Biden’s ‘Rural Playbook’ Runs Through Iowa

The White House officially kicked off its “Rural Playbook” Monday, a new effort designed to deliver the benefits of last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to rural America. Though the announcement and some Colorado events were held yesterday, President Biden himself is headed to Iowa where (within the hour) he is scheduled to talk rural infrastructure fixes, document federal investment in rural communities and to kiss the ring of the ethanol industry.

Whoops. Scratch that last part. I mean, Biden will be suspending a rule and the result of this suspension will increase ethanol usage this summer.

Note: You can read my more straightforward and less opinionated take on the Rural Playbook in this Daily Yonder story, featuring links to various high-quality resources from the White House and rural economic development advocates very excited about the initiative.

Biden’s visit, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, isn’t political. “The president is not making this trip through a political prism,” Psaki said. “He’s making this trip because Iowa is a rural state in the country that would benefit greatly from the president’s policies.”

Now, we all know about the gigantic role Iowa plays in the minds of the national politicians when it comes to rural political analysis. Conventional political wisdom, of course, holds that Iowa is made up of Des Moines plus a bunch of corn farmers chasing pigs around the barnyard likes it is still 1972 when Biden first became a U.S. Senator.

Some things have changed since the stereotypical view of 1970’s Iowa, including a huge decline in the number of farmers, an ethanol and biodiesel boom and bust (and another boom and another bust) and a massive shift to industrial livestock production facilitated by a handful of giant corporate meatpackers. Depopulation of farming people. Migration of new residents to work in meatpacking plants. Air and water pollution from untreated livestock manure and over-application of fertilizers.

That’s bound to change the politics of a place, and it certainly has in rural Iowa. We’re not likely to hear much of that from a president who comes to town to give a speech at an ethanol plant, even while promoting a very impressive list of rural opportunities identified in the clear and compelling “Rural Playbook” package. 

That’s unfortunate for a lot of reasons, high on the list being the continuing bipartisan neglect of rural voters and rural workers, the vast, vast, vast majority of whom neither grown corn nor work in the ethanol industry.

My suggestion would be for the White House to visit a rural water treatment plant in Iowa, one that is in desperate need of many millions of federal dollars to clean up industrial agriculture’s mess.

Rural Reading List

Here comes a solid reading list for this week, Keep It Rural readers. We’ve got one on rural outdoor recreation and tourism, another on electric car chargers in rural, and a couple on the opportunities and politics associated with the previously citied Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Check them out:

Ups and Downs –  Rural Tourism After Two Years into the Pandemic

The pandemic has had varying impacts on tourism and the outdoor recreation economy in rural communities. Kristi Eaton has the story for the Daily Yonder.

Business Association Worries Power Companies Will Siphon off EV Charging Investment

Liz Carey takes on a rural electric vehicle charging station build-out conundrum in the Yonder.

Rural Kansas Needs Broadband

Former Secretary of Agriculture and Kansas Congressperson Dan Glickman makes the case for rural high speed internet investments.

‘RINO’ Versus ‘Political Prostitute’: Bitter GOP Primary Hinges on Infrastructure Plans

A focus on the politics of voting for, and advocating for, infrastructure investments in rural West Virginia between two incumbent House Republicans fighting over a redistricted seat.

One More Thing: An Ode to the Ramps of Appalachia

Harvesting and eating wild plants is one of my favorite things to do, and spring is peak season. From mushrooms to wild greens to various nuts, taking a walk and tasting the landscape helps me to feel connected to place and to planet. It’s one of the few restorative and calming rituals I practice, about as “prayerful” as I get.

Having moved from the familiar habitat where I grew up (West Missouri) several times in my life now, I realize foraging can be a tricky and frustrating proposition for newbies. I was headed down that path of questioning my ability to find anything worthy just a few days ago, this being my first spring in Appalachia. I had been hunting ramps (or “wild leeks,” a legendary local delicacy) without success for the past two weeks. But then came the “eureka” moment. A robust patch of ramps just popped about 20 steps down the hill from where I write this newsletter, and I can see them right there out the window.

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