Health on the Plains: Episode 1, Exploring Rural Identity with Matt Perrier

39 Min Read

Sep 26, 2023


Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H.


In Episode 1, host Wyatt Beckman takes listeners to southeast Kansas where he talks with Matt Perrier, a fifth-generation rancher and KHI board member based in Eureka, Kansas. This episode delves into Matt and his family’s journey and commitment to rural life, exploring the challenges and opportunities faced by rural communities and future generations. Matt provides a thoughtful examination of rural identity, and some of the misconceptions and generalizations surrounding what may often be perceived as a “simple” way of life in rural Kansas.

Episode Highlights: 

  • 2:30-4:55 Matt provides a history and current snapshot of Dalebanks Angus, his family’s ranch that has been in operation for five generations. 
  • 4:55-12:35 Matt discusses his work and travels across the country, elaborating on his eventual return to the ranch in 2004, and how this decision relates to a broader conversation about workforce and education. 
  • 14:29-19:45 Matt and Wyatt discuss the misconceptions and oversimplifications often made about rural life and how rural life compares to more suburban and urban areas of Kansas. 
  • 19:46-23:16 Matt explains how he came to serve on the Kansas Health Institute board and the value of including varying perspectives. 
  • 23:27-32:42 Matt and Wyatt engage in a discussion about health equity, diversity and the healthcare landscape in Eureka, Kansas. 
  • 32:50-44:30 Matt shares his hopes for his children’s lives within or outside of Greenwood County and reflects on the blessings and challenges of maintaining a rural multi-generational family business.

Full Transcript

Voice over  0:00 

This is Health on the Plains, a podcast about rural communities, rural life, and the many factors influencing the health and well-being of rural Kansas. Health on the Plains is a podcast from the Kansas Health Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, committed to informing policy and improving health in Kansas, through honest nuanced conversations with leaders and doers from a variety of backgrounds. The Health on the Plains podcast offers unique insights into rural health challenges in Kansas and shines a light on the people and organizations working to make their communities healthier, more vibrant places to call home.

Wyatt Beckman  0:42 

We’re here at Dalebanks Ranch in Greenwood County, Eureka Kansas. And our episode is visiting with Matt Perrier. He is the co-owner of this ranch. And he’s also a board member at KHI. And he’s a fascinating guy to talk to. And in our conversation, we talked about what rural means, what the rural life looks like, and some of the misconceptions we have about what rural life is and how sometimes we oversimplify it. And we really get into some of those interesting nuances and some of the decisions that folks in rural communities face. It’s a fascinating conversation. Welcome, everyone to Episode One of the Health on the Plains podcast. Today, we’re in beautiful Flint Hills, and we’re actually in the home of our guest, Matt Perrier. We’re here in Greenwood County. And Matt, who’s welcomed us in and will be our first guest for the podcast. He’s part owner and general manager of his family ranch called Dalebanks Angus, it’s near Eureka, Kansas. Matt previously served on the Kansas Beef Council Executive Committee. He serves on local community and church organizations. And he was a board member of Symphony in the Flint Hills. He also hosts his own podcast, which is pretty neat, called Practically Ranching, where he talks with guests from all over the place about the ranching industry. And finally, Matt serves on the board of the Kansas Health Institute. And I want to start, we’re in we’re in your family home. We’re on your ranch. Tell us about Dalebanks Angus.

Matt Perrier  2:30 

Thanks Wyatt, appreciate you having me. So Dalebanks Angus was settled by my ancestors in 1867. The Loy family was their last name and it was my father’s mother’s mother’s family. So the first couple generations were carried on by daughters and their husbands. They immigrated from England, started this place, basically as a sheep farm. And of course, at that time, everybody had a very diversified type of farm in the mid-1800s. But their daughter, Amy Loy, married a neighbor boy who actually grew up right here, the house 100 feet in front of it. In fact, the rock that’s on our fireplace, was the rock that was on their, two-story stone house, and his last name was barrier, B-a-r-r-i-e-r. He married Amy Loy and they were the first ones to bring Angus cattle to Dalebanks, I should back up just a step. The word, the name Dalebanks, was never a family name. Everybody always wants to know where’s Dale or who’s Mr. Banks. They brought that name with them. Their farm in England was called Dalebanks. And that was also actually a region there in England where they immigrated from, but they kept the name. And through the years, you know, those two families kind of grew the ranch and farm operation and through the years, have grown up little by little to where today, we operate about 425 to 450 registered Angus cows and so 100 and almost 20 years later, still in the Angus business and our focus is of course to raise these cattle to the best of our ability, but it’s also to make sure that they’re the best genetics that can then go out as bulls and as females and hopefully propagate more of the same to our neighbors and our customers across this region. I work in partnership with course my wife, we have five children who help on the ranch a lot, especially in the summer and on weekends and things like that. My mother and father are still active in the ranch, Tom and Carolyn. And then we also have two non-family employees that are very dedicated and work with us as well so.

