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Be a patriot, Missourians were told. Preserve your eggs.

The state’s agricultural agents enlisted Missouri housewives, 100 years ago, to “grow it at home.” The nation needed to conserve food as Americans entered the war effort.

Homefront civilians could help the Doughboys by reducing their consumption of key crops like wheat and corn and sugar. Demonstrations throughout Missouri educated the populace on how the homegrown goods could be preserved and how food waste could be curtailed.

Statistics showed that Missourians canned 658,633 quarts of fruits and vegetables and dried 37,417 pounds of fruit between 1917 and 1918. They also preserved 10,500 eggs for use during the cold months.

City folks and country folks had been called to the task. The Americans emerged on the triumphant side in World War I, so we must have done something right.

In 1900, 36 percent of Missourians lived in urban surroundings. In 2010, about 70 percent lived in cities and apart from the state’s agrarian roots.

This reversal does not stand as particularly unique.

The Census Bureau makes urban and rural distinctions according to a formulation of population density per square mile. Cities across the nation have expanded outward to cover green fields with housing subdivisions, and people in the country have moved to urban areas for job opportunities.

In Kansas, the urban population stood at 22 percent in 1900, and it tops 74 percent now. The Iowa percentages are roughly the same.

Missouri’s history has held some drama with the urban-rural split. Its metropolitan areas, St. Louis and Kansas City, and to lesser extents the so-called “out-state” cities of Springfield, Columbia and St. Joseph, lorded over the countrified stretches with particular needs and problems.

In the not-too-distant past, the annual tension that arose in the Missouri General Assembly came from this urban-rural divide, what served one not universally serving the other. Partisanship of more recent times overshadowed this particular discord.

Most counties have a mix of town and country. However, 31 of Missouri’s 115 counties have 100 percent of their populations classified as rural. Of the 16 counties in the northwestern corner of the state, seven are fully rural by census designation.

For this reason, the issue of broadband access for rural residents resonates.

It is a problem not seen in densely populated areas. There, the concentration of customers makes a profit motive more appealing.

A recent article told the story of two Virginia cities separated by what has become known as the “digital divide.”

One, Blacksburg, the home of Virginia Tech University, has aspirations as a mecca for cutting-edge business start-ups. First-class broadband helps with this. The other, Roanoke, a city larger than St. Joseph and about 42 miles from Blacksburg, saw home sales suffer because internet speeds did not meet the need of work-from-the-house buyers.

In Missouri, only 4 in 10 rural residents have high-speed broadband access.

President Trump asked Congress last week to approve a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, key to a “national rebuilding.” Most people regard that as construction of roads and bridges.

But infrastructure has a different face than it once did. The road of broadband leads everywhere, and quickly.

Those living in rural areas should not be held at a disadvantage in this essential utility that levels the geographic playing field. The country roads of Missouri, and others around the nation, should not be forgotten.

Ken Newton’s column runs on Tuesday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.

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