Audio Feature

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3

Some works of art hold mysteries that may never be revealed (the Mona Lisa’s smile will likely remain an enigma forever). But many years after completing public murals in Liberty, Missouri, David McClain is ready to talk about his artwork’s secrets.

Dry cleaning can leave a really big mess behind.

One of the largest plumes of toxic dry cleaning waste ever discovered in Kansas is just south of Wichita, and state environmental officials are working to make sure people in the plume’s path have clean drinking water.

Alex Smith / Harvest Public Media

A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town’s reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

E.G. Schempf

Cardboard has a smell.

You notice it as soon as you walk into the glass-encased Kansas Focus Gallery at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, where eight of May Tveit’s cardboard sculptures emerge from the walls like sentries, layers of flat, precision-cut cardboard stacked into pyramids arranged in various rectangles. You recognize the smell; you just weren't expecting it in an art gallery.

But why not? As Tveit's exhibition makes clear, cardboard is an evocative medium. 

File Photo / KCUR 89.3

In one of his last acts as mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, Mark Holland has called a meeting of the UG Commission today to discuss a report that KCK firefighters were paid for work they didn’t perform last year.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Ambulances are often considered a prime example of the excessively high cost of medical care in the United States. One ride can cost more than a trip from Kansas City to Hawaii.

But David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, thinks he may have found something surprising that’s reducing ambulance use: the ride-hailing company Uber.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.

But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.

Greg Echlin / KCUR

The four-lane road that connects Manhattan, Kansas, and Interstate 70 is wider and busier now than it was when Bill Snyder took over as Kansas State’s football coach in 1989. So much so that it’s named after Snyder, who has more than 200 wins at K-State, making him only the sixth person to do that with one football program.

Snyder is 78, the oldest coach in the top division of college football. And while his 26th season with the team ended Tuesday on a high note with a 35-17 win over UCLA in the Cactus Bowl, he says he isn’t sure whether he’ll return next season. And that uncertainty makes K-State fans apprehensive.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Every once in a while, a Kansas City band releases an original Christmas song. But it’s unusual for area musicians to put out an entire album of holiday standards.

That’s what the bluegrass band Old Sound did this year, but making it happen involved something like a Christmas miracle.

“This is one those instances where the universe starts kind of opening up and giving you signs,” says guitarist Chad Brothers.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Dairian Stanley’s ex-girlfriend was warned before she met up with him that Sunday morning in September 2016.

Stanley had been missing for two days, had been talking “crazy stuff” and threatening to kill himself, his mother told her. When the ex-girlfriend found him at a BP gas station on Van Brunt Boulevard, Stanley demanded to know who she had been with.

“If I can’t have you, nobody can have you!” Stanley, then 21, said to her, according to court documents.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

"Where are the brave ones?" 

Academic coach Charlette Wafer looks out across an auditorium of students, administrators and community members at Central Academy of Excellence. She's reciting a poem. 

"Where are the brave ones? The ones who don't use guns to solve problems. The ones who are mentors and provide support before things get started. The ones who aren't afraid to snitch. The ones who are brave enough to stitch ... Our wounds, our community, our families, our city back together. Where are the brave ones?"

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ stop at a tiny private school in Kansas City’s Waldo neighborhood earlier this year became a flashpoint in a national conversation about transgender rights.

The education department’s rollback of Obama-era protections for transgender students quickly overshadowed DeVos’ purported reasons for visiting Kansas City Academy – an innovative fine arts curriculum and farm-to-table culinary program.

Courtesy of USA Shooting

USA Shooting athletes and the organization itself face a complicated situation every time a mass shooting happens. The governing body’s name alone is problematic.

“Guess what happens with our Google search terms or any time that comes up when a USA shooting happens?” USA Shooting communications director Kevin Neuendorf asked rhetorically.  “We’re automatically linked in with that tragedy.”

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback-turned-pitchman, apparently has another side hustle: Certifying shipments of grain as organic for a Nebraska-based agency called OneCert.

Problem is, OneCert president Sam Welsch doesn’t remember hiring Manning for his business, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect everything from small vegetable farms to processing plants and international grain operations.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

In the early 20th century, people didn't have a lot of options for making the tradition of unwrapping gifts more festive. They'd cover packages with brown shipping paper or newspaper, or sometimes wallpaper or fabric.

Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards, Inc., gets credit for starting the modern-day gift wrap industry 100 years ago, an invention created out of necessity during the holiday season. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

As always during this season, Kansas City musicians are booked for holiday gatherings.

"Christmas is the busiest time of year. We all have a million gigs," says Johnny Hamil, an area bass player and teacher (among his efforts to promote his instrument, Hamil lures esteemed bass players from around the world to town for his annual Kansas City Bass Workshop).

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In a corner of her house in Sparta in southwest Missouri, Jymie Jimerson has set up a kind of shrine. It has Native American art representing her Cherokee heritage alongside Willie Nelson albums, books and photos in remembrance of her late husband. On one side is a copy of Willie’s mid-’70s LP, “Red Headed Stranger.”

“When Steve was young, he had red hair and a red beard, so he always really identified with Willie’s Red Headed Stranger,” Jimerson says. “I try to keep it up there as a reminder of better days.”

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Westport has seen a major uptick in gun violence this year. 

According to stats collected by the Westport Regional Business League, there were 16 gun-related weapons offenses in the district in 2016. In 2017, there were 65 — and that's only through Oct. 31.

A Missouri law that took effect in January allows people to carry guns without a permit in nearly every public space, so there’s not much business owners or police can do to keep guns out.

Frank Morris / KCUR

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Dannette Ray is standing inside a re-created train depot, wearing cowboy boots, leather chaps and two six-shooters in holsters at her waist. Before she draws her pistols to fire at a row of targets, she calls out: "You get back inside, I'll cover for ya!" — a line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in the 1957 western Night Passage.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

For 25 years, Kansas City’s newEar contemporary chamber music ensemble has been performing brand new music — some of it by composers who live here — in what has become a long and productive conversation between area musicians and composers. 

Greg Echlin / KCUR

Updated Dec. 1 with score of semifinal, date of title game — The undefeated Central Missouri Jennies women’s soccer team is hoping to earn its first NCAA Division II national championship.

But this season, which continues Saturday with the title game matchup against Carson-Newman, wasn’t without challenges: The team has been affected by an increasing national trend from high school athletics to the pros — concussions.

Courtesy of Crystal Hays and Shanta Barnett

In late August last year, Shanta Barnett got a call from her 15-year-old daughter Brannae Browne. 

“Momma, did you hear about what happened?”

Natasha Hays, the mom of one of Brannae’s friends, had been killed in a drive-by shooting, she told her mom.

Barnett warned her daughter to be careful.

“She was like, ‘Momma, we didn't do nothing so why we gotta be worried about it?’” Barnett remembers. “Something in my heart told her just to watch out, to be safe.”

It’s a familiar story in rural America. Four years ago the Pemiscot County hospital, the lone public hospital in Missouri’s poorest county, nearly closed. What’s keeping it in business today has also become increasingly common in rural healthcare: relationships with a handful of local pharmacies.


Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel. 

Scraps KC Executive Director Brenda Mott with Cracker, a homeless volunteer.
Tom Taylor / KCUR 89.3

Scraps KC is a place to let go of your unwanted materials, inspire creativity and a refuge for the homeless from the streets.

Down in Kansas City's West Bottoms, Scraps has been open for 13 months. Executive Director Brenda Mott calls it a creative reuse center. It's like a thrift store targeted at crafters.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

In the hopes of not repeating a problematic year for soybean crops, farmers across the U.S. are deciding how best to protect their crops and their livelihood next year from drift damage caused by the weed killer dicamba.

Courtesy Michael McClintock

When Michael McClintock and Dálida Pupo Barrios met, it was not love at first sight.

Pupo Barrios was doing her job, working for the Cuban minister of culture, accompanying McClintock's tour group when he first visited the country.

Courtesy Tom Stroik

"One thing that a poet needs more than anything else — well, you need a sense of language — but you need people who love you. And I have that," the poet Michelle Boisseau told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam earlier this year. "I have incredible colleagues, and of course my husband Tom [Stroik], and people who believe in your work. Just keep doing it."

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