Broadband can meet the needs of emerging farmers and long standing rural residents to encourage rural growth

Today I attended the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division meeting. I was hoping they might talk more about the Dep of Ag emerging farmers report but I got an interesting overview on hemp, research on ag versus rural economy and emerging farmers. Not as much broadband as I usually like – but an interesting glimpse at ag issues.

According to the State Demographer, Minnesota is diversifying. The percentage of people of color is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035. Also in 2035, the age 65+ group is expected to eclipse the under 18 population for the first time in Minnesota history. The 65+ group will rely on the tax base of the smaller, younger demographic. That’s a challenge. Balance that with the Demographer’s 2017 report (Greater Minnesota: Refined & Revisited,) that outlines differences between rural, urban, small town, larger town counties…

This report also reveals that many Minnesota counties are on the cusp of a new era of slowing or negative natural change, and will be more reliant on migration if they are to grow in the future. Future migration patterns, however, are more challenging to anticipate than natural change, as they are dependent on numerous variable factors—federal immigration policy, local and state economic conditions, changes in how and where workers work, and personal lifestyle preferences.

In short, the State demographer says that rural counties that want to grow need to be welcoming to new Americans. And if they want a strong tax base, they’ll want to entice young people. I’ve seen similar concepts and recommendations outlined in the Thriving by Design work from Growth and Justice. But there’s always a tension in change.

Listening to the emerging farmers, who include the demographic that a county needs to grow, they are pushing against some resistance or at least blindness to their needs. Even hearing about the hemp industry, it’s clear that a new approach to hemp is battling with old regulations and prejudices of marijuana.

It reminds me of when my oldest daughter was 15. She wanted to be a grownup. I wanted her to be a grownup. But we had different ideas of what that meant and how to get there. She’s 21 now and we’re a lot closer on our definitions but there were some heated conversations. I loved, especially during those dark years, when there was easy agreement.

Broadband availability is listed as a top theme in the emerging farmer report. It is a likely point of easy agreement because broadband extends beyond the needs of “emerging” farmers. For established farmers, broadband can support telehealth and help people stay at home. For non-farmers (The Center for Rural Policy started by talking about their nascent research on rural versus farm economy. They early observation seemed to find that the rural economy is larger than the farm economy.), broadband is a tool that supports economic development and education.

Broadband is a point of agreement. Broadband is a tool that helps everyone. Broadband is inherently useful but also useful as a way to unify the needs of new and “old” Minnesotans.

U.S. Senators Smith, Rounds, Fischer & Baldwin Host Bipartisan Rural Working Group Meeting in Washington

Big news on how Senator Smith and others are working with bipartisan leaders on rural issues…

Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)—leaders of the Bipartisan Senate Rural Working Group—hosted a kickoff event with rural leaders and stakeholders in Washington. The group, co-chaired by Sens. Smith and Rounds, seeks to connect people and organizations with ties to rural communities who want to help address the many unique challenges that often hit rural areas hard. The group also aims to identify successful ideas and partnerships to spur efforts to restore economic prosperity in rural communities across the country.
“I’ve been to rural communities and Tribal areas across Minnesota, and I’ve seen how leaders and organizations are coming together to do unique and innovative things to not only create jobs and economic development, but also tackle local problems,” said Sen. Smith. “At a time when you often only hear about the economic hardship in rural communities, I’ve been inspired by the spirit, resilience, and ingenuity of the people I’ve met in rural areas of Minnesota. I was so inspired that I decided to create a bipartisan Senate group aimed at highlighting what’s working in rural America, and I’m pleased to be joined by my colleagues and dozens of advocates who share that same goal.”

