Courtesy of the Ingraham family
In 2015, Christopher Ingraham wrote a story for the Washington Post which changed his life.
As a data reporter for the newspaper, the story dealt with the subject – the USDA's Natural Amenities Index measures US counties based on things like climate and topography – came with the territory. But that's what he calls a "throw-away" line that has taken him and his family on their new path – from the daily work on the East Coast to "Minnesota niclosece" in the Midwest.
In this 2015 article, Ingraham recorded the USDA record of all US districts, calling Red Lake County, Minnesota, "the absolute worst place to live in America". This conclusion was based on government data.
But the Minnesotans – in Red Lake County and throughout the state – made it (politely) personal.
"They were very upset," says Ingraham of Morning Edition host Rachel Martin. "They sent me pictures of the county, state officials and US senators took part in the action, the media in the state, it was just crazy, it was crazy,"
A local invited Red Visiting a Lake, a rural county of about 4,000, five hours north of Minneapolis. He liked seeing Red Lake as the antidote to the quality of life he and his family faced in the city.
Six months later, he announced that he, his wife, and their two young children are moving from their home in Maryland to New York City to Red Lake County. (He is still a data reporter for the post.) Your move is the subject of his book If you live here, you're home now.
Highlights of the Interview
On His First Visit to Red Lake
To my surprise, I loved the place. The people were so great and it was just so different from what I lived with my family in DC. At the time, I had two-year-old twins. I commuted three hours a day to get to work and literally felt stretched to the point of breaking off. And during that time in our lives, I went on this journey, which was ultimately a very bucolic little community in the middle of nowhere.
When I decided to move there
I did that. I think a lot of people coming back from traveling are beginning to dream … Man, I'd like to be on the scene right now Being land, just driving down the highways, no other car in sight. You may start to look at home prices and search for schools, search for data, and search for numbers in the community. And finally, we just said, "Do you know what? It would be financially irresponsible of us, not to Red Lake County, Minn. This is the solution to all our problems. Housing is cheaper, I could work from home, eliminate commuting, we can spend more time together. That's what we need. That is missing in our life.
About his wife's involvement in local politics
That was one of the things she desperately wanted to do. It turned out that Red Lake Falls needed a city councilor, and she ran away and was eventually elected. As a result of a disposable line that I wrote four years ago, it is now making decisions that shape the future of this community. I really feel that it captures how entangled we are here. That's home now.
I think a big problem with reporting on rural areas and small towns is that we often only send in reporters who undertake this type of safari expedition and come back a day or a week later with that "secret knowledge" these long-lost rural tribes, and I think that sort of reporting and narrative really reinforces this supposed separation between small-town America and everywhere else. I hope that if this book does anything, it will demystify small towns and rural America.
Bo Hamby and Eric McDaniel produced and edited the broadcast version of this story. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the web.