Sugar beets, child care and rural issues: 2023 year in review

In early October, I was entering the parking lot of a sugar beet piling site when I spotted a man running across the lot toward my car, waving his arms. Confused, I pulled forward into a parking spot. I felt my car tires sink into the ground, and only then realized he’d been waving me away from a massive mud patch.

The man was the site’s foreman, and he chatted with me while he helped me free my car from the mud. After we got the car to dry ground, I introduced myself as a reporter, and he offered to show me around the operation.

That moment encapsulates 2023 at the Reformer for me: an unexpected event, a stranger’s generosity and a good story to tell afterwards.

I joined the Reformer in July of this year because I wanted to visit parts of the state I’d never seen before, meet people who worked in industries I didn’t know existed and interview people I never would have met otherwise.

Those goals came to fruition in a story I wrote about the Red River Valley’s sugar beet industry, whose dominant place in the American pantry is largely unknown, but a boon to the farmers who grow the valuable crop. Also eye-opening: A system of government import and production quotas that exert a powerful influence on commodity prices — and farmer profits. 

Car camping in East Grand Forks during the 2023 sugar beet harvest. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Some other achievements this year: I received a grant from Grist and the Center for Rural Strategies to write about farmworkers in Minnesota and saw a U.S. president in person for the first time. Oh, and I got married.

Here are some of my favorite topics I’ve covered since joining the Reformer in July.

Child care

My beat is economic mobility, which encompasses a wide range of issues. Child care availability and affordability are necessary for economic mobility, because it allows parents to work, and when child care is cheap, families have more disposable income and savings. 

I wrote about the data that show child care is keeping women out of the workforce, then put faces to the data by talking to mothers about the cost and benefits of working and paying for child care.

I also wrote about how Minnesota compares to other states when it comes to child care and early education policy, and previewed some policy proposals to come

Rural issues

I’m always interested in how public policy impacts rural and urban areas differently, like how small towns are at a disadvantage when applying for state housing assistance. I dove into a wide range of Minnesota taxing and funding programs to show how Twin Cities residents pay more in taxes, and receive fewer benefits, than their rural counterparts.

Sticking true to my agriculture reporting roots, I covered the closure of a meatpacking plant in Windom, which jeopardized the immigration status of hundreds of workers and left the town facing an uncertain future. I also wrote about state and federal efforts to combat corporate concentration in agriculture.

Thanks to the Reformer staff and readers for welcoming me aboard this year — I’m looking forward to covering these issues and more in 2024.

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