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Rural America feels impact

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 22, 2001

"There are some genuine targets -- missile silos, military bases, test laboratories -- that are in remote or rural areas."

—Kathleen Dutro

As a ban on flying cropdusters was extended Monday because of possible links between cropdusting and terrorist threats, rural America felt the impact.

Officials said the ban was one of caution since harmful biological agents -- such as anthrax spores -- could be dispensed from cropdusting planes.

The ban not only delays application of fertilizer and pesticide to crops -- but it has also prompted a rise in fear among rural residents.

City dwellers thinking of moving their families to "the middle of nowhere" to keep them safe from terrorists might want to think again.

Because many rural Americans say they're frightened, too.

The Sept. 11 attacks targeted densely populated areas but left America's farm communities with unique concerns of their own.

They may not live near an obvious urban target, said Kathleen Dutro, media relations manager for the Indiana Farm Bureau, "but there are some genuine targets -- missile silos, military bases, test laboratories -- that are in remote or rural areas.

"Everybody in the U.S. feels nervous these days," she said. "Everybody."

The pilot of one of the airplanes that struck the World Trade Center, John Ogonowski, was a Massachusetts farmer. He left behind a wife and three children.

Still, many people feel safer living "in the middle of nowhere," said Tamara White, who works for a farm bureau in rural Illinois. "As someone who lived in Washington, DC, with a husband who worked for the Secret Service and lots of friends in the military, I can definitely say I felt a lot safer living 'in the middle of nowhere' last week than I would have 3 miles south of the Pentagon, where I lived for 12 years."

But, she added, people are concerned about the fact that "here, we are 34 miles from a nuclear power plant (in Clinton, IL) and about 100 miles from a major regional oil distribution center -- both of which could be likely areas of attack for terrorists."

Rural Americans share a sense of grief with their urban counterparts, said Mace Thornton, director of news services for the Chicago-based American Farm Bureau Federation. "As are all Americans, they are struck by a sense of sorrow for the loss experienced by our nation,

and they are actively contributing to efforts to provide relief."

Some rural residents feel helpless because of the distance that separates them from the areas devastated by the attacks, said John Thompson, director of information for the Idaho Farm Bureau. "But rural Idahoans tend to be very patriotic and if you drive out through our countryside today you would see flags flying everywhere. There are many of us who have connections to the attacks through family and friends, and we have an Air Force base that is expected to be called into action soon."

At least some farmers have put their own political agenda aside in order to support the U.S. government as its leaders make difficult decisions in the wake of the attacks.

Farmers in Klamath, OR who were planning to protest an interpretation of the Endangered Species Act that denied them irrigation water have called off their protest for the time being, said Cheryl Stubbendieck, vice president of public relations at the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.

Family farms have been disappearing at a rapid rate for more than a decade, but the pull of rural America could get stronger especially if more urban-centered attacks occur.

After growing up on a Kansas farm and now working and living in the Chicago area, Thornton said he understands the attraction of rural America during an uncertain time. "Moving one's life and family to the comparative safety of the countryside stands in sharp contrast to

the stark acts of terror that hit America -- and urban Americans directly -- last week," he said.

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