Audio Feature

Courtesy Unbound Book Festival

On a recent Wednesday morning at his home Columbia, Missouri, Alex George was ignoring his day job. He’s an attorney and author whose second novel, Setting Free the Kites, was released in February. But on this day he was working on neither writing nor lawyering.

Farmers are used to fixing their own machinery, but without the right software from tractor manufacturers they are effectively locked out of many models.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A new tractor often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but not included in that price: the right to repair it. That has put farmers on the front lines of a battle pitting consumers against the makers of all kinds of consumer goods, from tractors to refrigerators to smart phones.  

Modern tractors, essentially, have two keys to make the engine work. One key starts the engine. Today’s tractors are high-tech machines that can steer themselves by satellite, so there is another key – a software key – to get into the programs that make a tractor run properly.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Pretty Prairie, Kansas, population 680, had a moment in the spotlight during the confirmation hearings for new Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran mentioned Pretty Prairie as an example of a community that’s struggling because of EPA regulations that Pruitt could ease.

Student Gabriela Cardenas, left, asks a question of citizenship class instructor Marissa Velazquez at the Brush, Colo., public library.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

At the public library in the rural Morgan County town of Brush, Colorado, Marissa Velazquez welcomes her students to class. It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and today marks the halfway point in Velazquez’s class, a ten-week crash course on American history, civics and English.

Blake Stoppel

Kansas City’s BkMk Press has a new collection of poetry by Native American writers about the Middle East.

The book's title — The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East — was inspired by advice given to BkMk managing editor Ben Furnish by a teacher years ago.

Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

If President Trump gets his way eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts as he has proposed in his budget, it would be another blow to a Kansas arts community that took a hit when state funding was eliminated a few years ago.

Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3

The Trump administration’s cancellation and renegotiation of international trade deals has put United States exports in the spotlight. This comes at a time when metro areas like Kansas City are focusing more on increasing exports. Last year, World Trade Center Kansas City, an agency of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, started implementing the first ever metro area export plan.

BigStock Images

The Platte County Courthouse, ordinarily a sleepy rural outpost, is abuzz these days with intrigue. 

That's because a leading candidate to be the next U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri is the subject of an ethics complaint that questions the propriety of his conduct in a sexual abuse case prosecuted by his office.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Atchison, Kansas, population 11,000, has some of the same challenges facing other small towns around the country - they've had a hard time keeping businesses, retaining jobs and attracting young people.

But one thing that feels different here is their economic struggles feel linked to the town's rich history as a 19th century gateway to the west.  

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Tuesday voters in south central Kansas will be the first in the nation to decide a congressional race in the age of Trump.

The special election in the Kansas 4th District will replace Mike Pompeo, who now leads the CIA. It’s a district that would, under normal circumstances, be considered a lock for the Republican candidate. But of course, these are not normal times, and resources are flowing into the district from left and right.

Midwest farmers compete to sell their goods, like these soybeans in Nebraska, on an international market.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Imagine you’re a farmer and it’s time to decide what to plant. You need information on supply, demand, prices, outlook -- information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university extension services, even economists at the Federal Reserve.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Whether they realize it or not, many Kansas Citians have probably seen Wilbur Niewald’s paintings. They might even have seen the artist at a canvas in one of the city’s parks.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Medical researchers have made a lot of progress developing artificial versions of organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys, but one thing has stumped them: artificial blood.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is the state’s first chief executive to set up nonprofit groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money from unknown donors.

The governor’s chief advisor, Austin Chambers, says there’s nothing unusual about it — and he’s right. Governors in Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts and Georgia, as well as New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio, are among the politicians who have set up similar nonprofit organizations, or have allies who have set them up.

Rob Fleming, a grand-nephew of Henry A. Wallace, uses this 1947 Ford 2n as he works to restore the prairie around his childhood home in Carlisle, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

In Carlisle, Iowa, Rob Fleming still uses the 1947 Ford 2n tractor he drove on the family farm as a teenager. Back then, neat rows of corn lined his family’s fields. Not anymore.

courtesy of the artist

Poet Nikki Giovanni's career spans five decades. A writer, activist and teacher, she's published more than 30 books of poetry and non-fiction as well as children's literature. 

"As a creative writer, I think, there are things you have to let go," Giovanni told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam in a 2015 interview.

"I guess it's like anything else you do — you do it and you let it go. You do it and you let it go."

