Andy Larson of the Leopold Center at Iowa State University addresses the opening session of the Rural Youth Summit in Ames, Iowa, Friday. Larson is from northwest Illinois, where his family has been farming since 1875. He spoke (listen below) about why rural Americans who have left the countryside are thinking about returning. "There's no place where you can have more effect on people and communities," Larson said.
Photo: Tim Marema
The Yonder will be live-blogging today from the National Rural Summit in Ames. So we begin:
Richard Oswald (7:04 am): Much of the terrain in Iowa is not as unfamiliar to this Missouri boy as some might think. There are plenty of familiar landmarks.
The rivers don't look quite the same as they do closer to Missouri, but even though the pace of the waters change the names remain the same. The Tarkio, Grand, Nodaway, all seem placid enough, but their waters have been known to cover farm fields across Iowa and Missouri in raging torrents. Up here in Iowa, many of the same rivers that cross Missouri have twins with surnames like Big and Little or East and West. Traveling south, the rivers consolidate. But traveling north brings forks
that can be traced back to even more rivers with less familiar names. Last but not
least, there is the Nishnabotna, the river that once ran past my home, where an oxbow is
all that remains of an ancient track out of Iowa. Thanks to the Nishnabotna River our
farm is the final resting place for some fine Iowa prairie soil covering an unyielding
clay base that is prevalent along the Missouri River. Meandering rivers are readily
apparent in aerial photos of our farm, a recorded history of the randomness of nature
temporarily overcome by the ambitions of man.
Like the rivers of Iowa, there are also familiar highways; north to south routes that
carry visitors into and out of the heartland, paths with numbers instead of names,
numbers like 275, 148, 169, and 71. It is incredible to consider what the early pioneers
had to overcome, just so that they could reside here. There were no numbered highways to
lead settlers across raging rivers to a safe destination. And yet they came to establish
homes and families and towns, upon some of the most fertile and productive soil in the
But today, just as the rivers and their bounties attracted settlers who would be
farmers, and couples who would become families, those familiar numbered roads first
constructed to lead prosperity into the center of the nation now lead it away. Just as
rivers once carried a rich cargo of silt that was relocated to fortunate farmers like my
Great Great Grandfather, the numbered trails that cross our home serve to carry the
wealth of families to other places where opportunity seems more apparent. It is a
grievous fact of life here that even as the historic waterwys continue to flow through
our farms and across the landscape, the highways that once brought prosperity, now carry
our treasure, a future that is our children, away.
Today, in Ames Iowa, where rivers and highways flow in abundance, a new generation of
pioneers will try to stem the tide at the National Summit on Agriculture and Rural Life.
Wish us luck.
What’s likely to be discussed? Here’s a rundown of what the candidates are talking about when they get a chance to discuss something other than the war in Iraq:
John Edwards visited tiny (pop. 229) Columbus, Kentucky, on the high banks overelooking the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Packer Ownership: Should meatpacking companies be allowed to own cattle for more than a short time before slaughter? Plenty of ranchers say no, that packer ownership would decrease competition and prices for beef, and drive out small and medium sized operators. They point to the decline in small hog and poultry farms as meatpackers began taking over herds, either through contract purchases or outright ownership, as evidence of how packer ownership wrecks family farm economies.
All three candidates are in favor of federal legislation that would limit packer ownership. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards has been the most outspoken.
Crop Subsidies: We’re in the middle of the farm bill — the Senate Ag committee just passed out a bill yesterday — and all three candidates are in favor of lowering the subsidy limit. There will be some arcane discussion of the farm bill and subsidies. We’ll be looking for the candidate who can talk about how the farm bill affects life in rural America.
Can Clinton (or Obama) Win?: This is the big one. Clinton is leading all polls in the primary, but Edwards argues she can’t win in November 2008. "If Hillary comes to the state of Missouri, we can write it off," said Missouri House Minority Whip and John Edwards supporter Connie Johnson, D-St. Louis. Last week Edwards arranged a conference call with reporters in states Bush won in 2004 to make the point that he was the only candidate who could win these “red” states.
Edwards is quick to point out that he’s not saying a woman can’t be elected president. "It's not about women,” explained Edwards adviser Dave “Mudcat” Sanders. “It's about that woman."
The Senator From Monsanto: Who will be the first to point out that Sen. Clinton plans to hold a briefing next week on rural issues from the offices of lobbyists for the giant seed and farm chemical producer Monsanto? After ABC reported that Clinton will hold her Rural Americans for Hillary lunch at the offices of Troutman Sanders Public Affairs (Monsanto’s Washington, DC, lobbying firm), Edwards’ campaign struck:
"While corporate America and lobbyists may want someone like Clinton in the White House, regular Americans are ready for someone who will stand up for them and fight for real change," said a spokesman.
The butter vote is in. Butter sculptress Duffy Lyon has endorsed Democrat Barack Obama. We don't know what that means — except that the famed artist can make a very realistic butter udder.
Social Issues: Will anybody talk about abortion, gay marriage, guns or religion? Republicans talk about little else. How about the Ds?
Immigration: Local governments all over the country are passing laws restricting services and benefits for illegal immigrants. Fred Thompson on the Republican side has been especially strong on this issue, proposing that federal funds be cut off to states and cities that offer “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants.
Will any of the candidates discuss the rapid increase of non-English speaking students in rural schools?
Iraq: Will any of the candidates talk about the over-representation of rural residents among the troops serving in Iraq?
There’s more, of course — rural development, health care, transportation and the rapidly increasing cost of higher education. Remember, the discussions with candidates begins at 1:30 Tulsa-time Saturday and will be brought to you live on this page.