Megan Torgerson (narrating): Growing up in the country you can take for granted the expanse of land or sky or shadow-casting tree that swaddles you. Pockets of cool air in the morning and birds that gather together at twilight tell you of the coming season. A curious mother cow traces your path across a county road. A fox pup learns to hunt and hide.
At night the neighbor’s yard light reminds you of the miles that separate human from human. So much space, wildlife and weather. But the distance is an illusion. The land and water between connects. Through anchoring roots, the toil of stewardship and ground that carries on the names of those who came before, the land and water connect.
Tanner Jorgensen: You know there’s a lot of pressure to come back to the farm, especially when you’ve got multiple generations, you know you’d hate to see all the work my grandpa and my great grandpa and dad have done, just to see it all thrown away, but at the same time, you can’t just come back because that’s what everybody else did. You’ve got to come back because you want it and that you want to keep and give it to somebody else.
John Wicks: When I first moved back, I was really nervous. There was this whole weight that you could have a bad year and lose this farm that’s been in the family for generations.
Laura Christoffersen: Farming is now big business. It is not a little mom and pop operation anymore. You have to understand the markets, the products that are out there to protect price, to protect production, to protect yield. You have to understand the sciences behind rotation crops.
It’s hard and it takes smart, smart people.
Torgerson (narrating): I’m Megan Torgerson and this is Reframing Rural, Season Three: Groundwork.
In our first episode we’ll hear from the “farmer’s lawyer,” Sarah Vogel, a celebrated advocate whose historic case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture saved 240,000 family farmers from foreclosure during the 1980s farm crisis.
Sarah Vogel: So when I came back to North Dakota I think I’d had quite a bit of experience, because I’d been part of big government and been part of a big corporation as well as working for consumer protection.
I wasn’t all that daunted by the idea of suing the federal government. And maybe I was naïve…yeah, actually I was.
Torgerson (narrating): And I’ll take you to back to Northeast Montana where families, including my own, will discuss their journey navigating farm succession.
Russ Torgerson: Hard to believe time passes so fast, so many seasons behind me.
Chris Warden: Russ how many seasons has it been?
Torgerson, R.: ’84 is when we bought our first piece of ground, but I’ve been on the tractor since I was 12 years old, so.
Warden: 38 years (says laughing)
Torgerson, R.: It’s about 20 years back (says laughing).
Kathleen Hurst: Well you both deserve a nice retirement. We couldn’t be more happy for you guys to get to go enjoy your 70s and your 80s.
Torgerson, R.: Thanks Kathleen, looking forward to it.
Torgerson (narrating): While this season begins by exploring the landscape of family agriculture on the Western High Plains where I was raised, Groundwork will shed light on the importance of preserving family farms and ranches on working lands across the West, along with the realities of rural gentrification, and the potential for greater human and environmental resiliency through regenerative agriculture and the Indigenous knowledge that undergirds it.
This season, we’ll journey to mountain towns like Dover, Idaho that have weathered generations of boom, bust and extraction from railroad barons to timber mill companies and real estate developers. We’ll also visit stakeholder-led groups like Winnett ACES from the small but mighty Central Montana town of Winnett, that are working to restore historic buildings; address land management, conservation and housing issues; and collaborate with other nonprofits to ensure a future in which their neighbors, the next generation of producers and their local ecosystem can thrive.
Laura Nowlin: You know our local neighbors were the people we were concerned about and thinking about. And then piece by piece – very first we got funding from the national fish and wildlife foundation to investigate the idea of us purchasing land, and how would we do that and how would we run it and how would it be a benefit to working lands and conservation as well as community.
Torgerson (narrating): The theme that knits together this season’s sound-rich narrative segments, in-depth interviews and personal prose is land. Land and the groundwork being laid by those who steward it.
Beginning October 26, I’ll drop an episode a month into your podcast feed.
Be sure you’ve subscribed to Reframing Rural wherever you get your podcasts, and tune into a ten episode season that will transport you to dusty fields, cozy farm houses and bustling small town main streets, exploring the future of the ground and the work that connects us.
Music, mixing and sound design for this season is provided by Aaron Spieldenner and Hazy Bay Music. The story editor for season three is Mary Auld. I’m the founder, editor and producer, Megan Torgerson. Reframing Rural: Groundwork is funded in part by Humanities Washington, Humanities Montana and listeners like you.