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Peter I. Tchaikovsky wrote three classic ballets, but until now, the Kansas City Ballet has only performed two of them: Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Besides completing its repertoire of Tchaikovsky ballets, the company's premiere of The Sleeping Beauty is a case study in how setting a ballet to the great composer’s music requires changing it.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Mike Farmer’s high-tech startup, Leap.It, caught the attention of AOL founder Steve Case in October 2014 because Farmer’s company was built in the first house hooked up with Google Fiber.

Case loved the irony of the David of Kansas City taking on the Goliath of Google.

“You’re undermining Google right here in the Start-Up Village in Kansas City,” Case said at the time. “On Google Fiber! That’s pretty cheeky!”

Farmer doesn’t remember the cheeky line, but the Google angle is “an interesting story line,” he said.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

The intersection of Hillcrest Road and Oldham in Swope Park needs work. The narrow bridge here has been considered structurally deficient since 2014.

And at night, especially when it rains, the sharp turns can be dangerous.

Two fatal crashes happened here in just the last few months.

Guard rail and bridge repairs would make this intersection safer. But it’s only one of hundreds of project all over the city in need of attention. 

Dank Depot / Flickr — CC

More than half of states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medical use.

Kansas City voters won’t be considering that exact question on April 4th, but they will get to decide whether to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession.

Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

The social and health effects of isolation on some rural Kansas residents spurred three Catholic nuns to convert a storefront in Concordia into a drop-in center where women can find support and resources. 

Seven years after the center opened, two dozen women on average come through each day in the town of about 5,000 to socialize, do laundry, get a cooking lesson, or simply connect with others.

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

Audiences expect challenging productions from the Unicorn Theatre, whose mission is to produce "thought-provoking plays" that "illuminate social issues." Still, Danai Gurira's Eclipsed might require playgoers to work harder than they're used to.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In the next few years, many tech businesses in Kansas City expect to do a lot of hiring, with starting salaries that most recent college graduates can only dream of.

But will these jobs go to native Kansas Citians or to people recruited from other places?

Todd Weddle / Northwest Missouri State University

Northwest Missouri State junior Justin Pitts was named the NCAA Division II Player of the Year this week by Basketball Times magazine. He’s a 5-foot-9-inch point guard from Blue Springs South High School.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

In a city with so many school options, it isn’t always easy for parents to choose where to send their children.

Amanda Recob’s daughter, Marliemae, will start kindergarten in the fall. But Recob isn’t just choosing a school for her 5-year-old.

“I have two girls following her, so it is a lot of pressure,” Recob says. “I don’t want them going to three separate schools.”

So Recob is trying to keep the needs of her 2-year-old and 4-year-old in mind as she visits schools.

courtesy B Trump Photography

For more than three decades, musician Bob Reeder has played weekly gigs — singing Irish folk songs and bawdy limericks — in an underground pub in Weston, Missouri. O'Malley's is roughly 50 feet underneath the ground in a limestone brewery cellar built in 1842. 

So you voted in the presidential election last year and felt all warm and fuzzy because you did your civic duty. Yay! Or maybe you didn't (or couldn't) but now you want to make a change. 

The race for the highest executive office in the United States may be settled, but KCUR is here to break down Kansas City, Missouri's special April 4 election for you.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

There have always been Americans worried about some pending religious, social or natural cataclysm. But, the business of catering to those fears, and helping people prepare to survive the next big calamity, has changed substantially in the age of Donald Trump.

And that change is evident on a particular county road in Kansas, near the center of the continental United States.  Here, what looks like a grassy mound is protected by barbed wire fence and a heavily armed guard. A massive concrete entrance frames big, heavy steel blast doors.

Krista Nelson
Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Health care providers who work with kids are natural innovators, says Krista Nelson, Children’s Mercy Hospital’s director of innovation development.

Nelson, an expert in innovation — not medicine, was hired by the hospital to run its new Center for Pediatric Innovation.

“In the children’s hospital or pediatric environment, we really deal with every size of child from a premature baby all the up to the captain of the football team at one of our big high schools,” says Nelson.

Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

The Raytown South High School boys' basketball team was only one victory short of making the state semifinals in Columbia, Missouri. Instead, Kearney High School is on its way there after beating Raytown on Saturday. 

Raytown South’s recent success was a lift for a program scorched by unresolved accusations of racial discrimination towards the team.

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