Wyatt Beckman 4:48

Yeah, that’s great, and I love the history of the name, but I’m sure you get the question a lot, “who is Dale and who is Banks?” So you didn’t mention it but you know, you had some work and some travels and work in life took you other places before you decided to come back and take over this role and take on your responsibilities. And when we think about public health and health policy and folks that work in healthcare in small towns especially, that story of leaving and thinking about coming back is a common one that is part of the discussion around workforce. And I’d be curious to hear more about that decision for you. What was that like? Because you had, I’m sure you had other opportunities, and you’re doing important work and meaningful work elsewhere. What was baked into that decision to come back?

Matt Perrier 5:41

Yeah, that that’s it’s a great question and one that Amy and I both get quite a bit. And I should say, Amy actually grew up in rural Kansas as well over on the far east side of the state around La Cygne. And we met at Kansas State University. She was doing her undergrad before she then went on to be a physical, went on the physical therapy school at KU Med and started her career. I graduated, and, and worked two or three different places, straight out of college, none of them production ag, but they were all related to the beef industry.

I was born in 1973. And so, I was kind of coming of age in the 1980s. And anyone that was involved in production ag in the 80s, any kind of agriculture in the 80s, would, it goes without saying that that was about as rough of a time in recent memory, to be part of the agriculture business as there ever has been, I mean, between 19 and 20 percent interest rates and some major seismic shifts in the way both cattle and grain was marketed, there were just a lot of situations that made it pretty tough. And there were a lot of families that weren’t able to continue farming and ranching through the 80s. And our family was no different. I mean, it was it was a rough time watching mom and dad over the dinner table and tears because their best friend and neighbor was having a farm sale or the bank was foreclosing on them, or whatever the case may have been. It was not a great sales pitch for going into production agriculture, farming and ranching. And so I think I like a lot of people that were of that age, a lot of our parents said, not maybe in so many words and put it a little more delicately, but basically, go to school, get a degree and do anything you can other than what we’re doing in farming and ranching, because it’s simply questionable whether it’s worth it or not. And so I did that. And then in fact, I went to K-State spring in 1992, and fall of 1992, after graduating high school, and I was going to be an engineer or anything but a farmer rancher. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that that just didn’t feel right. And so I went in agriculture still wasn’t going to be in production ag. Graduated from animal science. Times were a little bit better in 1996. Another tough time in the cattle business at least. And so I took a job that took me to Pennsylvania and worked in beef marketing, actually with the Beef Council back east in Harrisburg and worked in Philadelphia in Newark, New Jersey area mainly. Did that for about a year and then went to work for the American Angus Association, would be kind of the association of members that that do a lot of the work, registration papers, kind of like the American Kennel Club. Yeah, breed of cattle like Angus, and I went to work for them in Texas and New Mexico as a regional manager and just loved it. Gave the experience that I couldn’t have asked for anything better, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in the cattle business myself. That same job, I took me to St. Joseph to their headquarters for another three or four years. And that’s when Amy and I got married and she was working as a physical therapist in North Kansas City Hospital at the time. And you know, we were weighing our options. We always knew that there was this pull to come back to the ranch or come back to production agriculture. And then we had our first child. Ava was 6 months old or so when we found out that one of our non-family employees again, we had them two at a time then too, was leaving to go to a different ranch. And so that was kind of the time when I thought this opens the door for me to come back and immediately be able to boots on the ground start working back into it and have a bit of a salary, which is not, doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it’s a huge deal when you’re moving into a family operation that a lot of times builds equity and agriculture and sweat equity and whatever you want to call it. But there’s not a lot of cash flow. So that was an opportunity there.

