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Rural Midwest sees societal change, too

The rural Midwest, like the rest of the country, has changed — and will continue to change for the foreseeable future. Already the old world dominated by white males is mostly gone.

Jonathan Knutson.jpg
Jonathan Knutson
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Like many Agweek readers, I grew up in a largely homogenous world where diversity and inclusiveness were too foreign to merit recognition, much less acceptance. The agrarian milieu of my upbringing was dominated by people with white skin and in which most professional positions, particularly ones in leadership, were held by men.

Not everyone thought alike, of course. Protestants and Catholics sometimes sputtered angrily at each other in their internecine battles, as did members of the Farm Bureau and Farmers Union. Rivalries among individuals and families were common. This white- and male-dominated world was no paradise; people who praise the glories of the good old days have, well, let's call it selective memories.

But the rural Midwest, like the rest of the country, has changed — and will continue to change for the foreseeable future. Already the old world dominated by white males is mostly gone.

That's most obvious in women's greater, expanded role. As agronomists, marketers and much more, they're increasingly active. The most prominent breakthrough may be in veterinary medicine. As of 2019, 63% of vets were women, a percentage that's expected to grow. What's more, women are projected to own a majority of vet practices by 2028; the rate stands at about 41% now.

Through the years I've talked with quite a few female agriculturalists. In nearly every case, they said something like, "Most of the guys (in ag) accept me. But I think I have to prove myself more than a man would in this position."

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My own view: Women, like men, should have the opportunity to pursue careers for which they have the aptitude and ability. My take is that the majority of male agriculturalists in the region now share that belief.

More diverse skin color

Change in skin color in rural areas has come much slower There's nothing sinister about that. The region was homesteaded by people from Northern Europe, and their descendants still dominate. The ag-dependent economy simply hasn't generated enough good jobs to draw in a lot of workers from elsewhere in the country. (The glory days of North Dakota's Oil Patch are an obvious exception.)

But ethnic diversity is growing slowly and almost certainly will continue to do so. That's a good thing.

Native Americans need to be mentioned, too. As is the case with many Agweek readers, I didn't have Native Americans in my school or church growing up. There weren't any in my community, either. They lived in one world, I lived in another. That's still the case, so I have no advice on how to potentially change things. But I do know Native Americans are an important part of the region and deserve recognition here.

Finally, there have been major changes in the perception and treatment of people of differing sexual orientations. It seems rural residents in general have become more tolerant, which I consider positive. In any case, this issue continues to be debated fiercely in the ongoing nationwide cultural war, and it's not going anytime soon.

Though I've expressed my opinions, I don't try to force them on you. My hope is that rural agriculturalists respond productively and positively to the often confusing social changes. (Most do.) My only advice is this: Try to put yourself in the other person' shoes and then try to figure out how you'd like to be treated in their position.

The Golden Rule may not always provide the right or sufficient guidance in responding to societal changes. But surely it's a good place to start.

Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and spent his career covering agriculture. He can be reached at packerfanknutson@gmail.com.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURERURAL LIFE
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