Sunday, March 6, 2016

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em (in rural America, that is)

Maybe that's what Washington Post journalist Christopher Ingraham decided.  NPR reports today that he is moving to Red Lake County, Minnesota, population 4,303.   The irony in this move is that last fall, Ingraham wrote in the Post that "Red Lake county" is the "absolute worst place to live in America" based on a USDA natural amenities index.  In that story, Ingraham mapped each county based on the index, devised in the late 1990s, which combined "six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer." Those qualities include mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.  (In case you're wondering, the most desirable place to live in America, according to the index, was Ventura County, California).  

After that story ran, Ingraham wrote a second story about Red Lake County, this one headlined, "Thick Coats, Thin Skins:  Why Minnesotans Were Outraged by a Recent Washington Post Report."  It led with the line, "Hell hath no fury like a Minnesotan scorned."  In short, Minnesotans took to Twitter to defend their state's honor.
Soon, the denizens of self-proclaimed "Indignant Minnesota Twitter" started sending photos and testimonials to refute the notion that Minnesota is somehow lacking in beauty of natural amenities.
* * * 
Some started a hashtag, #ShowMeYourUglyCounties, to showcase Minnesota's beauty.
Well worth popping over to Twitter just to look at those photos!

Shortly thereafter, Ingraham visited Red Lake County, about which he writes:
The visit was a shot of pure country. A newborn calf suckled my thumb as the brothers told me about life on the farm. The earthy smells of a dairy operation — manure and hay and sawdust and dirt — hung thick in the air. It sure didn't seem like the worst place in America — or one particularly lacking in natural amenities, or natural beauty, either. 
* * *  
[W]hat I found most striking is how friendly everyone I'd met had been. They were fiercely proud of their community in a way I'd never seen before — not even during my childhood in small-town upstate New York. 'We don't welcome people like this when they come to D.C.,' I kept saying to people, dumbfounded."
Then, a few weeks ago, Ingraham announced he's moving to Red Lake County, confirming on Twitter that it's "no joke."
I kind of fell in love with Red Lake County when I visited last year and we've always wanted to raise the boys in the country.  
* * *  
The cows were lovely.  Hopefully, we can move next to the cows."
So there you have it:  if you can't beat 'em (the rural folks that is), you can do what Ingraham is doing--you can join 'em!  Though I admit this story is making me wonder:  Is the Washington Post going to let Ingraham telecommute?  If not, what's he going to do for a living in Red Lake County?

P.S.  There is one other thing ruralites/scholars of the rural/rural aficionados will want to note about Ingraham's initial post, and it regards rural population loss:
[I]t turns out that this [USDA] index correlates well with a lot of human behaviors that researchers and politicians are constantly trying to understand better. For instance, the USDA's original report on the natural amenities index found that these measures "drive rural population change." The USDA found that rural areas with a lot of natural amenities saw the greatest population change between 1970 and 1996. 
"The relationship is quite strong," the study found. "Counties with extremely low scores on the scale tended to lose population over the 1970-96 period, while counties with extremely high scores tended to double their populations over the period."
Here's a piece from the Carsey Institute a few years ago on "the four rural Americas."  Note the amenity-rich category, without the (USDA) skewing toward warm climates.

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