Getting older in Todd County

Our Ground Level reporting project got going in earnest this week in Todd County, about 150 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Nikki Tundel, Curtis Gilbert, Jennifer Vogel and I have hit every corner of the county, talking to retired folks, young folks, entrepreneurs, small-town mayors, volunteers, newspaper editors, truck drivers, musicians, health care providers and more.

Our reporting is only beginning so we won’t know for sure for a while what we’ll produce. But there’s a strong chance our coverage will have something to do with the facts that Todd County has a higher than average proportion of elderly, and its residents over 65 tend to be poorer than their counterparts in the rest of Minnesota. As a result, the county finds itself on the leading edge of some troubling trends involving poor physical and mental health and deteriorating living conditions. What’s more, given existing demographic trends, these conditions and the pressure they put on services to help the elderly will become more significant in the future.

At the same time, Todd County provides glimpses at ways some of these trends and pressures can perhaps be dealt with or at least recognized. The growing number of “younger” elderly can knit together to provide some community help in ways that perhaps are unique to rural life. A growing health care industry is focusing on the elderly. A sizable group of immigrants in part of the county can shore up schools and generate an economic base. In an uncertain national economy, the quest for more jobs can be a quixotic pursuit, yet even there, Todd County has some examples and potential avenues that seem worthwhile as residents try to maintain, or perhaps regain, a way of living that they value.

Do these ideas ring true? We’re eager to use this blog to test our thoughts, seek suggestions for further reporting, look for people to talk to. Let us know by adding a comment or by emailing me.

Then watch for our coverage in April in a number of papers that serve the county — the Staples World, the Long Prairie Leader, the Browerville Blade and the Clarissa Independent News Herald — and online and in a public forum.