Through the last several weeks, you’ve had the opportunity to meet new Story Hangar members Elizabeth Caldwell and Andrew Evans. Now, our plucky little band of independent podcasters is growing yet again!
Meet Megan Torgerson, the producer of ‘Reframing Rural.’ Megan grew up in the corner of Northeastern Montana and North Dakota, and she noticed in recent years that when major media outlets reported on people from rural areas, it was always with a broad, oversimplified brush. She thought it was important to show the richness and diversity of people and ideas that live in these areas. Are we really as divided as people say? If so, maybe it’s because we don’t really bother to get to know each other. In her podcast, Megan seeks to bridge the divide.
You can watch the video of our chat, or read the transcript below. But make sure you subscribe and listen to ‘Reframing Rural’!
Hello all. I’m Bob Harkins, founder of Story Hangar. And we are here to introduce you to our newest member. She is a wonderful storyteller with a show that explores a topic that, in my opinion, is really underreported in the podcast world. Her name is Megan Torgerson, and her podcast is called ‘Reframing Rural’ — I got the word — which seeks to do exactly that. Welcome Megan.
Megan Torgerson: Thank you for the introduction, Bob. It’s a tongue-twister. I’ve said ‘Reframing Rural’ wrong in many recordings (laughs).
Bob Harkins: Urban is a much easier word.
BH: So for those who have yet to listen to the show — shame on them for one — but tell us a little bit about your show and why you decided that this was an important topic to take on.
MT: Thank you for that question and for the opportunity to speak with you and the Story Hangar network today. I founded ‘Reframing Rural’ while a graduate student. I conducted ethnographic research in my hometown and I didn’t really know that it was going to end up becoming a podcast. But after the 2016 election I was just noticing how rural people in the media were being portrayed with one broad and swift stroke of red as I’ve said before, and that didn’t resonate with how I grew up or the family or friends that I have in rural areas. So I really wanted to interview people that I think about when I think about home. So the first season of ‘Reframing Rural’ is ‘Coming Home’, and it’s part memoir and also part you know characters telling the stories of different people from rural Northeastern Montana where I’m from.
BH: Yeah there’s a map on your website reframingrural.org and the little mark is way up in the upper-right corner of Montana. Tell me a little bit about this place you come from and what it was like growing up there.
MT: Sure. So I grew up on the border of Canada and North Dakota. So my grandparents lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, and actually was born and would get groceries in Williston, North Dakota because it was the closest place to our farm where we could get the services. And I was, interestingly enough, the only girl in my junior high class for three years. Commuted 20 minutes to a town of about 300 people that had a hundred kids in the K-through-12. So I was kind of a lonely kid. I played with my cows and my dog, but yeah in retrospect I really miss all the space and the freedom that I had there and just have learned so much about my hometown since leaving it 11 years ago.
BH: The only girl in a class of how many?
MT: There were three boys and myself. (laughs)
BH: That’s one a lot of people can’t relate to having a class that small. And then you moved right? You moved for high school, to a larger school.
BH: The show is about, as you said, tackling stereotypes and showing that things that might seem simple are not, are more complicated. Very first episode — talk about stereotypes — you get into, one of the topics you touch on is the oil and gas industry. An industry that, I think when most people think of drilling for oil they don’t think of it as something that’s good for the environment. It’s not, it’s bad for the environment. But your friend Kim works in environmental compliance with one of these companies. What did you learn from Kim? Because it was really interesting to get her perspective on things.
MT: Yeah, definitely. I left Williston just as the boom was getting started, so things were just starting to surface. And I learned from Kim that, what her job that she does is just so important, to ensure that these oil companies are doing things as safely and within all the compliances and to the best of their ability, even though it’s still you know having an adverse effects on the environment. I can’t imagine what it would be like without the people like Kim.
And also, because the ag industry, you don’t need as many farmers to farm anymore, the oil industry has come in and provided some jobs so Kim loved growing — she grew up on a farm pretty close to where I grew up, and she never envisioned being able to move home because there weren’t a lot of jobs. And then when the oil boom started she was able to come back home. So it’s really provided an economic, you know, revitalization. It’s enabled people to move back home which is really great because it’s a very small area.
BH: And that’s kind of the, sort of a, from listening to your show it sounds like it was kind of a love-hate relationship almost with the boom of the early 2000s right? Some people not liking the increase in people coming in.
MT: Yeah exactly. I don’t know, my Mom sometimes will complain about all the big semis that drive through town. You know, all the oil trucks and stuff. So it’s harder to kind of get to the little grocery store. But there’s also, when you go into the grocery store there’s so many more different types of people, so it’s really wonderful to see how diversified the culture there. And the oil industry’s also, you know, they have parks and different community things that they’ve invested into, so. I’m just happy that people are still living there, because, yeah the town Dagmar in Montana that I really grew up in, is just becoming so small and probably will become a ghost town in my lifetime. So it’s good to see Williston thriving.
