Earlier this year, a report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter, Minn., suggested that rural Minnesota has lost its collective voice. Traditional industries like farming, timber, mining and manufacturing don't employ as many people as they once did, and statewide organizations that once paid attention to rural issues are "following the flow of money and members to the Twin Cities and regional centers--placing much more emphasis on non-rural agendas," the report said.
To some who live in cities, people to whom "rural" may be an abstraction or a dusty representation of a bygone era, the withering of rural communities has taken on an air of inevitability or even, progress. Let the small towns die, some argue, in favor of bigger cities, where density makes living more efficient, both environmentally and financially.
From afar, rural Minnesota may look like a quilt of farm fields interrupted by the occasional grain silo or abandoned movie theater. But there are vibrant battles being waged by people like Dagen and Fletschock who understand that vast open spaces and even a lack of resources and infrastructure afford the freedom and the necessity to invent.
These people, the farmer trying to improve water quality or the artist finding a new use for an old creamery, may be employing different strategies. But they are pulling at threads of the same fabric.
They are all trying to save their piece of rural America.
Next: The costs of keeping it rural.