Sunday, April 29, 2012

Natural signs of population loss on the great plains

A. G. Sulzberger reports in today's New York Times on some of the material--that is, natural--consequences of population decline in the Great Plains.  The headline is "Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos."  An excerpt from the story, about how abandoned silos have "through happenstance transformed into unlikely nurseries for trees," follows:
The sight is a familiar one along the dusty back grounds of the Great Plains:  an old roofless silo left to the elements along with decaying barns, chicken coops and stone homesteads. 
This is the landscape of rural abandonment that defines a region that has struggled with generations of exodus.   
A former Kansas agriculture secretary interviewed for the story acknowledged that a visitor to the family's farm might think it abandoned because of the number of buildings that are no longer used.  Sulzberger explains that this is a consequence of rural life being "shaped by the new realities of industrial agriculture," including the need for fewer laborers (leaving many homes to stand empty) and modern farm equipment too big for "old-time barns."
In an era of specialization, those growing wheat and corn are less likely to raise cows and chickens on the side, so livestock buildings--including the silos--are left to gather dust. 
And because it can be more expensive to tear these down than to leave the task to time, they are left to teeter.  
Meanwhile, some folks who still live on or near their family farms live what Sulzberger characterizes as "suburban lives," commuting to off-farm jobs.

Don't miss The Art of the Rural's coverage of Sulzberger's story here.  Matthew Fluharty includes several fantastic photos of silo trees by Kansas photographer Ken Wolf.

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