Audio Feature

A study that received funding from the Leopold Center demonstrated that planting small grains, such as the oats pictured here in 2016, can reduce the need for chemical inputs.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A leading research center focused on local farmers and environmental conservation is hanging on by a thread, even as the movement to diversify agriculture, which it helped launch, continues to thrive.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

It was the usual 4 a.m. scene at the Mutual Musicians Foundation: a rotating combination of jazz musicians on the crowded stage; fans of all ages, races and preferred libations sitting in metal chairs around mismatched formica tables tapping their feet and yelling encouragement to the players; long-dead jazz legends surveying the raucous scene from black-and-white photographs on red walls. Except this time, sun was beaming in the windows.

Caitlin Troutman / KCUR 89.3

Students at Archbishop O’Hara, a Catholic high school in South Kansas City, are taking their final exams this week. After 50 years in operation, Friday will be the last last day of school. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese will open St. Michaels The Archangel Catholic High School in Lee's Summit in the fall. 

"I'm sad for the kids who don't get to experience O'Hara," says Sydney White, a 2013 graduate. "I've had some of the best experiences in these halls."

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Starting in the 1990s, Hickman Mills became a forgotten community. Middle-income families moved out. Blight moved in. Drive through the neighborhoods today and the symbols of disinvestment are everywhere – gutters falling off houses, trash in yards, payday loan shops where stores used to be.

“It’s just strictly rental there now and nobody takes care of the yards. Nobody trims the trees. Nobody looks out for the other person,” says Jerry Porterfield, a longtime landlord in the area.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Brenda Thomas and her husband bought their house in Marlborough the 1990s because they wanted to send their daughter to a magnet program in Kansas City Public Schools.

“We’re a well-kept secret,” Thomas says matter-of-factly. “We’re south town, but not all the way to 95th Street or Bannister. We have quite a few historic homes here in our area.”

But after Thomas’ daughter graduated from high school, the neighborhood began to change. As older homeowners died, investors bought the properties – and renters moved in.  

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3


The tipping point may have come in late January, when yet another quick-tempered boy moved into Aubrey Paine’s second grade classroom at Ingels Elementary School.

Or maybe it was the departure in early February of the bright, motivated little girl who had been the leader of a reading circle.

As winter gave way to spring, the change in in the student roster came so fast I barely recognized the happy classroom I’d first walked into in September.

Cattle rancher Mike John runs a cow-calf operation in Hunstville, Missouri, and says he hopes international trade will open up new markets for his beef.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

President Trump made campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of big international trade deals and focus instead on one-on-one agreements with other countries. But that has farmers worried they will lose some of the $135 billion in goods they sold overseas last year.

Davin Watne

Walk into Haw Contemporary in the Stockyards district of the West Bottoms, and in one gallery, artist Davin Watne has built a 30-foot long wall. There are nearly 40 paintings in a collage — small and large, clamped together — stretching the length of the room.

The exhibition, Picture the Wall, is, in part, an artistic response to Donald Trump’ s call for a wall along the U.S. and Mexico border during the 2016 presidential campaign. And it carries on a long tradition of, as Watne puts it, "oil on canvas as a means to convince" the public. 

Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City fans celebrated when the Royals won the 2015 World Series, but the team has struggled since then, especially this year. Management has started to make changes, and fans are losing their enthusiasm.

But there are still some hard-core fans holding out hope that they can make one more run at the playoffs before the complexion of the team changes even more.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

An ancient battle, an eager teenager and a small iron ball have helped a Kansas archaeologist rediscover a lost Native American city, one that may have been the second largest in what’s now the United States. 

It turns out, the clues to this mystery had been floating around for centuries — right underfoot in Arkansas City, Kansas.

The Agriculture Department established climate research centers in 2014 to translate science into real-world ideas for farmers and ranchers adapting to a hotter climate.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

When Issac Logsdon moved to Kansas City for art school four years ago, he didn't know the Missouri and Kansas rivers flowed through town.

"It seems like that should be such an important understanding of this city," Logsdon says. "The Missouri’s where we get all of our drinking water. Ecologically, it's incredibly important to this city and this region. But as someone who’s living in the city, I can go most days without ever really recognizing that it’s here."

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Principal Anthony Madry stands in a noisy hallway at Central Academy of Excellence, greeting students.