But anyways, having a child in suburban America made us think a little bit differently, is this where, and we love, we lived in Platte City, we loved it, we loved the area, we had lots of friends around there, both loved our jobs. But there were just several different dynamics that were kind of pulling us back to this direction. So May 1st of 2004, we moved to, to Eureka to the ranch. And I’ve been here ever since. And yeah, I mean, it’s just like any life decision. It was tough then. And sometimes it’s still tough to think about, where would we be now compared to where we are? And we all go through these things. Anybody that’s had had those thoughts. I mean, you probably have had the same things. You know, what, what would it be like if I was back home in Western Kansas, and there’s trade-offs, but it was the right decision then, and it’s the right decision now. And, I am glad that both Amy and I got the opportunity to, as you said, live a few other places, with a few new people with a few more people with a few, you know…creature comforts that we never will ever see in Eureka, Kansas, or La Cygne, Kansas or any of these. We got to experience those, and knew that yeah, they were nice. And remember that, gosh, those were really nice to have, you know, a movie theater or a restaurant or nice grocery store, whatever the case may be within minutes, but still know what we have here. And then the blessings that we have in rural America, because again, those trade-offs are easier, I think, to see and to make decisions upon when you’ve gotten to experience both. When you’re looking at it from afar, everything looks better.

Wyatt Beckman  12:00 

I haven’t moved back. But there’s a lot in the story of, thought process and experiencing other things living other places. And in some ways, those experiences help you recognize a lot of the great things you had back home, and I certainly have a lot of that, and I went to school in Missouri and then that next step took me to Indiana. And I came back to Kansas, I haven’t, I’m not all the way back out west, but I came back to Kansas and being out there made me see a lot of what I was giving up if I if I didn’t come back.

So Matt, I have it on pretty good authority, that among your many talents, you play guitar and sing a bit. Now, I haven’t I haven’t learned guitar and but I used to sing in high school and I and I played instruments and I think music can be a way for us to think about things in unique ways and has the ability to elicit some thoughts that we might not get to if we if we if it wasn’t in a song. There’s a song from an artist who’s from a small town in Cotton Valley, Louisiana, it’s a town of less than 1,000 people. His name is Brandon Ratcliff, and the album’s called Tale of Two Towns. And Brandon, in pursuit of his musical career, he left and moved and went to Nashville. And in this album, he’s sort of wrestling with the two towns of staying in his small town, and the life he could have had there or moving off and pursuing his dreams. And in his case, moving to the big city of Nashville, and he sort of, he thinks about that from lots of different angles in his album. And in one of the songs, it’s, it’s called, Where I’m Coming From. And he’s expanding on this theme. And he’s, he’s talking to the ghost of his late grandfather. And in the song, the grandfather is telling him about the life he has in his small town. And he has a line in there that whenever I hear I think about my small hometown, and my decision to leave and – my family is still there, my brother’s still there – And sort of that’s my two, my two towns. And he says, the line he says is that “It might take you a couple more trips around the sun, but one day, you’ll find out there’s a lot more to a simple life than you thought it was.” And we’ve talked about the life you chose here. And some people, I know it’s not simple, but some people think rural equals simple. When you hear that line, and you think about how, especially folks that don’t have experiences in small town and think about some of the misconceptions and maybe the simplifications or over-generalizations that we sometimes make about rural life and rural challenges, what do you think?

Matt Perrier  15:09 

But that’s a great line. And I would agree with it completely. And I, it brings to mind another song, and I don’t even remember exactly who wrote it. But years ago, in the country music scene, Where Corn Don’t Grow. And you know, basically talking about the bright lights and the big city always look exciting. And it looks like it may be an easier life. But there are, regardless if you’re going from the city, to the country, or the country to the city, there are some things that you’re not going to see on the surface until you get there and live there. And as the grandpa said, take a couple trips around the sun and see them longer than just visiting or looking at them on television screen or something. So yeah, I think that’s a, that’s a great line.

And that’s a decision that a lot of folks, let’s face it, even after COVID, there were a lot of folks that went the other way, may have never lived in the rural area, didn’t like the lockdown, or didn’t like the thought of being in as close proximity every day and taking public transit or whatever the case may be, and wanted to escape to a rural area. A lot of those folks have already figured out that, oh, I didn’t realize this part, or that part. I didn’t know that I’d go through tires on the vehicle because of all the rocks and not be able to drive the vehicle that I’ve always driven. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have any broadband or high-speed internet, I didn’t know there was no trash service or water or anything else like that. So, there’s advantages and disadvantages.

