No one lives in rural Kansas any more — many counties have fewer than 10 people per square mile — and the state ranks first for 25- to 29-year-olds who leave. Why? Wheat. For The New Food Economy, Kansan Corie Brown drove across Kansas, all 1,800 miles of it, to see how Kansas has become a victim of its own farming success.

Everywhere, I felt the absence—of people, of commerce, even of sound. The silence was broken only by a vintage pickup truck pulling up to the Downs grain elevator, huge mounds of excess grain piled high on the ground all around it.

That image—abundance at the center of a depopulated landscape—sums up the reality of rural Kansas. Yes, the harvest continues to be bounteous. But it masks a harder truth: Kansas’s plentiful grain crop has come at the expense of nearly everything else.

Why? The costs of…

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