says:

    North Dakota has a low unemployment rate because there is an oil boom, the oil in North Dakota could in the end rival Saudi Arabia plus through in that there is also a commodities boom going on and you see why they have a low unemployment AND poverty rate. No not everyone is going to want to live there, no doubt about it, its cold, its rural and there are vast open spaces with few cities. You have to enjoy that sort of thing, I think many of us living up here would find it nice. My point was simply not that I want to move to North Dakota; I don’t, but that rural America is not some sort of poverty ridden depressed place, for a good portion of these rural states they are doing great.

    The bigger thing for me is why do we have such a high poverty rate compared to states which have lower taxes and less government? I think we really need to look at how we are spending our public money, because it is not helping the poor in a way that is efficient or meaningful.

  30. Paul says:

    What is a “tracker”? I might try this occupation.

  31. mervel says:

    I mean one good oil boom would do more than all of the welfare programs combined to lower our poverty rate.

  32. Paul says:

    Mervel, we have a huge lower income urban population. Other states may be catching up.

  33. Paul says:

    Mervel, yes welfare programs are a bridge. To what is the question?

  34. Paul says:

    “I don’t know what the economics are in other areas but I do know that there are plenty of farmers in the Hudson Valley and north into Washington County who are selling in the greenmarket in NYC and getting good prices for their products. ”

    Very true. Like I said for folks that have the money this is a good option. What the lower income rural folks need to do is get in their forty thousand dollar Chevy Volt and drive to NYC and use the tax rebate they got to buy some grass fed beef at the farmer’s market in Manhattan. Problem solved!

  35. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Sorry Paul, I wasn’t watching my autocorrect. Cracker. Cracker. Fracker. Fracker!

  36. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The benefit my brother in law found was that the cost of housing is, or was, very stable. House values traditionally don’t go up very much but they don’t drop either.

  37. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Knuckle- you’re right, a lot of trucks are being used as passenger cars. My neighbor the prison guard drives his one ton dually diesel back and forth every day- with the big Obama/Biden 2012 stickers on the bumper. Point is, it’s not just R’s.

    The emission thing I brought up and your answer show me you misunderstand. When your car is a 97 and the dash light is one, there’s no dealer to run to with complaints. Yeah, on your 2 year old car, you can. Most of us out here don’t even own cars that are 4 years old. In my family there are 2- ’95′s, a ’97, 2-04′s and an 07. That’s reality.

    We’re TRAINED to like meat? Sorry, man is an omnivore. Don’t put your values on me. I eat lots of veggies and grains too, but I’m an omnivore, not an herbivore.

    When the urbanites start really listening and opening their minds to the fact that lots of people simply don;t believe as they do, then I imagine the other side will do the same.

  38. Peter Hahn says:

    Arlo – urbanites care about what urbanites think. They may be foodies and care about high quality (and expensive) farm products, but they dont care or know much about rural America. I would add to your first rant above (which I liked a lot) that most of the money comes from the urban centers as well as the culture. Those subsidies you dont like are mostly paid for by the city folks. If they didnt spend the money on agricultural subsidies, they would have more to spend subsidizing their own public transportation and services for the urban poor.

  39. Walker says:

    Good post Arlo.

    I’m not going to try to take on the whole thing, but one point strikes me:

    Why not means-test farm supports? The top 10 per cent of farmers collected 74 per cent of all subsidies between 1995 and 2010.

    As to meat, there is solid evidence that meat and dairy are behind a lot of our major diseases, especially heart disease and cancer. I know this is an impossible sell for most people, but if you have a remotely open mind on this, get a copy of The China Study by Colin Campbell. It could save a lot of lives, and if lots of people were open to it, it could dramatically reduce our health care costs, and be good for the environment.

    Never happen, I know. Too many people are making too much money off of the current situation.

  40. Paul says:

    Walker, he already said that the reason he eats meat (like myself) is that it tastes good. Sure maybe I can live to be 120 if I spend my life just eating grass but under those circumstances I would rather die yesterday. I have read the book you suggest and it is very interesting. I also recommend it. But I warn you that the author makes some huge generalizations. Also there are lots of proteins and other compounds in plants that we so far know little or nothing about. It is only a matter of time before we have determined that everything causes cancer and will kill you. Therefore everything in moderation and try and not worry too much! Stress, which can be increased by reading books like this one, is proven to be very bad for your health.

  41. Walker says:

    Paul, you’re shrugging off cancer and heart disease? It’s not about living to 120. It simply has to do with having a healthy old age. I grant you that Campbell makes some extravagant sounding claims, but his career makes them very hard to shrug off. And it’s worth noting that Bill Clinton, not the dimmest bulb on anyone’s tree, is a convert, and it’s not as if he’s lacking in expert medical advice.

    “…there are lots of proteins and other compounds in plants that we so far know little or nothing about. It is only a matter of time before we have determined that everything causes cancer and will kill you.”