But the word simple always kind of intrigues me because it can mean so many things. It can mean you know, country people live a simple life. Is that because they’re not smart enough to live another one? Or is it just because there really aren’t a lot of worries, you’re out here with mother nature, and clean air and everything else? I can tell you unequivocally that Amy and my life was probably significantly simpler in suburban Kansas City, working two jobs, each commuting 30 minutes, either direction from home. But when we were done with work, we were pretty much done with work. And you get into a rural lifestyle, especially in in a family-owned business. Whether it’s cattle or crops or a plumbing business, there’s not a lot simple about living in an environment like this, because you’re at the mercy of the weather, or the animals that are under your care, or the people that need something built or taken care of. And, you know, I remember talking to folks, and not very many people, I don’t think do it anymore. But they’d get done with work at five o’clock on a Friday and they turn their phone off and they wouldn’t check it again until Monday. Well, I’d lose customers, I would lose cattle, I would be all kinds of different things. And, you know, again, they, you name it, there are so many different things that is a major difference between living and working in rural America. Compared to more of what I’d call a typical conventional life and job and career in urban and suburban settings.

Wyatt Beckman  18:59 

That’s something we’re really excited to dig into with different people and hopefully chip away at some of those, those misconceptions about what rural life looks like, because we think we can oversimplify and, both the joys and the positives of the life in rural Kansas and in rural America. And we can sometimes oversimplify some of the challenges that we’re going to hear about and some of the hardships of the family business and the strains and the unique challenges that you may have in that context or the challenges you have as the only doctor in town. That look different than your colleagues that are in a in a bigger city, in a big system.

Another thing you mentioned, you talked about, you’ve got a lot going on. Even if we just put bounds on it just think of your life as a rancher in and running the business. And we talked about, at the beginning, all the other activities you’ve done, and you do, you find time to be on a board of a health institute. And I think it, I think that’s really interesting. And I’d like to hear about what led you to want to want to be part of that, and why it’s important to have folks like you and folks from various perspectives, be in conversations about, about our policy decisions about our health, and to have those diverse perspectives.

Matt Perrier  20:43 

Yeah, I appreciate you asking that, because sometimes I think there’s probably a few other board members and staff members who are asking the same question whatever led this guy to be on our board. When Dr. St. Peter called and came down and visited with me about this, I was as surprised and confused as anybody else, because I heard the word, “health institute”, and just assumed that it was for folks that were directly working in the health community, and the only one who I knew who was on the board at the time was Dr. Dave Graham, and, you know, practitioner and M.D., and he was a, it was clear why he should be on it. As my wife, Amy said, as I was leaving, like 4:30 or 5 in the morning for our first board meeting. I’m all suited up in a coat and tie and I hadn’t worn a tie in a long time. She said, “You look great. Just remember, I work in the medical community. I’m a registered physical therapist. Don’t go up there and embarrass me.” And so I every meeting that we have, I recall Amy’s words. But I think the conversation that we just had about the misconceptions about, oh, I won’t even just say rural Kansas, I’ll say rural America and the misconceptions that rural Kansans have about big cities. That needs to be addressed. I mean, you can turn on any news program, any podcast, anything you want to listen to, read any newspaper. And they’re going to talk about this, this divide amongst the population of the United States of America, same way, that this divide amongst Kansans. And that divide gets thrown in our faces long enough that we just shrug our shoulders and settle for it. And I don’t think it has to be that way. And it doesn’t have to be Democrats and Republicans, rural or urban, you know, Christians or atheists, whatever. We need to be able to, again, we bring up the perspective world word, to be able to see why it is that this segment of Kansas acts and thinks and works and chooses like they do. Instead of just saying they’re wrong.

Wyatt Beckman  23:15 

The advice from your wife gives me a chuckle. I know you haven’t, haven’t embarrassed yourself, but I can imagine, I can imagine my wife saying the same thing before I went to do something. So I, you talked about the ability to have conversations to discuss challenging topics to see it from different perspectives. And that’s absolutely something we want to do in this podcast. And we hope to hear from folks that we might not hear from in the newsroom and not see them in our shows. But we know they’re doing really important work in in their rural communities to help their health and well-being.

