Roads roll through the hills of Howell County to Koshkonong, a small town known a century ago for its peach production. The sweet fruit once grew prosperity, keeping local folks working — as well as others coming into the area — at its peak in the early 1900s.
As Koshkonong’s status as a fruit hub faded into the past, the town near the Arkansas state line of a couple hundred people has seen change. Many jobs left with the last loads of peaches, leaving the community far fewer employment opportunities.
“It’s very impoverished,” says Kristin Turnbough, school counselor at Oregon-Howell County R-III School District’s campus in Koshkonong, of the community’s current reality.
A few jobs are available at a gas station and the Dollar General. The school is an employer, and there’s a meat-processing plant, a vet clinic, and some lumber-related work. Others might drive to jobs in West Plains, a larger community about 15 miles away — if they have transportation, which ranks up with reliable childcare as top barriers to employment throughout the region.
That’s about it, Turnbough says, and even when both parents work, income may not be significant.
“One might work in McDonald’s in Thayer,” a town around 10 miles away, “and one might work at the gas station,” she says of parents’ jobs. At other times, they work seasonally and “they just don’t have enough to get through the year.”