First, his oldest son left for Texas. Then his stepson headed south to join him. Then the two daughters moved out of state. Four out of five of Gary Steele’s children left their homestead in the midwest state of Kansas for jobs and a better economy.
“There’s nothing left here, you know.” And Steele told VOA the area needs jobs.
Yates Center is known as the Prairie Hay Capital of the World and Steele raises 400 hectares of it. A few years back he was getting $75 for two bales of hay. Now he gets about $50.
“First we had two good years of hay. Now, you have no market.”
Steele says the market is too crowded with hay farmers. He voted for President Donald Trump and thinks he’s off to a good start. He’d like to see the president lessen the overhead of farmers.
“Corn ought to be twice as much as what it costs to put it in., Steele said.”
Bring our jobs back
Steele drives 8 kilometers from his farm to eat lunch at what the waitress fondly calls “the male gossip table” at the Feedbunk Restaurant. The Feedbunk is the most popular spot in the tiny town, with today’s special of meatloaf sandwich, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coffee and dessert for $7.25.
His only child still living in Kansas, a 19-year-old step daughter, waits on him. The Feedbunk is one of few businesses open in Yates Center, the county seat of the poorest county in Kansas — Woodson County.
A picturesque red brick and white courthouse sits in the town square. It is bordered by four streets of closed businesses, with white paint peeling and plywood or paper covering the windows.
No ‘whipping boy’ for agriculture
Rodney Grisier claims he voted for Donald Trump because he brought “an outside voice and a voice of common sense” to Washington, DC. He believes the president will bring jobs to the area and can’t understand why industry has not come to the area, especially since Yates Center is “a small town near a major transportation hub.”
Grisier speaks over the sound of his tractor as it pulls a tank of anhydrous ammonia that fertilizes his 1,000 hectares of corn and soybeans, three times the average Kansas farm. He also owns 2,500 head of cattle.
“I don’t want agriculture to be the ‘whipping boy’ in our trade issues,” Grisier told VOA. He thinks America’s heartland elected Donald Trump because people there depend on the global economy and therefore see diplomacy through a bigger magnifying glass than urban America. “When they’re in the city, they have blinders on.”
In all my 81 years…
Katherine Weldin is finishing her piece of cake. It’s her 81st birthday and her friends are giving her a party. She voted for Hillary Clinton. She isn’t sure that Donald Trump can help Kansas. In her eight decades of life, Weldin says she’s never seen a president like him. “I just don’t think he stops and thinks about what could go on with his decisions.”
The one signal light in Yates Center is a blinking red light. It’s the only traffic signal in the entire county. Residents hope the new administration will help bring in new industry to change that.