And I want to ask you about something that can be tough to discuss. In that same vein, I want to ask you about health equity. And I think when sometimes when we hear terms like health equity, they’re like a lot of terms, it can mean many different things. And people have different understandings of it. So I sort of want to want to level set with how I how I think about health equity. And there’s a definition that I like, there are several, several good definitions, but the one I like is “health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” And when I hear that definition, and I think about my family, and some of the challenges that that they encounter, I have a parent that’s an EMT, run EMS service for decades. And some of the things that she encounters in her town some of the challenges they have in a small hospital. I think about those folks, I think about rural communities in general, I also think about some of the populations in our, in our rural communities that might look different than I do, they might speak different language than I do, they might even worship different than I do. So when I hear that definition and health equity, I can see, and I think about rural communities. But I’m curious, your experiences, you’re thinking about your community here. What does health equity mean to Greenwood County and in your, your community?

Matt Perrier  25:30 

Yeah, that is a tough one, regardless of where you are. I’ll start by saying that here in Greenwood County, I feel like we’re very fortunate in that we still do have a community hospital, and a lot of rural counties don’t anymore. And part of it is because we’re so far away from any major metropolitan areas, you know, we’re an hour plus from Wichita. You know, we’re basically an hour from Emporia, there just aren’t a lot of other hospitals. So, you know, critical care, there’s a lot of different programs that have helped keep that hospital open, and hopefully through good management and service by the providers have. So we’re fortunate to have that.

Also, fortunately, I don’t spend a lot of time in the hospital or at the doctor’s office. But the times that I do, here’s what, here’s what I can see, we have several medical providers who still live in Eureka, or in the Eureka area, which again, is fortunate because there’s a lot of rural hospitals that they’re shuttling in or flying in for a five day on whatever the case may be. And so, we still have docs and nurses and PAs and everybody else who are at the ballgame on Tuesday night and Friday night with us. And you’ll see them the next morning, you know, seeing patients. And so, we’re so incredibly fortunate to have folks that are still dedicated and still doing that.

From a health equity standpoint, that one’s tough for me as well, because at least in Greenwood County, which is about the only place that I have real decent experience with the health providers and anything else. Everybody pretty much looks, speaks and even worships pretty similarly to what I do and so that is, depending again, on your perspective, a lot of folks would say, “Well, that’s obvious. And that’s why they vote like they do. And that’s why they think like they do.” But I’m here to tell you, even though everybody that’s walking into the clinic, or hospital or wherever the case, the ballgame, whatever the case may be, even though we may all look and act and sound the same, I promise you, there’s an immense amount of diversity in Eureka, and the values and the decisions and the home life and the generational decisions on education or even health.

So when I do have to go to the doctor’s office, I see folks who live down the road from me or in Eureka. And they may have the same, from the outside, they may have the same appearance as what I do. But our lives are completely different when we get home. And that’s what I think that we probably need to address, especially when we get to talking about rural health care. And so, that’s the challenge that I think that we face in rural America, a lot of those folks may or may not have necessarily been from Eureka but Eureka has been a fairly inexpensive place for them to live. We don’t have a lot of police force and so, it’s a great place to cook meth and do so many other things. And this is the ugly side of rural America that nobody wants to talk about when we talk about the simple life and quiet towns of 1,000 – 2,000 people, at least in Greenwood County, because we’re so fortunate to have community hospital providers, access you know, we’ve got a care clinic that has, you know, all kinds of different programs for folks that need help there and don’t have their own coverage or insurance. We have all those things. There’s plenty of opportunity to see a doctor and unfortunately, the doctors, the PAs and everybody else’s health professionals are covered up with folks that want care, want a prescription want, whatever the case may be that they’re in there to get. But what they don’t want to do is figure out, okay, let’s treat the problem, not just the symptoms, let’s figure out long term how we fix it. And gosh, I, you know, I just, I feel for the medical professionals that are trying to crack that. That challenge.

Wyatt Beckman  30:25 

Your comments are in line with a broader conversation around health equity. When we think about health equity, there’s a sort of a common phrase, we talked about it in public health world, that health happens, or at least begins, outside of the doctor’s office. And when we’re talking about home situation, we’re talking about education, we’re talking about job opportunities, the ability to have those jobs and keep them. All those things impact someone’s health in a variety of ways and in ways that you see maybe in the doctor’s office, but in ways that won’t show up there, but absolutely impact their health.

