|APRIL 7, 2003: My
favorite musical, "Oklahoma!", argues that the farmer and
the cowman should be friends. I keep hoping for a musical that will
argue the same for family farm advocates and promoters of rural economic
There is a running debate on the crisis in rural America between
those who see farming as the only engine possible for economic recovery
in the countryside and those who see farming as a thing of the past
best abandoned as soon as possible. We need to press these two groups
to work together to stem the flow of youth, brains and money out
of rural communities, and then to recover what has been lost.
||"How can we help
Americans see that each small disappearance in our rural communities,
whether it is a school closing or a farm auction, affects us
In a beautiful but disturbing essay called "Disappearance,"
the prophetic Terry Tempest Williams describes a plethora of losses
from the planet: people snatched by dictators and brutes, wilderness
and wildlife destroyed by progress, and whole communities gone because
of intentional and unintentional neglect. She links these small
and large disappearances with a reminder of the loss to the whole.
How can we help Americans see that each small disappearance in
our rural communities, whether it is a school closing or a farm
auction, affects us all? How do we reverse this flow of disappearance
and attract the best and the brightest to the countryside, along
with investment to rebuild schools, hospitals, places of worship,
businesses and community organizations?
We need profitable uses of land that also preserve it and the
culture that depends on it. A small group of us has been capturing
the stories of rural revitalization already under way. There are
hundreds of exciting, creative examples, such as artisan food producers,
nature-oriented recreation and provision of amenities that make
rural communities special. (See www.renewingthecountryside.org.)
|"I believe we
need to build a united movement for rural America. This means
bringing together long-term competitors . . .
It means bringing together rural-based labor unions and business
assocations . . .
It means rural development advocates must abandon their attacks
on farm programs, and farmily farm advocates must support development
But these are separate beginnings. I believe we need to build a
united movement for rural America. This means bringing together
long-term competitors like the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau. It
means bringing together rural-based labor unions and business associations
like the National Federation of Independent Businesses and chambers
of commerce. It means rural development advocates must abandon their
attacks on farm programs, and family farm advocates must support
development of business that revitalizes rural areas in healthy
Some key leaders, like Chuck Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research
Institute, advocate a new rural constituency organization. In a
few states, the League of Rural Voters is blossoming as a force
for small towns and farmers. We must support explicitly electoral
organizations like this to strengthen the rural voice in national
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation promotes projects that encourage local
food production for local consumption. This is opening conversation
between traditional family farm organizations and the new generation
of food entrepreneurs, including immigrant farmers, direct marketers,
food processors and chefs.
And there is a movement to develop land-preserving and wildlife-enhancing
production standards for crops. Organizations involved include the
Third Crop Network and the Wild Farm Alliance.
In urban areas, forward-thinking businesses have created a new
form of networking called "local living economies." These
local networks encourage local purchasing by consumers and businesses,
social and environmental responsibility and the development of human-scale,
community-based businesses. The local groups are united under a
national umbrella, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
Linking up with this national initiative might be a good way to
jump-start rural versions.
We must gather all these threads to weave a whole cloth of rural
businesses and farmers creating enterprises that are financially
self-sufficient, ecologically sound and community enhancing. Maybe
these efforts can spawn a new musical to rival "Oklahoma!"
-- something called "Renew the Countryside!"