Editorial: Rural Kansas is dying

Difficult news about declining health travels sometimes fast, sometimes slowly. But it is often received with disbelief and a desire to resist the message as well as the messenger. But something within us knows the message is true.

Last week, difficult news arrived in our office by way of a forwarded Internet article. The essay was passed on to us by a local educator who, in turn, received it from a friend from Texas.

The author of the article is Corie Brown, a Kansas native who is former writer with the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Premiere Magazine and Business Week. The article is thorough, intriguing and at times depressing article about the future of the state we love. Her message was direct: “Rural Kansas is dying.”

This is the bad news many of us in small rural communities want to resist or deny, but in the end we would do well face our reality by reading this article for ourselves—and begin to imagine a different future if we can.

Addressing issues from agriculture, to population trends, to city vs. rural biases in government, Brown lays out a troubling diagnosis. A few quotes to tease your interest:

◼ “The small towns that epitomize America’s heartland are cut off from the rest of the world by miles and miles of grain, casualties of a vast commodity agriculture system that has less and less use for living, breathing farmers.”

◼ “The population in most of Kansas’s rural counties peaked 50 years ago or earlier. The state’s annual population growth rate is among the slowest in the country, steadily falling from 1.2 percent in 1960 to 0.9 percent in 2016, with nearly all of that meager growth concentrated in a handful of eastern urban areas—Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka and Lawrence.

◼ “Dozens of Kansas’s rural counties now average less than 10 people per square mile, while towns I remember from my childhood have almost completely collapsed. According to U.S. News and World Report, Kansas ranks 46th in net migration, and is losing 25- to 29-year-olds faster than any other state.”

◼ “Depopulation has lessened rural Kansas’s political clout, said Mike Matson, director of industry affairs and development with the Kansas Farm Bureau. Today, he said, the number of residents living in a few blocks of the Kansas City suburbs outweighs the population spread across 14 rural counties.”

This is not a fun read. But it’s to our betterment that we review this troubling diagnosis for rural Kansas—the environment we love and where we seek a stable and improving future for our children and our neighbors.

We challenge you to read the article, and we invite you to share your thoughts through concise letters to the editor over the next weeks. —DR

You can find the article at: https://newfoodeconomy.org/rural-kansas-depopulation-commodity-agriculture/.

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