October 4, 2013

Book Review: "Fighting for an American Countryside," by Jennifer Vogel

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Fighting for an American Countryside, by Jennifer Vogel
 
Fighting for an American Countryside
By Jennifer Vogel
Minnesota Public Radio News
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Fighting for an American Countryside, written by Jennifer Vogel, began as part of Minnesota Public Radio's Ground Level project. As the Ground Level blog states, "we started almost four years ago has explored rural Minnesota with one guiding quest: Where are people trying to fix things?" In her ebook, Jennifer Vogel explores the economic, demographic, and political challenges facing rural Minnesota. In the vast literature on the Great Recession, this is another sliver in the pie. And one that is routinely forgotten or written off. For decades, rural communities have faced a brain-drain and depopulation, with their younger inhabitants heading to big cities for further education or job opportunities and not returning. Vogel looks at several instances of younger individuals returning to their small-town roots.

Prior to the individual profiles, she explores and debunks the preconceived notions about rural Minnesota. What does the term "rural" mean? In Minnesota, there is farmland in the southwest and vacationland in the north. Some small town constitute exurban communities, outliers from a major metropolitan core, while other communities are sparsely populated and highly isolated. On the whole, rural Minnesota is less densely populated, older, and more politically conservative. The aging population represents a major challenge, since slashed budgets mean less medical and social services needed for older populations. And while there are less people in rural areas, these areas end up receiving more tax subsidies than their urban counterparts. Fighting for an American Countryside does a good job in parsing differences between rural and urban populations, working to avoid any pat explanation or stereotypical image. One fascinating demographic tidbit was rural Minnesota's growing Hispanic population.

The book tells the stories of several people who have sought to make a difference in rural Minnesota. (Each is given an individual profile at the end of the book.) Michael Dagen, an audio engineer in Hewitt, Minnesota, fixed up several old buildings in town and now runs Barter Fest. Windy Roberts from Morris, Minnesota, works to educate the town's Hispanic population. Simone Senogles, from Bemidji, has "an incubator kitchen" that fosters entrepreneurship for individuals to sell food products at the Harmony Co-op in town. At the end of the book has a photo essay called "Scenes from an American Countryside." It is a humanizing group portrait of rural Minnesotans working to get by in these difficult economic times.

Fighting for an American Countryside is a fascinating look at rural Minnesota, yet another demographic area effected by the Great Recession, slashed government budgets, and corporate malfeasance. While this short ebook scratched the surface about what is happening in rural Minnesota, it is an excellent start. (It's also available free on Amazon.com.) For those, like myself, with little knowledge about rural life and culture, this book was a short education. It shows rural Minnesota as a place that refuses to be written off and an emerging hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship. But, as with everything effected by our current slouch, it will be a long hard road. This is a book that seeks to answer the questions, "Why stay?" and "Why go back?"
 
Out of 10/8.5
 
Read even more about Fighting for an American Countryside: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, October 4, 2013. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |