USDA awards $645,000 grant to study how demographic change and COVID-19 impacts rural quality of life

The US Department of Agriculture awarded the Iowa Small Towns Project at Iowa State University $645,000 to understand rural quality of life in Iowa. The project will identify effective place-based strategies to manage population change in rural Iowa, whether from declines due to out-migration or growth from diverse new residents. The project will also identify strategies to help small towns recover from the lingering impacts of COVID-19. Particular attention will be given to communities of color, mostly diverse meatpacking towns, as they face unique challenges. The goal is to expand essential services like health/senior/child care and food access, retain businesses and investments for a robust local economy, maintain physical infrastructure with a smaller population and tax base, and address labor shortages and skill gaps. In short, the goal is to give rural people and places the tools to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century.

Funding comes from USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural and rural sciences. The project is led by David Peters in Rural Sociology, with fellow researchers Ramesh Balayar (Rural Sociology), Biswa Das (Community and Regional Planning), and Himar Hernandez (ISU Extension). Other partners include the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Iowa Council of Governments. The project will begin in the summer of 2023 and run for four years. Researchers will conduct surveys and interviews in 125 small towns in Iowa, continuing a data collection effort that started in 1994. For more information, visit the project’s website at

(Released May 2023)