A theme I’m hearing when we when we think about health equity, but also about rural Kansas, rural America, is there’s a lot of complexity and a lot of nuance that we often don’t appreciate. And we often don’t create the space to think through and talk about that. I’m excited to do that in this podcast. The other thing that I think about when I hear your reflections on health equity in Greenwood County, is you noted that a lot of the folks may look fairly similar or may have some similar appearances. But if you go one, one layer deeper, there’s a bunch of unique experiences and different experiences. And I think that’s an important thing to think about. When we think about rural America, I think sometimes when we talk about disparities, or we talk about health equity, and we talk about creating opportunities for everyone to have a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest health, we might lump all rural people together and say, well, all you look the same. And there can’t be much difference here. And I think we’re missing something if we do that. Hearing you talk about your community, it makes that clear that there’s some differences here, there are things where you could say there are folks in our community, and it’s true in all communities, where different experiences, different challenges, different opportunities, you can see how the health could look different for those folks.

You think about the life you have and the life your kids have now, and you look to the future. What are your hopes for the lives your kids could have here in Greenwood County or in rural America in general? And what does that look like?

Matt Perrier  33:01 

Yeah, we think about that more. I mean, I do now than we ever have. Because, you know, with our eldest as a junior in college, and stairstep, right on down through high school, junior high and on down, it gets closer every day, obviously. I think the one hope that I have is that our children can do something that excites them, and that they’re passionate about. And if that is being here on the ranch day to day, at some point in the future, then we’ll figure out a way to make that work. If that is somewhere else, then we’re going to make sure that they are able to pursue that option as well.

I mean, simple economics are such that this will support five family member owners, employees full time in its current size and scope. And I don’t think all five of them would ever, they fight like cats and dogs most days. I don’t think there’s any way that they would all want to be here at the same time. They all say a lot of times they’ll say oh yeah, all of this will come back. Well, who knows that could happen. But it would have to change drastically to make that happen. And they would have to do that, or you know, hopefully be around to help figure out but yeah, that’s something that that I want them to do.

The one thing that Amy and I have discussed with our kids, the thing that mom and dad put out for me and my siblings in there. I have two siblings, a younger sister, younger brother, and that is if you would like to move back out home and take over, buy into the family business, we want you to go get an education first. And then we want you to get a paycheck from somebody else for at least a few years. And I think there’s value in that, that doesn’t work for everybody. That doesn’t need to be every family farm or ranch, or every family business that wants to have some type of succession plan. That doesn’t have to be everybody’s rule. But it’s our rule. And it’s one that we feel pretty strongly about, because it’s kind of like the discussion of living in the country versus the city. If you’ve only lived one of those two places, it’s hard for you to understand the nuanced scenario of living in the other. Same way with working on a ranch or farm or family business of any kind. If you never draw a paycheck, but that summer job that that was on your family farm or ranch, and then you get done with school, high school, college whatever the case may be, come right back and you’re still working for mom or dad or grandma or whoever the case may be. There will be a time when you think like, “I wonder if I could have done something.” And if that’s always burning there, and you never got an opportunity, and you think, “well, you know, this is this is all I ever had the opportunity to do.” It’s going to eat at you, forever.

Plus, from a businessman standpoint, I want my kids if they want to come back into the ranch, I want them to go learn from somebody else, so that they can learn outside of Dalebanks Angus or Greenwood County, Kansas, and bring back right or wrong. There is something about a multigenerational business and agriculture, that is almost a blessing and a curse. I mean, it is a tie that binds strongly enough that even when times are rough, and it doesn’t look like it makes any sense, economically, business-wise. Somebody usually says, “you know, I think I’m the one.” Or sometimes somebodies say, “we’re the ones and we’re coming back and we’re continuing this on.” Again, I said it’s a blessing and a curse because I don’t love that. Because I think it’s sometimes unhealthy. Especially for sometimes the in-law who comes back with either the daughter or the son who says, “this is my family, and I can’t let this farm die.” You can go from having one year that you make enough money that you can go on vacation, take a Caribbean cruise or whatever the case may be. And the next five years, you don’t leave the place. And you owe the bank, and you’re at the brink of disaster. It’s good and bad. But it is something that that most people that grew up in a in a generational farm or ranch, understand that that’s a cross they bear. It’s either an opportunity, or it’s a

