ByNatalie Krebs / Side Effects Public Media and Iowa Public Radio |
On the eighth floor of Iowa Methodist Hospital in downtown Des Moines, 56-year-old Russell Braley watched daytime TV in one of the recovery units, breathing through a tube running from his nose to an oxygen unit. “I’ve been in motorcycle wrecks. I’ve almost died several times in my lifetime. This was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through,” Braley, a resident of Des Moines, said about his recent battle with COVID-19. He said the virus nearly killed him.
Iowans who spend time working on small-town vitality in the state say small, rural communities will not survive urban flight without taking risks or community leaders willing to take them. “I have concerns that places that want to grow are doing it based on a strategy of stand-pat-edness, I guess,” Bill Menner, a former Obama administration U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development director for Iowa, said. “If you think you can grow your community by staying the same, you’re probably not going to grow your community,” Menner, of Grinnell, said in an interview for an IowaWatch series, Small Town Solutions. He is executive director of the Iowa Rural Health Association. The IowaWatch series reported that Iowa towns with fewer than 5,000 people but remaining vital, despite losing population in some instances, benefitted from one or more factors that included: creative businesses, updated infrastructure, readily available health care, child care, the arts, recreation, a sense of being safe, strong local schools and a sense of community pride.
Relaxing with a cup of coffee at Madeline’s in Riverside, Iowa, you could hear Morgan Rodgers chatting with customers one recent August morning. She knew them all. “We just appreciate our customers and the continued support they’ve given us,” Rodgers, an 11-year resident of Riverside, said about the shop she and her husband, Andy, opened in May 2019. Lyle Muller/IowaWatchMorgan Rodgers realized her dream of being a baker she she and her husband, Andy, opened Madeline’s coffee shop in Riverside in May 2019. The shop is named after her late grandmother, whom she baked with as a child.
PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After a killer tornado in 2008 and the murder of a beloved community leader a year later, many folks in Parkersburg felt they could take just about any punch thrown at them. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed lives and took a bite at businesses. But as was the case with those prior tragedies, the people of Parkersburg weren’t about to be defined by this latest challenge. Instead they defined themselves by what they would do to overcome — support one another.
While local incentives can bring businesses to small Iowa towns, they are no guarantee that the town can be vital or bring visitors, a summer-long IowaWatch investigation of towns with fewer than 5,000 people showed. The reasons vary.
With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
A selected collection of downtown or main street photos taken in Iowa’s small towns in summer 2021 for “Small Town Solution,” an IowaWatch report on how these towns try to remain vital while losing population. A handful of small Iowa towns with populations of less than 5,000 and not part of a larger metro area, bucked the trend and grew their populations in the 2020 census data just released. Growing small towns have one or more factors working in their favor, a summer-long IowaWatch investigation revealed for this special report. Photos by Lyle Muller, except for Belmond, La Porte City, Denver and Parkersburg, which are by Pat Kinney. THE LATEST STORY: HIGH HURDLES EXIST FOR IOWA’S HOMEGROWN, SMALL-TOWN BUSINESSES
READ THE FIRST STORY HERE: HOW A HANDFUL OF IOWA TOWNS THRIVE, RISE ABOVE RURAL DECLINE
Do the folks in politics think we are asleep? Do they really believe no one is paying attention to what politicians are up to? It’s not surprising if you have acid indigestion these days. A few examples illustrate why I might need a tanker truck of Maalox. SENATE RACE.
As thousands of acres of Iowa farmland are eyed as possible sites for solar farms, a research project is getting underway to explore a new crop that could co-exist with this burgeoning source of power: carbon sequestration. The state’s economic development office last month awarded $297,000 to an environmental consultant to create a business model “for monetizing carbon capture on solar energy farms.”
Although solar energy production and “carbon farming” exist independently, the consultant, Mike Fisher, said he didn’t think they’ve been combined, as he has proposed. He will test his theory that the right combination of crops could stash significant amounts of carbon in the ground while enhancing the soil’s fertility. Both the landowner and the solar developer could benefit, he said, from the sale of credits for the sequestered carbon and the enhancements to the soil.
The most common Midwestern crops — corn and soybeans — don’t sequester much carbon because they put most of their energy into producing above-ground “fruits,” said Randy Jackson, an agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin. Perennials, which plow much more of their energy into roots, stash more carbon as a result. Pasture grasses, such as brome, direct carbon into just the top 12 inches or so, Jackson said.
The news out of Afghanistan last week about the terrorist bombing at the airport in Kabul brought fresh heartache — and old memories — to Iowa. A native of Red Oak, Marine Cpl. Daegan Page, 23, was among 13 members of the U.S. military who died in the blast. Page and the others were screening U.S. citizens and Afghanistan civilians heading to evacuation flights — among 120,000 people the United States and its allies have airlifted out of Afghanistan after its government collapsed following more than 20 years of civil war. Not surprisingly, there have been many questions since President Joe Biden announced in April that American forces would be gone by the end of August. Questions are nothing new about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan — or about our handling of other wars and conflicts. There were questions when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and again in 2003 when we invaded Iraq.
Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions. The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother members of the Legislature, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa. First, some background about this change:
For many years, the universities have followed affirmative action hiring practices. These are intended to ensure a diverse array of qualified candidates is considered when jobs are filled in the administrative ranks, on the faculty, and for professional and scientific positions.