MT: I think, I’ve learned how there are also inter-rural divides just like there are urban-rural divides. So growing up there were Native American people in our community but we were very much segregated. Like the reservation was this invisible line and I feel like because it was such an agricultural area, too, we didn’t, if people weren’t landowners or farmers they might not have had the social capital that other white individuals had.
So from Eddie I just, he really taught me the importance of learning the history of the land that I grew up on. And we talk about Sitting Bull in the episode and he also talks about identity and how on the reservation, on the Flathead Reservation he grew up on, he wasn’t really thought of as indigenous because he’s Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and they’re a Sioux and Assiniboine reservation. And so he was kind of like the white kid on the Flathead Reservation, and then when he moved to Williston later, he was seen as the token Native American kid. And just to hear, like I might have mentioned, we went to high school together and I didn’t realize that he had, you know, just experienced overt racism in some examples. I don’t know if I just wasn’t dialed into paying attention to that as a high school kid, but it was just really hard to hear, and I think it’s so important that we’re talking about these issues now. And I love that he’s teaching history, too, because, you know, he’s teaching an American history class to Native American kids and being like ‘this isn’t just white people’s history, this is your history, and let’s talk about your place in it.’
BH: That was really amazing when he started talking about that and how he was, how the kids got excited when they realized he was going to tell history from their perspective and not just from the perspective that I certainly heard growing up in school.
MT: Right, and me too. That’s something that I’m really trying to do, is to reclaim and reframe the narrative. Just like how Eddie is helping his students reclaim that history, I’m reclaiming and reframing what rural is that the larger media can’t really do.
BH: Now, as someone with Scandinavian heritage, as you have — and I have European heritage myself — how do you navigate your love for that area and for your own heritage, with the knowledge of, the presence of your ancestors — and mine as well — how the presence of our ancestors affected Native Americans?
MT: Hmm (laughs). I think that’s something that I’m still learning to grapple with today. But I think one thing that’s problematic is the mythologizing of the pioneer past and kind of all of Manifest Destiny and having, like, the sense of ownership over the land. I feel like, I love how many events now are starting with the land acknowledgement and how, that’s just an important step to say ‘yes, history began before white people were here.’ So I don’t know. I’ve been curious to learn about land back initiatives and just different sovereignty initiatives that are happening across the country. But I’ve also been thinking about how the process of Scandinavians or any immigrants coming to the U.S. how they have to go through and Americanization process and how much of their culture they lose and really how jarring and what a loss that is. So I’ve been really interested to, lately I’ve been going back into my family history and just learning different things about their culture and just some of the traditional agricultural practices that they might have done. So it’s interesting. I love learning about history.
BH: For sure. Now you live in Seattle. What might be a stereotype that goes the other way? What maybe was something that surprised you about living in more of an urban sprawl type of area.
MT: Well I think a stereotype that comes, that I think rural people have for urban areas is that they’re dangerous. Which I think can be problematic because perhaps they’re associating people of color living in urban areas and that they are tied to violence or something. I think there is a history that is kind of hidden behind that assumption that urban places are dangerous.
But yeah what has surprised me? I guess I’ve lived in a lot of different places the last 10 years. I’ve bopped around from Alaska to North Carolina, Portland, here. I don’t know I’m always surprised sometimes just the different types of people that you meet in cities. For example I have some friends that are from Cleveland, Ohio, and Minneapolis and we actually have similar backgrounds in just kind of our working class upbringing. And so it’s interesting even though we might not have grown up in a rural area there’s different cultural things that are similar, too.
BH: So what’s coming next for ‘Reframing Rural’?
MT: Well I’m finishing up Season 1, which is taking me longer than I expected but that’s OK. Currently working on an episode that features more voices about agriculture and family farming. And that’s going to come up February 18th or 19th. And going to have an episode on community. And then I’m going to end the first season in kind of a memoir, just a reflective piece that will be just me. And then in the next season I’m really excited to continue learning and feature rural folks from across the country and kind of move on beyond my hometown in Montana. So it will be kind of a switch into more of an interview style podcast in the next season with rural artists and academics and activists. I’m just really excited to continue learning and have conversations with other people, too.
BH: Well we’re looking forward to that. The podcast is available wherever people can get their podcasts, right?
BH: And you have a lot more information on reframingrural.org, including some wonderful photography — that’s your work right?
MT: Mmhmm. Yes.
BH: And you also, you, the music, tell me quickly about the music.
MT: Yes! So my fiancee creates all of the, well except for Episode 2, but he writes the instrumentals for the music and then we created the theme music together and I kind of sing throughout the theme music so you’ll hear kind of a howling voice, that’s me. (laughs)
BH: I think howling does not do it justice. (laughs). So you can find out more at storyhangar.com/reframingrural. You’re on Instagram, you’re on Facebook. And just like to encourage everyone to listen and to follow and to share with all their friends. Thank you Megan.
MT: Thanks Bob I’m excited to be part of the Story Hangar family.
BH: We’re thrilled to have you.
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