One of most popular songs during the months after the United States entered World War I in 1918 was titled, "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" Specifically, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" - meaning Paris.
Forget Paree today. How you gonna keep 'em on the farm after they've seen Hutchinson or North Vernon or Redwood Falls or other ordinary little towns a few kilometers away?
You see, surveys are finding that more than one-third of America's five million farmers and their families live not in the cornfields or next to the dairy barn, but in town! Their farmhouses stand empty and unwatched at night. Or perhaps a caretaker stays there. Or someone who just likes living in the country is renting the place, while the farmer commutes to the fields each morning.
U.S. Agriculture Department analysts say that as nearby rural schools have closed, kids want to be in town rather than attend some consolidated school in a distant part of the county.
In today's economy, farm couples need extra income, so spouses find jobs in town, too. And since fewer and fewer farm families keep animals to kill for their own meals, there's no need to spend night and day in the country to take care of them.
In towns - even little ones - there are hospitals and video stores and restaurants and bars, without the crime and traffic and stress of the big city.
About two million Farmer Johns and Farmer Janes are getting the best of both worlds - the earth and sky above, out in the fields during the workday - and nearby neighbors and an easier way of life in town, each evening and weekend.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.