Rural

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a new dimension to the urban-rural divide: death rates related to cancer.

Cancer death rates are falling nationwide, but they remain higher in rural areas (180 deaths per 100,000 persons) than in cities (158 deaths per 100,000 persons), according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

He turns onto a country road, heading south to spray an herbicide on his cornfields, an early growing season task his genetically engineered crops demand if he is to unlock their value. In the cab, a computer screen shows a little pixelated tractor moving across digital fields, logging his work.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Neighborly disputes are nothing new. There’s the dog next door that poops on your lawn. The house that throws loud backyard parties. The guy down the block who always plows through the stop sign.

But in Colorado, the introduction of legal, home-grown marijuana has elevated tension among neighbors to a whole new level.

Because of gaps in the state constitutional amendments that legalized cultivation of the drug for recreational and medical purposes -- and in the ensuing rules that sought to regulate it further -- some rural pockets in Colorado are seeing large-scale cooperative marijuana grow operations sprout up with little oversight.

In Rural Trump Country, Trade Policy Divides

Mar 21, 2017
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

Dawson County, Nebraska, could easily be called Trump country. As in most of rural America, Donald Trump won a big majority there – 70 percent of the vote. But it’s also a good place to look at one issue where rural residents have different perspectives: trade.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

The bell signals the start of second period. A trio of young women take seats in English class, their attention quickly drifting outside the walls of the high school in Fort Morgan, Colorado, eager to talk about what they’re working toward.

“I want to become an FBI [agent],” says freshman Mariam Mohammed. “It’s my dream.”

On her left, her sister, Mutaas Mohammed, with a clay-colored hijab wrapped around her face and dark purple lipstick, says she wants to study fashion design. The girls’ friend, Isra Mohamud, a senior this year, chimes in: She’s looking at a nursing program at the local community college.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

A doctor handed Melissa Morris her first opioid prescription when she was 20 years-old. She had a cesarean section to deliver her daughter, and to relieve post-surgical pain her doctor sent her home with Percocet. On an empty stomach, she took one pill and laid down on her bed.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my god. Is this legal? How can this feel so good?’” Morris recalls.

She was hooked. From there she started taking the pills recreationally, shopping around for doctors who would write new prescriptions, frequenting urgent care clinics where doctors didn’t ask a lot of questions and were loose with their prescription pad.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The Great Recession decimated the American economy more than eight years ago. And while many of America’s cities have crawled back to modest economic prosperity, the rural economy has stagnated, displaying few bright spots in employment and poverty rates.

In short: rural parts of the country are still struggling.

Rural America at a Glance 2016, an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  underlines the economic distress many rural residents, and voters, have felt since the Great Recession. It also reiterates the idea that increased rural turnout for Donald Trump tipped the scales in the 2016 presidential election. 

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Rural towns need psychologists, social workers and substance abuse counselors, but there is a chronic shortage. The U.S. needs about 2,700 more clinicians to catch up to demand, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Outside of metropolitan areas there just aren’t enough providers to go around.

“It’s quite serious because, in Nebraska, 88 out of 93 counties are federally designated as underserved areas for mental health,” says Howard Liu, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and director of the college’s Behavioral Health Education Center.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

The town of Brookfield, Missouri, in the north-central part of the state is a close-knit community. Population: about 4,500. Becky Cleveland, who grew up in town, says the area looks a little different today.

“When I was a kid, like I said, there was four grocery stores,” she says. Today there is just one and a nearby Wal-Mart.

Walking down Main Street past a few vacant storefronts among the businesses, it’s plain to see the town isn’t in its prime any more. Brookfield, though, is more vibrant than many other rural towns, Cleveland says. Rural life used to be centered around the farm, but farms today don’t work like they used to, which has caused a drop in jobs and left some small towns struggling for survival.

Pocatello, Idaho, and Laramie, Wyo., might not be the first places you think of leading the charge to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. But in these rural, Republican-led states, local governments are taking the matter into their own hands.

Twenty-year-old college student CylieAnn Erickson was in the room when the city council in Laramie passed its LGBT anti-discrimination bill earlier this year. She says that when the final vote was counted, she breathed a sigh of relief.

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