Wyatt Beckman  36:56 

It makes me think about that hole and the emotions and the challenges and sort of opportunities that are tied up in coming back and serving your local community and a family business. I think that it’s interesting to think about that in the context of other areas as well. I think they’re absolutely unique things to ranching and agriculture, family business, but I think about the small hometown pharmacist, sure it’s family-owned, and the pressure and opportunity of one of the children coming back and the weight that you can feel knowing that, you know, if you say no, what does that mean, not only for your family business, but what does that mean for this community that you grew up in that they all know you. You went to school there, you know half the town and the weight of that decision. And I know friends and family that have been on either side.

Matt Perrier  39:28 

I mean, we have several businesses in Eureka, a local bank that it’s still family owned, a pharmacy that’s still an independent pharmacy and the next generation is actually not family but he’s a young pharmacist who’s from Eureka, went and got his education and wanted nothing more but to come back and be Eurekas pharmacist and loves it and everybody loves him for it. We have several other businesses that are very similar in the same way. The community has to have, I mean, there’s only so much of that pull that can be because I think it’s the good thing to do, or the right thing to do. Well, my community needs me. You can do that for you, you can use that to energize yourself and tell yourself for a little while that I’m doing this as a service to my community. If you hate it either the job or the community that you live in, It’s not sustainable, but we need opportunities, we need real economic opportunities to make it where we can keep rural America viable.

I’ve said this in our KHI meetings, I say it in so many different opportunities. As I say it, on our podcast, we produce food, and fuel and fiber, and really pharmaceuticals in rural America. And we do a whale of a job doing. We send those out of rural America, across the nation across the globe, really, and billions of GDP that we add. But the most valuable product that we produce in rural America are our kids and we send 98 percent of them out of the county, out of the town, and they get phenomenal jobs, they touch a lot of people, they do a wonderful job for society. But most of them, because there isn’t an opportunity, there isn’t an interest, whatever the case may be, most of them are gone. High school graduation, every May, we ship out, we export our most valuable product every single May from rural America. And that’s tough. It’s tough. Whether they’re a family member, or just somebody that you see, man, if she would just find a way to come back to Eureka.

Wyatt Beckman  41:59 

The opportunity that for the impact you can have there’s a phrase you said in there, that the person you knew came to Eureka to be the pharmacist, they weren’t a pharmacist that worked in Eureka. They were Eureka’s pharmacists. And that it seems like a small nuance, but the magnitude of that is really felt and I think about my small hometown, we lost Ness City’s physician. He was a doctor in town, he was the doctor for decades. And when he retired and moved to be closer to family, the entire community felt that even if people had had other care, he was so embedded in the fabric of our community that you felt it so, so widely. And the flip side, when we do have someone return, you know, because rural America’s so often sending kids away. When even one returns, it’s news for the entire community. It’s just it looks and feels different than just a job. It means a lot, a lot more.

I’m really excited that we scratched the surface on all these topics. I mean, I think we did more than scratch the surface. But when we think about it, this is episode one, I’m so excited for the potential we have to peel back some of those layers and have more of these conversations with folks all across Kansas, because we know we’re here in Greenwood County, it’s beautiful, the ranch is wonderful. And we know that this looks different than northwest Kansas, looks different than the middle of Kansas than and all over. We’re excited to go across the state and have more conversations like this but I had a great time talking with you, Matt, thank you so much.

Matt Perrier  43:59 

I did as well. Thanks for doing this. I think it’ll be incredibly valuable for everybody that participates. So good work.

Wyatt Beckman  44:09 

Thank you so much. Thanks for being our first guest.

Voice over  44:12 

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Transcription provided by Automated text lightly edited for accuracy and clarity.

Health on the Plains Production Team

Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., Host

Theresa Freed, M.A., Producer, Editor

Emma Uridge, C.H.E.S., Field Producer, Coordinator

Stewart Cole, Editor, Graphic Designer

About Kansas Health Institute

The Kansas Health Institute supports effective policymaking through nonpartisan research, education and engagement. KHI believes evidence-based information, objective analysis and civil dialogue enable policy leaders to be champions for a healthier Kansas. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.

Learn More About KHI