As lawmakers debate the Farm Bill in Washington, millions of dollars are at stake for small businesses across the country. Rural development grants go out to everything from home loans to water projects to small co-ops.
With budget cuts likely, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is adjusting how these funds are used, and proposing changes to the word “rural.” But there’s concern that a tighter belt at the federal level means farmers and ranchers in small towns will be left behind.
The Kansas Senate has voted to expand a program aimed at stopping population loss in rural Kansas counties. Some counties with declining populations have been designated as so-called Rural Opportunity Zones. The program helps repay student loans and offers income tax credits to attract people to those counties.
Senator Les Donovan, a Republican from Wichita, says the program has helped rural areas.
“These are counties that are small population and losing population. This tends to stabilize their population a great deal,” says Donovan.
More than a quarter of Missouri's population lives in rural areas. The series "My Life, My Town" documents the lives of teenagers from small Missouri towns. These are the youth who make up thefuture of rural life -- IF they decide to stay.
Onaga, KS – Last December, the only grocery store in Onaga burned down. Onaga is a town of about 700 in northeast Kansas, surrounded by cattle ranches, corn and wheat farms. But suddenly, there was no place to buy groceries for 25 miles in any direction.
People in town found their routines changed dramatically. Althea Sender, for example, is 86 years old, lives alone and doesn't drive long distances.
"You're baking - you know - or fixing something and you need something. Well, you can't just run down to the store and get it," Sender says.
Manhattan, Ks. – According to a survey done by Kansas State University, one third of all small-town stores closed just in the past three years. It's partly because rural populations are dwindling and mom and pop markets aren't able to compete with large chains.