Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Moving away from agriculture-based economy hurts rural areas, says series on rural Minnesota

Of the 360 people in Milan, Minn., 28.7 percent
are Pacific islanders, mostly from Micronesia, and
11.8 percent are Hispanic. (City of Milan photo)
The biggest challenge facing rural Minnesota is not a lack of economic opportunities or young people migrating to cities, but its continued move from an agriculture-based economy, Jay Walljasper reports a series about rural Minnesota for The McKnight Foundation. The series is based on reports that Walljasper, an urban consultant and strategist, wrote after compiling reports from each region of the state.

"Ever-larger farms employ fewer people and buy fewer supplies locally. Among Minnesota farm operators, 55 percent work primarily off the farm and 93 percent depend on some off-farm income," Walljasper writes. In 1969 farming accounted for at least 20 percent of earnings in about half of Minnesota counties. By 1999, "after three decades of farm consolidation, it had shrunk to just a few spots on the map bordering the Dakotas."

Kelly Asche, program coordinator of the Center for Small Towns, based at the University of Minnesota-Morris, said "expanding livelihoods in farming to include more people means looking beyond large-scale agricultural commodities to farmers' markets, local food production and the production of prepared foods." Walljasper writes, "For example, the University of Minnesota-Morris is working to make regionally produced food a growing share of meals served on campus."

"Another change sweeping the nation is apparent in rural Minnesota: the rising percentage of Americans who are not white," Walljasper writes. "Thirteen of the 15 Minnesota counties that experienced population growth from 1990 to 2010 because of increasing numbers of people of color are outside the metro area. Mexican restaurants are becoming a staple of small-town main streets across the state."

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