Life in the Heart of Minnesota

The small Minnesota town of Olivia faces many challenges. Its population is declining and aging. Its growth industry, at least for a while, will be caring for the elderly. The surrounding countryside, which gave the town life and has nourished it since, remains rich and productive but is losing people, too.
Reporter Chuck Haga and I spent the summer of 2002 in Olivia, looking for stories and documenting a way of life. Small towns are losing population all over the country as children follow their dreams to the big city. The small family farms that gave life to many of these communities are being sold and consolidated into larger corporate farms.

“There simply are fewer people on the land, fewer customers for Main Street,” says Bernie Evans, professor of social ethics at St. John’s University in Collegeville. “For a long time now, rural sociologists have thrown around a figure: For every five to seven farms that go out, a small-town business goes down. As that happens, there will be social and cultural impacts – fewer people to be leaders, fewer people in the pews. There’s a growing sense that we’re not who we used to be,” Evans says.

This is a look at Olivia in 2002.