"A little nowhere place," Berry says, that's what these small rural towns are called now. Rural folks know all too well the prevailing sentiment in the country at large that, as Mary puts it: "If you were smarter, you'd do something besides farming."
And, of course, more of us than ever before are doing something besides farming: Once 45 percent agrarian, the U.S. is now only 4 percent agrarian. As Berry wrote in his now classic, non-fiction book The Unsettling of America, first published in 1977 — and as is heard again in the film — the decline in farming over time is tied to agribusiness. The expensive materials that make farming more efficient, all the technology and all the chemicals, cost so much that more acres have to be planted, and then those acres have to be farmed more efficiently, and so it goes, around and around.
Read it all at NPR.