“South Dakota is a large, rural state. The Bipartisan Rural Working Group seeks to address the unique challenges facing rural areas, such as access to high-speed internet, health care, lending services and more. The success of rural America is vital for our long-term health and prosperity. I look forward to working with Sens. Smith, Fischer and Baldwin to advance the priorities of rural America in the Senate,” said Sen. Rounds.“Rural communities can’t be left behind and Washington must do a better job of helping them move forward. We need to do more to support the family farmers that drive the rural economy forward,” said Sen. Baldwin. “The federal government needs to step up and make investments that will expand rural broadband access, rebuild water infrastructure, increase affordable housing opportunities and support rural health facilities that are on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic. I’m excited to work with my colleagues to launch the new Bipartisan Rural Working Group to find common ground on solutions that will show rural America that Washington is working with them, and for them.”
“The heartland is not flyover country. It’s full of wonderful, selfless people who help feed and fuel the world. Those of us who live in rural America already know this, but we need to show Washington that our families, communities, innovators, and businesses are worth the investment. I am excited to participate in this bipartisan working group to develop solutions for rural America,” said Sen. Fischer.
At today’s meeting, advocates from a variety of different issues areas—including education, health care, agriculture, and housing—shared priorities for a stronger rural economy. You can access pictures from the event here.


MN farmers upload overnight? Maybe ag policy can change that. Mtg Feb 13 at 9:45am

Tomorrow (Feb 13) at 9:45, the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division is meeting at the State Office Building (Room 200). I hope to attend and livestream, in preparation I wanted to check out the MN Department of Agriculture’s legislative report on emerging farmers.

The report defines emerging farmers and distills what they learned from a series of listening sessions with farmers across the state. They  broke up the notes into 11 themes:

  1. Financial Barriers
  2. Discrimination/Racism/Sexism
  3. Land Availability and Prices
  4. Health Insurance/Rural Health Care
  5. Available Resources Serve Larger-Scale Agriculture
  6. Education/Training Resources
  7. Climate Change
  8. Market Access and Infrastructure
  9. Culturally Appropriate Resources
  10. Navigating Regulations
  11. And Broadband Availability

Here’s what they say about broadband…

Many participants cited online resources like videos, reports, and peer-to-peer learning platforms as primary methods for finding information about farming. Implicit in these resources is the ability to access and use the Internet. The issue of broadband availability is widely discussed in the State as a key component to rural vitality and viability. (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development). Most efforts in expanding broadband access focus on download speeds of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps), which allows enough speed for video streaming without interference. Minnesota has a plan to achieve statewide 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds by 2022. Currently, 92.7 percent of Minnesotans have access to this level of service, though that number is lower in rural areas with just 83.7 percent of households served at this speed. Further effort to expand broadband service and improve speeds is an important part of supporting emerging farmers’ access to educational resources and networking. 18

One part of the broadband effort that is often overlooked is the upload speed. Upload speeds are important for users that are creating data or content to put online, such as e-commerce sites, or using any sort of smart-farming technology (GPS, sensor-based data collection, etc.) Most broadband initiatives consider upload speeds of 3Mbps as high-speed, but users at this speed are often left with slow or non-usable connections during the upload. Some farmers report leaving their computers on overnight to upload data from their sensors, or they struggle to update social media or inventory on their e-commerce websites.

Broadband is critically important for many rural and urban development strategies, including healthcare access, commerce, teleworking, and continuing education. Both upload and download speeds should be considered in any public or private investments in broadband. Additional attention toward adoption and use, beyond just infrastructure and deployment, is also critical for any broadband initiative.

Compared to racism and climate change, broadband availability seems pretty attainable; it relies on infrastructure and not changing opinions or habits. And once won, broadband can help address other themes – such affordable access to healthcare through telehealth, online access to training resources – even culturally appropriate resources, online market access (via websites, social media and more) and access to information (in multiple languages) and people to help find out about available land or navigate regulations.

Event Feb 11: How to Bridge the Broadband Gap: A Conversation with State Leaders

On Feb. 11, The Pew Charitable Trusts will host a day-long event unveiling state practices in five categories that are proving effective for expanding broadband: stakeholder engagement, policy framework, planning and capacity building, funding and operations, and program evaluation and evolution.

The evens starts a 8am CST. It will be livestreamed and they are planning on lively Twitter discussion with #PewBroadband.

Bernadine Joselyn will be part of the discussion in DC. It’s going to be a great chance to let Minnesota shine and learn from what folks are doing in other states.

