The Life of Osha Gray Davidson in the American Heartland's Rural Ghetto

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Broken Heartland gives an in depth picture of what rural society is like. Osha Gray Davidson goes on to vividly illustrate some of the countries farming problems and crisis. Davidson gives details the results of the farm crisis, the aging population, closed businesses, unemployment, and suicide to name a few.

Davidson establishes a relationship between the farm crisis and the evolution of America’s Heartland as a rural ghetto. The author characterizes parts of Iowa as a rural ghetto due to its increase in poverty from the farm crisis.

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The farm crisis brought about hard economic times for farmers during the eighties. Some of these hard times brought depression for many farmers, not to mention shame for struggling farmers. Farms are supposed to be thought of as basic element of the American Dream, especially to the Heartland. This dream, according to Davidson, is one that is fading.

“The homestead act of 1862, under which Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian nation of small land owners was finally to have been made a reality, has been called the greatest democratic measure of all history.” (p.24) The provisions of act were supposed to help farmers and give them a clear title to their land after owning it for five years. The act had some problems with it because most of the good farming land had already been bought up, and on the contrary farmers could not support a family on only 160 acres of land.

Davidson uses much emotion to describe some of the events and hardships faced in the small town of Tipton Iowa. Grace Countryman a clerk of over 14 years in a variety store explains how Wal-mart shut down their store. Chapter 3 then goes on to discuss “The Wal-marting of rural America.” When a big company like Wal-Mart moves into town it is hard for small businesses to adjust. “Competing stores try to hang on three, four, or five years,” according to economist Kenneth Stone. (p. 49) They eventually have to close their doors. “Even distant merchants are not immune to the changes wrought by the retail giant. Stone found that a Wal-Mart store lures away as much as $200,000 annually from small towns within a 20 mile radius.” (p. 49)

Davidson uses many facts to illustrate how the farm crisis not only affects small town farmers, but many aspects of the community as well. The population is one of the facets that some of rural Iowa is faced with. Many college graduates tend to leave the state post graduation. The majority of the population in Iowa are elderly people. “The average age in many Iowa towns is over 50 years.” (p.63) It is hard for communities to maintain their population with such low numbers of childbearing families. The towns and communities will eventually die out.

The hog lots are also a concerning problem. Family sized operations are being pushed out of business by giant hog lots. There are huge environmental risks from giant hog lots such as contamination of local water supply and air pollution. Family farms are still forces to “Get big or Get out.” A typical hog lot can replace dozens of family farm operations and when one of these lots moves into a county the results can be devastating. “Despite the risks to the environment, giant hog lots, like the huge poultry houses and cattle feed lots that preceded them are making the way of the future in America’s Heartland.” (p. 179)

The author defiantly takes a conflict theorists point of view. By explaining the details of the farm crisis he shows the many ways that farmers are in trouble. Big Agriculture industries such as hog lots also show how society can benefit the “big” industry by exploiting the “small”- referring to family farmers. Mental health of farmers is also declining as a result of all the crisis. “Farmers are more apt to blame themselves, to see themselves as part of this myth of self alliance, and so when hard times go wrong, they blame themselves.”

I believe that Davidson does an excellent job in depicting the hardships that are faced in America’s Heartland. He brings newfound meaning to the word “rural ghetto”. According to the book: although the farm crisis may be dwindling, the rise of the rural ghetto will continue to plague the Heartland of America if this nation does recognize that a change needs to be made. The final plea is meant to encourage citizens to recognize this problem and implement some sort of plan to help alleviate the effects of the farm crisis. “We saved Chrysler because we couldn’t afford to let it fail.” (p. 163)

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