“Why would people live there?” This question is often asked when a part of the world suffers from a catastrophic disaster; hurricane, tornado, fire, earthquake, drought, famine, volcanic eruption, blizzard, flood, et cetera. Sometimes the answer is easy to comprehend. Californians deal with earthquakes and fires in return for good weather. Residents of the dry Denver desert fight over water rights but have mountains to admire and slopes to ski. Miamians spend hurricane season at Home Depot buying tape and plywood to protect their homes but lazy days on the sand and surf make up for that inconvenience. The risks of living in these areas have rewards that people from major metropolitan areas can understand, but those urbanites are baffled when catastrophic news arrives from a place like Fargo, North Dakota, or Moorhead, Minnesota.
Admittedly I would never live in Fargo, North Dakota; I already experienced enough of a cultural seismic shift moving from New York to Minneapolis. I know many “big-city” dwellers residing on both the left and right coast who cannot comprehend why people live in “fly-over” states like Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota to name just a few. Disasters that strike these areas, whether it is a flood, tornado, or blizzard, leave your average urban/suburban American wondering about the sanity of residents and seriously questioning why people rebuild and return to these places after surviving the wrath of Mother Nature.
Most perplexing is how many of the same people who wonder why money is spent rebuilding cities and towns on our nation’s great rivers think nothing about rebuilding and protecting places on our shoreline. Hurricane drinking and gumbo eating tourists think that rebuilding New Orleans is critical because of its cultural and historical importance although its contribution to our national economy is miniscule at best. Golfers and beach bums wouldn’t think twice about protecting and saving homes and businesses in coastal places like Myrtle Beach. It would be considered unpatriotic to question rebuilding the World Trade Center in New York although its location will forever be a terrorist target. People rarely question the sanity of people living through disasters in these “desirable” areas but are perplexed why anyone would want to live by raging rivers, deal with brutal winters, or be hours away from the nearest Target. Those who wonder why anyone lives in the middle of our country should all be thankful they do; the “fly-over” states might not provide US residents with popular vacation destinations, cottages on the shore, or Mardi Gras but they do supply us something very important that should never be overlooked; our food.
The human race is fueled by food and much of what we are accustomed to eating still comes from places affected by natural disasters; farms in the mid-west and California. Food doesn’t come from your grocery store; most of it comes from our nation’s heartland. People forget the dependence their diets have in far away places in our industrial food chain and if they did not get their food from places like Nebraska it would come instead from China and I personally won’t even feed my dogs food from China. Those who are mindful about where their food comes from, locavores attempting to live off of land as close to their homes as possible, are well aware of how much our food supply depends on far away farmers. Kansas and North Dakota supply most of our wheat, Iowa and Illinois are responsible for a bulk of our feed corn production, and Minnesota produces most American’s Thanksgiving turkeys. If residents of flood plains in the mid-west decided to throw in the towel after a disaster and move elsewhere the effects on our food-chain would be felt worldwide. We shouldn’t be questioning why these residents decide to stay, we should be forever thankful that they do.
Many thanks to all of those citizens who roll up their sleeves in times of crisis saving their homes, farms, communities; and, in turn, our lives. Thank you for showing us the power of a community that works together and asks not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their neighbors. Thank you for electing competent citizens to your local offices who are capable of managing the complex logistics of disaster preparation and recovery. Thank you for reminding those who are all but disconnected from their family and neighbors that when the fit hits the shan those people who can rely on and help of a local network fare better then those who have to turn to strangers. Most importantly, thanks for all you do to keep our bodies running.