Dakota County Republicans talk about broadband

Last month the Dakota County Republican Caucus started a conversation – “Should Dakota County be actively participating in the development of Broadband?” Unfortunately I was in Chicago last month when they heard from the “pro” perspective. Last Thursday they heard from Annette Meeks from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group that advocates for free market and limited government.

Meeks is not a proponent for government spending on broadband. She had just come from doing training with legislators. She was there in part to discuss the Dakota County Joint Powers Agreement and their Dakota County Fiber Network but also talked about broadband in Lake County, Monticello and Rochester.

I was most interested in questions from the audience. People are concerned about the ongoing cost of the network and who gets to decide about municipal infrastructure and how the providers are or aren’t involved. Also people asked about 5G. Someone was concerned about the health concerns with 5G. And Meeks said 5G would be a good way to keep elderly residents stay in their homes in rural Minnesota as opposed to moving to Minneapolis. (Signs point to 5G not being deployed in rural areas any time soon.)  I think the concern with any technology is that once you pay for something it will become obsolete and that’s magnified when you’re using public funds. People expressed that concern at the meeting. But these are people in Dakota County who have broadband so they might be in tune with the cost of not having it.

Update from MN Broadband Coalition – next meeting Feb 25

Here’s the latest from the MN Broadband Coalition

Save the Date! 
MRBC Full Coalition Meeting
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | 3:00 -4:30 p.m.

League of Minnesota Cities
145 University Ave West, St Paul, MN 55103
Agenda TBD

House Broadband Funding Bill Introduced
Members of the House of Representatives introduced dozens of pre-session bills on Friday, January 31. These bills contain some of the highest priority issues for House members and additional funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program was included in those introductions. Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) introduced HF 3029, a bill that would fund an additional $30 million to the grant program this year and continue funding for the program at that level each year. Rep. Ecklund was joined by the following members in signing the bill:

  • Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset)
  • Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing)
  • Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora)
  • Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin)
  • Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter)
  • Rep. John Poston (R-Lake Shore)
  • Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake)
  • Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji)

Many legislators are working their full-time jobs or are traveling with family in the weeks before the legislative session begins, so it is likely we will see more legislators sign the bill when session begins. Support for the broadband grant program remains high among legislators of both parties thanks to your advocacy and the efficacy of the program. The next step for the bill is to have a hearing in the House Greater MN Jobs and Economic Development Committee once session begins.
Sen. Susan Kent is new Senate DFL Minority Leader
Some of you no doubt read the news that Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) prevailed as the new leader of the Senate DFL in a vote held Saturday, February 1 at the Carpenters Union Hall in St. Paul. She takes over from Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), who has run the Senate DFL for nearly a decade. Neither Sen. Kent nor Sen. Bakk took questions from members of the press following the vote. The legislative session begins on February 11.

EVENT ALERT: May 5 ACTcon: Advancement, Communications, Technology

I know this is in the Twin Cities but I’ve been to a similar conference with these guys and thought it was great…

If you haven’t heard, MCN in launching an exciting new conference designed specifically for nonprofit communicators, techies, and fundraisers on May 5 at the Saint Paul RiverCentre! The largest conference of its kind in Minnesota, ACTcon: Advancement, Communications, Technology will bring more than 750 nonprofit staff and leaders together to connect their work with current fundraising and communications trends, new technologies, and innovative approaches to how each can support the other and raise our impact.


Here are just a handful of the details:

  • 30+ breakout sessions on fundraising, communications, and technology topics important to you
  • Free headshots available from Jeff Achen and CallSign51
  • Dedicated opportunities to network with peers across all three areas of work
  • 50 resources exhibitors with products and services to make achieving your mission easier

We’d love for you to join us for this inaugural combined conference, and if the idea tickles your fancy, this week is the time to act! MCN members can register at Super Saver rates of just $149 through February 7 (a savings of $60). Of course, scholarships are available for jobseekers, students, volunteers, Greater MN nonprofits, small nonprofits, and immigrant or refugee nonprofits.