The Importance of the Food System For Rural Vitality and Livelihoods In the US Northern Great Plains

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Brandon University


The geopolitical U.S. Northern Great Plains encompass the state areas of Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. While other parts of the United States have seen considerable outmigration from rural areas, this region has widely maintained its rural population due to favorable employment, education, food security, and relatively low poverty levels. Currently, the expansion of large-scale agriculture, often poor food environments, and demographic trends, as well as external factors such as climate change, may affect population densities, livelihoods, and the vitality of the rural U.S. Northern Great Plains. We suggest a strong role of the food system in shaping these developments. For our study, we processed socio-economic and food-system-related data from demographic databases in descriptive statistics to explore the impact of the food system on demographic and socio-economic parameters. Specifically, we present data on how selected parameters of demography, employment, education, poverty, agriculture, food security, food accessibility, and health have changed during the past four decades in the U.S. Northern Great Plains, specifically its rural parts. We later discuss how these changes may contribute to future demographic and livelihood developments. We aim to offer our readers an understanding of the complex and interacting developments affecting rural residents of the U.S. Northern Great Plains and the important role the food system plays in the present and future of the region.


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rural outmigration, rural food systems, farm size, farm ownership, food security, food environment


Ebel, R., & Thornton, A. (2023). The importance of the food system for rural vitality and livelihoods in the US Northern Great Plains. Journal of Rural and Community Development, 18(1), 93–117.
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