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Fact and friction in American food
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Portraits of a failing farm state, captured in all its devastation and beauty.
Last week, we published Corie Brown’s investigative essay about the history of depopulation in rural Kansas. In Brown’s telling, a series of linked factors have helped to empty out her home state: increasingly mechanized agriculture, failing farms, years of bad policy, economic orthodoxy. Whatever the cause, a dire lack of people defines much of Kansas today. Fifty-five of the state’s 105 counties have less than 10 people square mile—and yet people remain. As Brown drove more than 1,800 miles around the state to get the human story of that scarcity, she found residents who are still fighting to preserve their struggling communities, even as they watch them slowly fade into the grain.
Luke Townsend, the photographer for Brown’s piece, has seen that transformation up close, in all its devastation and lingering beauty. A resident of Manhattan, Kansas (population 52,281), Townsend drove out to visit some of Brown’s sources, and capture portions of the main streets and planted vistas they call home. Below are selections from his photographic journey, portraits from the Kansas you can’t see from the highway. —Joe Fassler
Luke Townsend is a street and cultural photographer based in Manhattan, Kansas. View his work at: luketownsendphoto.com.
Between 2015 and 2019, this was the home of The New Food Economy. Now we have a new name and different look, but otherwise we're still the site you love. Same content, same team, and easier to access. Learn more