Another 24% say their hometowns are on the wrong track, while 21% are not sure whether community life is improving or declining, according to Paul Lasley, Iowa State University extension sociologist who directed the poll, sent to 3,376 Iowa farm operators with a 61% response rate. Farm community strengths include the community's role as a place to raise children, viewed as good or excellent by 93% of the poll respondents, and as a good place to attend public schools, rated good or excellent by 83%.

Poll respondents also gave high marks to the friendliness of people in their communities and to the overall quality of life. Health care services were rated good or excellent by 75% of those surveyed, and protection against crime was rated good or excellent by 77%.

Also receiving good or excellent ratings from large majorities of farmers were the availability of credit for home or business loans (67%), the quality of housing (73%) and community or civic spirit, 65%.

Attitudes toward their communities may depend in part on how farmers define where they live. "What do you call your community?" a Monona County farmer asked. "Your old hometown five miles away with a population of 800 or the 2,500-population town 18 miles away?"

At the low end of the satisfaction scale, only 14% said shopping facilities in their communities were excellent, while 18% said they were poor. Ten percent said their communities offered good job opportunities, while 17% said job opportunities were poor.

One poll respondent commented, "Gas prices take a big bite out of a family budget when you have to drive 20 miles to the nearest town to get items you may need that aren't found locally." And a farmer from Jones County commented, "There are lots of jobs available, but at low wages with poor benefits. Many rural Iowans live in a high-tech wilderness."