By Stan Friedman
DOWAGIAC, MICHIGAN (May 22, 2012) – Rob Lowe, co-pastor of Federated Covenant Church, is not surprised at the results of a study that found food insecurity in rural areas is as great or greater than in most urban areas in the Great Plains and Midwest.
“We are living in a beautiful area with wonderful people, but many are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their head,” says Lowe. “Poverty is just a part of life in rural Michigan.”
The Nebraska Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) analyzed data for the multi-state region of Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and selected counties in Colorado, Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The analysis, “Poverty on the Great Plains,” found that despite living in an agriculturally rich area, many of the people do not have access to nutritious food. Although Nebraska is one of the largest producers of red meat, corn, and other grain and livestock, 18.9 percent of rural children are considered food insecure.
Iowa had the highest rate of food-insecure children living in rural areas (34.6 percent), according to the study. That was more than twice the rate of Iowa’s metro counties.
“Any time one has to make a choice between adequate food and other expenses – such as medical bills – a household is considered to be food insecure,” according to the study.
“The poverty rates among rural children are most alarming, both in the immediate term and for their long-term development,” said Jon Daily, co-author of the report.
More than 50 percent of the students at all of the elementary schools in the Dowagiac area receive free or reduced lunches, Lowe says. “More than this, we have a significant number utilizing the Salvation Army facility that our church houses.”
It is a painful irony that a lot of the agricultural areas have become food deserts, says Crystal Powers, a member of Ceresco Covenant Church in Ceresco, Nebraska, and an extension agriculture engineer at the University of Nebraska.
Due to numerous grocery store closings in rural areas, residents in some counties must drive 50 miles to purchase food, Powers adds.
A previous report authored by Baily found that although rural grocery stores play a crucial role in their communities, they are slowly disappearing across the nation. In Iowa, for example, the number of grocery stores with employees dropped by almost half during the years 1995 to 2005. In 1995 there were 1,400 stores – 10 years later that number had plummeted to 700.
“In order to reverse these trends in rural America, it is crucial for rural communities and public policy to find new, innovative ways to create rural economic opportunities and revitalize rural economies,” said Bailey.
Click here to access the full report.