“Good morning, good morning, good morning,” Madry says, fist bumping students as they pass. “Hey are we good?”

The student nods. “Yeah.”

Madry points to a young woman. “That’s Emily. Emily’s one of the best kids I have in this school. She’s one of my favorites. Don’t blush, please don’t blush.

“You try to learn most of the kids’ names, the reason being that’s the most honorable thing you can do,” Madry says.

Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

Olathe, Kansas, native Scott Conner has performed on North American and European stages. Last month marked Conner's debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Through May 13, Conner plays the police commissioner in a new production of Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier. One highlight: He shares the stage with opera diva Renée Fleming, who stars in a signature role as the aristocrat, the Marschallin.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

On May 4, 2007, an enormous tornado nearly wiped Greensburg, Kansas, off the map. What happened next was almost a laboratory experiment in re-engineering the classic American small town.

Like the towns all around it, Greensburg was in decline before the storm. In a bid to survive, town leaders decided to go green in a big way. Ten years on, the ambitious effort says a lot about the headwinds facing many rural towns. 

At Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute, Pat Schnable leads a group that collaborates with data scientists.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

This summer, in cornfields in Iowa and Nebraska, about a thousand small point-and-shoot digital cameras will be enclosed in waterproof cases, mounted on poles and attached to solar-powered battery chargers. They will take pictures every ten minutes as plants grow; all part of a plan to create better seeds.

“We watch plants go through their normal growth and development and also we watch them respond to environmental stressors, like drought and so forth,” says Pat Schnable, director of the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University.

Eric Williams / Kansas City Symphony

Many composers have set the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead to music. Mozart, Berlioz, Brahms and Verdi famously come to mind. Their compositions are considered masterpieces.

But Benjamin Britten’s genius was to juxtapose the austere and solemn Latin of the Requiem liturgy with the visceral and searing poetry of Wilfred Owen, who served in the British Army during World War I and died in France just days before the Armistice was signed.

Courtesy of the Jackson family

Transgender people have been in the news a lot in the last couple of years.

Think Caitlyn Jenner, who continues to make headlines.

Think the many states currently debating so-called “bathroom bills,” which regulate what bathroom transgender people can use.

All the visibility has been a mixed bag for one local family.

The Brazile Creek Groundwater Management Area encompasses 756 square miles of north-central Nebraska.
Ariana Brocious / For Harvest Public Media

At a nitrogen management class in the small town of Creighton, Nebraska, Tanner Jenkins shows a chart of groundwater data to a group of about 40 farmers. He points to a red line, which shows the level of chemical nitrates in groundwater over time.

“You can see we’re on a pretty steady upward click,” Jenkins, who works for a local groundwater district, tells the farmers.

Decades of intensive farming have contaminated the groundwater across many parts of Nebraska. A new plan may help farmers in the northeastern part of the state address the problem.

Courtesy of Gracie Schram

The artist: Gracie Schram

The song: Under The Sun

Background: Gracie Schram of Leawood, Kansas, has been writing songs since she was a little girl. She released her first album when she was 10 years old. And this past year has been busy and full of change. She graduated high school from Blue Valley North, released the album Dear Fall, and started college in Nashville, Tennessee.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

In 2010, Kansas City Public Schools closed nearly 30 schools, mostly because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. Some of these buildings are still in limbo, and others have been sold, leased, or mothballed for future use.

At the former Westport Middle School at 200 E. 39th Street, classrooms, where students used to work on projects, are now co-working spaces for entrepreneurs. 

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

A stone’s throw from the childhood home of pilot Amelia Earhart in Atchison, Kansas, is Benedictine College. Benedictine monks started the college in 1857 to provide a Catholic education to the children of pioneers and to celebrate Mass with German and Irish settlers.

Today, about 40 monks live at the abbey on a hill overlooking the college and the Missouri River. They live much the same way Benedictine monks have lived since St. Benedict of Nursia established the order in sixth century.

A stop sign at the edge of a Nebraska poultry farm serves as a biosecurity checkpoint.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Midwest farmers are warily watching as one strain of a highly contagious bird flu virus infects and kills humans in China and another less-worrying but still highly contagious strain infects a Tennessee poultry farm. Two years after a devastating bird flu outbreak in the Midwest, many farmers here say they now have a better idea of how to keep bird flu at bay.

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.

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