    Paul, you don’t seem to have read the book very closely: people who are life-long vegans have extremely low rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity.

  42. Walker says:

    It’s also not about eating grass. My wife and I started by cutting down on meat a bit, and gradually over the last six months or so have gotten to where we eat meat and dairy very rarely. It hasn’t been a challenge– it’s mostly a matter of learning to cook differently. We’re not religious about it, we still eat some bacon, some butter and some cheese (dairy proved harder to give up than meat). We enjoy what we eat thoroughly. I know many would find it difficult. It’s certainly worth trying.

  43. It is the politically incorrect truth that shipping high school grads into the military and building prisons is what has passed for national and state rural development policies for the last few decades. Neither of these are private sector. Neither really encourage the young to stay.

  44. There is also a mentality quite prevalent in rural America that if you’re not a straight, white, devout Christian with conservative values then you are hedonistic or otherwise morally inferior. This doesn’t appeal much to a younger generation more exposed to and expecting of diversity. A younger generation that knows that good people come from all demographics. Rural America too often makes itself feel exclusionary against those who are different, so it’s little surprise that there is an exodus away.

  45. Paul says:

    I know I was joking about the grass thing, there are lots of vegetarian dishes that I love. I just also enjoy meat and cheese. We only eat grass fed beef not really for the health reasons because it tastes very good and a friend of mine raises it. It is also a pretty cheap way to buy beef when you buy it by the side or the quarter. As far as getting me to not eat bacon all I can think of was that silly NRA thing that Charlton Heston used to do – “from my cold dead hand”!!

  46. Mervel says:

    Brian that attitude is certainly true in some areas, but not all, I mean what is rural America who are we talking about here? I think we are making these huge broad assumptions about rural life and rural America, in the same way that some of those in rural America make assumptions about cities.

    But as far as an exodus goes, that has been going on for generations I don’t think it has to do with rural attitudes totally, more likely they are economic reasons and leisure reasons.

    But rural rust belt towns like those in upstate NY, the Seaway Valley, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania are more about heavy industry changes than about rural economics.

    The world needs food and energy, I think the economies that can efficiently produce those things will do fine and are doing fine. I would agree with those who believe we need to take a very hard look at farm subsidies and how and why we do them, particularly when you have farm land values in places like Iowa (farm land not residential) nearing 10,000-20,000 PER acre. They are that high because commodity prices are through the roof and not going down and this is very very productive soil.

    I am not sure why we would be subsidizing this production at this point.

  47. Mervel says:

    Combine that with large scale oil/shale production and you have some reasons why those unemployment rates are so low.

  48. Ken Hall says:

    Mervel, Per your comment fragment: “the oil in North Dakota could in the end rival Saudi Arabia”

    Your evidence for this statement is what?

    My searches yielded North Dakota with a 2-4 billion barrel “proven” oil reserve estimate whereas Saudi Arabia is estimated to have approximately 270 billion barrels of “proven” oil reserves. Only Venezuela with a 300+ billion barrel “proven” oil reserve estimate exceeds Saudi. US total “proven” oil reserve estimate is 19.5 billion barrels.

    Currently Saudi pumps a bit less than 13 million barrels/day whereas North Dakota pumps a bit more than 700 thousand barrels/day. To put that in perspective the US currently consumes approximately 18.5 million barrels/day down from a high of approximately 20.5 million barrels/day in 2005. At the current rate of consumption the US has a bit less than 3 years of “proven” oil reserves if we could suck it out of the ground fast enough to satiate our requirements.

  49. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    As far as meat/dairy and illness go, I firmly believe a lot of the illness is caused by the processing, by the inputs into the factory farms, by preservatives, etc. There was a study on Eskimos some decades back that showed they had a very low cancer and heart disease occurrence and lived to relatively old ages when they weren’t dying of accidents, a common problem. They existed on a high meat/fat diet almost exclusively. Maybe it means nothing, maybe it does. I think the processing and artificial inputs are the problem myself. Same thing with your veggies. And don’t forget to wash and cook them thoroughly- nothing ruins your day faster than finding our Juan the picker with his MDR TB hacked a loogie into your lettuce!

    Peter and Walker, no prob here on the subsidies. Means testing would be an interesting option. And if it lowers our tax bills, I’m in favor of investigating it. I know where the money comes from and I know where it goes. Politicians get a lot more votes for city projects than for putting up a street light at the corner of Rt 1 and 118 in Speedzoneahead NY. The money goes where the votes or donations come from.

    On the urban/rural divide, I wanted to also drop the point into the discussion that this is part of the reason we have the Electoral College. Without it, our 7 largest cities reportedly wold rule the nation. That would not be a good thing.

  50. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    i think some may find this op ed article from the December issue of “Farming, the Journal of northeast Agriculture” interesting. It makes specific reference tot he medias part in the urban/rural divide.

    http://www.farmingmagazine.com/article-8865.aspx

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