In defense of the Midwest

Photo credit: Kali Ryder

There’s nothing crazier than orientation week at the University of Miami. You have an overwhelming amount of information thrown at you and you meet a ton of people who you exchange Snapchats with but never speak to again.

Along with your major, the first question people often ask is where you are from. I always get the same look of surprise when I tell people I’m from Kansas as if no one actually lives there and I may not be real. After cracking a Wizard of Oz joke and asking about wheat and corn, people usually make a comment insinuating that there must not be much there worth enjoying.

The subtle insinuation that the Midwest is boring and inadequate struck me because it used to be what I believed. I had this idea that I was limited because many people disregard the region. I assumed I could have a better career if I left because I would be exposed to people who lived in bigger “important” places. Now that I have spent some time away from the region, I have realized my preconceived notions are not true. The Midwest may not be full of bustling metropolises like other regions of the country, but that does not mean it has nothing to contribute. The region has its charms and economic benefits and it is an agricultural hub that is paramount to United States’ food production. The Midwest is not a place to dismiss or escape from; it should be valued and studied to understand how to appreciate and preserve the environment.

Today the midwest consists of 12 states: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. In the 1850s, only Kansas and Nebraska were considered “the Midwest” because they were in a “place west of the Mississippi but between north and south.” As the territory expanded in the post-Civil-war era, it came to include the other 10 states and the term referred to the land in the middle of the east and west continental U.S.

The Midwest is often referred to as “flyover country” because it lacks hotspot destinations. With most of the space devoted to farmland, the midwest is composed of many smaller cities. I grew up in a town of 12,000 people — fewer people than there are students at the University of Miami. Think of how you feel when you realize one of your friends knows one of your other friends. That is exactly what small town living feels like. Everyone at the very least recognizes the last name of someone else, so it is easy to establish connections and get to know new people. Every time you go grocery shopping or out to dinner you are bound to see someone you know, just as you would when you take a walk around campus!

While living in a small town may sound limiting, living in smaller communities has perks. Other cities of a larger scale are usually within driving distance of a few hours, so citizens of small towns are not entirely isolated. In more densely populated states, driving a few hours can take double the expected travel time due to heavy traffic. In the Midwest, traffic is very minimal so day trips by car are doable. Additionally, the cost of living in midwestern states is much lower than on the east and west coasts. Many Midwestern states are ranked in the top 20 most affordable places based on the cost of living, with Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana ranked in the top 10.

Smaller towns also allow for close-knit community building. Everybody knowing everybody can be a blessing and a curse, but these connections make it easier to network and establish oneself in a community, which can benefit professional and personal growth. The Midwest also experiences all four weather seasons. The region averages lows around 15 degrees Fahrenheit and highs around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, although recent years have seen extreme temperatures on both ends of the scale.

Contrary to popular belief, the Midwest is not entirely rural. Large cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota and Kansas City, Missouri have populations exceeding 400,000. Chicago, Illinois is home to nearly 3 million people, making it the third-largest city in the United States. Though the region is often dismissed, the people who inhabit it appreciate its appeal, especially after spending time away.

“I really missed the snow during the holiday season. It just didn’t feel the same in Miami. I also miss the changing trees in the fall. It’s always so pretty! And of course, I miss Chicago pizza,” freshman Lauren Dziedzie said.

On a broad scale, the areas that cause people to dismiss the region are the source of its most important contributions: agriculture. The Midwest is home to more than 125 million acres of farmland largely consisting of row crops such as soybeans, cotton and corn. Over 80% of the United States’ corn and soybean supply comes from the Midwest and in total the region produces “the most agricultural output at 42.8% of the national total.” This contributes $152.8 billion to the nation’s agricultural output.

Looking at farmland may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but it bolsters the United States economy and brings food to tables. In the current climate, the Midwest faces ecological challenges that could be devastating. Heightened humidity levels are eroding soil and agricultural production could revert to numbers seen in the 1980s. Species endemic to the Midwest are at risk of perishing if action is not taken. Additionally, the 60 million people living in the region are facing unprecedented droughts, floods and other extreme weather crises. These challenges are especially troubling for tribal nations who live in the Midwest as they rely “on threatened natural resources for their cultural, subsistence and economic needs.”

Former president of the Midwestern History Association, John Lauck, called the Midwest a “lost region” because it is not studied like a place with great agricultural importance should be. Damage to the area due to climate change would be devastating for the millions of individuals who live there and the rest of the world that benefits from the growth of crops.

The Midwest does not have to be your favorite place in the world. It does not even have to be a desired travel destination, but it should be noted for its contributions to the United States economy and its agricultural benefits. The next time you hear about a place that seems boring, try to think about what it brings to the table and what it means to the people who reside there. Every place has something valuable to offer, which means every place has something worth protecting.

Sabrina Wilson is a freshman from Winfield, Kan., majoring in Broadcast Journalism.