Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
Part-time farmer Howard Haselhuhn at his West Michigan hops farm. Credit: Lindsey Smith
This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.
At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”
The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”
These students are part of the 17,000 FFA members in Illinois alone. Membership in the organization overall has increased 20 percent since 2000, to more than half a million members across the country. But there’s a reason why FFA no longer calls itself Future Farmers of America.
Spring sprang today, and many Midwesterners have shed their winter coats and boots for shorts and t-shirts. But one group of Midwesterns are trying to resist the urge to speed up the season.
Farmers in Wisconsin normally start planting corn around April 15. And just because the temperatures are in the 70s this week, that doesn’t mean they can get an early start.
“Everybody wants to be the first one, to get the neighbors talking,” said Scott Pfeuti, who farms on 2,000 acres between Monticello and Albany, Wis. He told the Wisconsin State Journal that he’s sticking with his normal schedule.
Agronomists are telling farmers to resist starting their crops early. even though the ground is warming up quickly and there are no signs it’s going to cool down anytime soon, the newspaper said. Continue reading →
Tomorrow, Niala Boodhoo will have the second of our two part series on hidden assets in the industrial Midwest (part one is here). Niala’s story focuses on agriculture. It’s one of the biggest industries in our region, but many older farmers are having trouble finding someone to take over the land once they retire. It’s a problem our colleagues at Harvest Public Media have been tracking closely. Here’s a video they produced about one farmer in Kansas:
There’s a lot more to talk about for the future of agriculture. Be sure to check back here tomorrow to catch Niala’s story, and find out why FFA is growing in popularity, even in cities like Chicago.
The goal of Changing Gears is to talk about the transformation of our economy in the Midwest, and to prepare ourselves for a brighter future. The time scale we’re usually talking about is in range of decades, maybe a century or two.
But, this morning, we found ourselves thinking about what life could be like in the Midwest 100,000 years from now. The inspiration came from the animation created above by New Scientist.
We’re not scientists around here, but it seems there are some good reasons to be bullish about how the Midwest could fare over the long, long term. We’ve got all this water around us. We do pretty well at growing our own food. And, even though our manufacturing economy has taken a beating in the last few decades, our culture of making things has to be worth something in the grander scheme.
Just for a moment, forget what the next 10 years will look like in the Midwest. Forget about what will happen in your lifetime. Tell us what you think the Midwest will look like a thousand years from now. Then 10,000 years. Then 100,000.
Then, think about what things we can do now to make a difference.
Americans celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden outside the White House soon after the news broke. Photo courtesy of user theqspeaks via flickr.
The news of the death of Osama bin Laden broke last night. This morning, Northeastern Ohioans shared how they felt about the death of the man behind the 9/11 attacks on The Sound of Ideas. Lawmakers from Illinois also weighed in on the event, as both Democrats and Republicans nationwide praised the successful raid by Navy Seals. The economic benefits of this political success are already being felt: stocks are up since news of the death of bin Laden has spread.
Chrysler announced today that it earned its first profit since declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy two years ago. said it earned $116 million. The company also announced how it plans to refinance its debt, replacing loans from the United States and Canada.
April showers may bring May flowers, but they don’t bring many of the Midwest’s biggest cash crops. Farmers in Ohio and Michigan say their corn and soybeans may have to be replanted because of the heavy rain last month.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says he plans to sign a bill that would slice the state’s Planned Parenthood program. The bill would cut $3 million in state funding from the program. Daniels says he’s doing it because he opposes abortion, but supporters of Planned Parenthood say the clinics provide mostly basic health care services, such as pap and STD tests.
More Michiganders are opting to take the bus, thanks to rising gas prices. Photo courtesy of Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio.
To trim the state’s budget, Illinois governor Pat Quinn is considering suspending one billion dollars in aid to local governments. But some experts say this may just be a move to convince lawmakers to let Illinois borrow $4 billion to stuff the state’s budget gap. That plan was initially opposed because it follows hikes in personal and corporate taxes.
Rising gas prices are leading more people to opt to take the bus in Michigan. But gas prices are also up for bus drivers. The Michigan legislature is also considering cutting upto $20 million in state funding for public transit.