Reporter who called Minnesota county the worst place in America learning to call it home

An American reporter who called a county close to the Canada-U.S. border the worst place in America, is learning to love calling it home.

Christopher Ingraham's family settling into Red Lake Falls

Christopher and Briana Ingraham are happily adjusting to life in Red Lake Falls, Minn. — a county Christopher called the worst in America in a Washington Post link. (Bert Savard/CBC)

He called it the worst place to live in America but now he's calling it home.

It's been a complete turnaround for Washington Post data reporter Christopher Ingraham, who's settled happily into new digs in Red Lake Falls, Minn. — about three hours from Winnipeg, and only 30 minutes from Grand Forks, N.D.

It all started when Ingraham called Red Lake Falls "the absolute worst place to live in America" in a 2015 Washington Post story based on USDA data that measure the physical characteristics of a county area.

"That sentence is essentially what transformed our lives and got us from D.C. to here," said Ingraham, who received plenty of backlash for the story.

Along with that hate mail came a welcoming email from Red Lake Falls businessman Jason Brumwell.

He said his community was in an uproar about the story, but rather than send hate mail, he took a more diplomatic approach.
Jason Brumwell invited Christopher Ingraham to come to his beloved county. (Bert Savard/CBC)

"I was just like 'well he's never seen that before, he's writing it from a desk in Washington, D.C.'"

Brumwell, a lifelong resident of the county and tubing company owner, wrote to Ingraham to tell him how nice his beloved community is and how area residents felt about the story.

"They were really almost hurt by the article," Brumwell said. 

Ingraham took him up on the offer despite pleas from his wife Briana not to.

"I was convinced that they really just wanted to get the pitchforks out and they were going to tar and feather this reporter," she said.

Quite the opposite happened when Ingraham arrived, though he admits he was nervous getting out of his rental car to meet Brumwell.
Red Lake County is about three hours from Winnipeg. (Bert Savard/CBC)

"It was this enormous spectacle," Ingraham said recalling the swarm of local TV stations that had gathered along with the mayor, county commissioners and a marching band from the Red Lake Falls high school.

"It was so surreal," Ingraham said. "It was almost like a Norman Rockwell scene."

Ingraham spend a couple of days touring around the county, visiting schools and a dairy farm with baby cows — there he let a cow suck on his thumb.
The rural Ingraham home is in sharp contrast to life back in Baltimore. (Bert Savard/CBC)

"I think it helped break the ice quite a bit," he said.

During the tour, he started contrasting life in the county to his family's life back home in Baltimore County and his commute to work in Washington D.C.

"It's the kind of place where a kid can just go outside and run around and not have to be worried about too much," he remembers thinking.

Briana was surprised to hear such positive words from her husband about the community because he's not a people person. "That's what struck me," she said.

'Everything about it has been striking'

The couple started talking about what life would be like in the county.

Last spring, they packed up and moved there. They say they've fallen in love with the community and have since had a third child.

"The winning point for me was the people," said Briana.

For her husband, it's the small-town life. "Everything about it has been very striking," he said.
Christopher Ingraham ironically now works for the Washington Post from Red Lake Falls, Minn. (Bert Savard/CBC)

He's still working for the Washington Post remotely and is now writing a proposal for a book about the experience.

"I'm surprised more people don't do this," he said.

with files from Pierre Verriere