As someone who grew up in Montana but now lives in Seattle, Washington, Megan Torgerson has heard the cliches about the urban-rural divide: people in rural America are close-minded, poverty-stricken individuals who can’t make it in the big city. Urban Americans, meanwhile, are highly educated individuals living on the coasts who wouldn’t think about stepping foot in the Heartland or carrying a conversation with someone who thinks differently than they do.
Torgerson is attempting to change those stereotypes one podcast episode at a time. As the creator of the Reframing Rural podcast, Torgerson hopes to bring nuance to the cultural divide through interviews and storytelling.
Now in its second season, Reframing Rural features conversations with rural activists, academics, artists, and entrepreneurs who are helping Americans rethink what it means to be rural.
It all started in 2016 when Torgerson was living in Asheville, North Carolina, and seeing and hearing headlines about rural America and the presidential election.
“I wasn’t seeing representations of rural that I was familiar with,” she told the Daily Yonder in an interview. “It was all kind of negative portrayals, people voting against their own interest, like the term ‘Flyover Country’ was being swapped for ‘Trump Country.’”
Seeing that representation worried her, she said, especially for people who might have little to no experience with rural America. When she moved across the country to attend graduate school in Washington, the idea of how to change perceptions stuck with her. She ended up taking a class about creating a podcast and decided to start Reframing Rural.
The podcast’s inaugural season, “Coming Home,” was dedicated to Torgerson’s rural home community, Dagmar, Montana, which is a predominantly Scandinavian agricultural community that sits on ancestral Assiniboine land in the state’s northeast corner.
Season one features the stories of eastern Montana farmers, ranchers, lay ministers, country school teachers and professionals working in the oil and gas industry.
Season two, which is funded by grants from the Humanities Montana and the Greater Montana Foundation, among other grants, is called “Sowing Possibility.” She said it has more of a solutions journalism-focused approach. The first episode features Sarah Calhoun, founder of Red Ants Pants, the first company dedicated to making workwear for women. The second episode, meanwhile, focused on freelance journalist Jake Bullinger, who founded the now-defunct magazine Bitterroot.
Bullinger discusses the similarities and differences between big cities and small towns. For example, both Los Angeles and Moab, Utah, have transportation issues while both big and small communities across the West are struggling with homelessness.
“So I love his approach to basically highlighting some issues and solutions that are happening,” Torgerson said, adding that season one focused on highlighting rural Americans while season two is focusing on inspiring action.
Ultimately, she said, she wants people to feel like they belong, whether that is an urban or rural setting.
“I don’t want people to feel that they don’t belong. And in either setting, I hope that this kind of makes them feel like they belong no matter what,” she added.
Reframing Rural launches new full episodes on the last Thursday of every month and is available anywhere podcasts are found.