Having been born in Ryan, Oklahoma (population 894), I’ve always been a country boy at heart. I’ve always considered myself an average, traditional American, who (like most others) believes in God, family, freedom, a strong work ethic and mama’s apple pie. Despite my urban career, I’ve always felt more at home on the range – that is why my wife, Gena, and I live on and oversee a working Texas ranch.
Some of the finest people I’ve ever met have come from or lived in some of the most remote places, like Gena. She is a fourth-generation small-town girl from northern Northern California, a rural mountain community where she was also employed in local law enforcement.
Roughly 60 million people (20 percent of Americans) live in 97% of America’s landmass, which is classified as “rural.” While some advances have been made in past years to save this precious domain, many rural areas remain on the brink of economic bankruptcy and community collapse, especially after how the federal government has royally botched the pandemic recovery.
As the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month, “For some time, rural America has been at the mercy of an extraction economy, where resources are taken from rural lands only to create jobs and economic opportunity in urban and suburban areas.”
Years of globalization, outbidding, outsourcing and youth migration have already turned some areas into pastoral wastelands and ghost towns.
Pew research reported, “A Stateline analysis of recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates shows rural areas lost 226,000 people, a decline of about 0.5%, between 2010 and 2020, while cities and suburbs grew by about 21 million people, or 8%. Only Hawaii, where retirees and remote workers are moving to rural islands, and Montana, which is drawing remote workers from pricey Washington state, saw more rural than urban growth. … Rural counties lost population since the 2010 census, making it likely they will lose political clout in most states.”
And keep in mind those above stats are reflective of a pre-pandemic period. Two years of COVID chaos has made survivability much worse. Rural areas were largely forgotten, as the Center for American Progress reported. The pandemic severely crippled and destroyed a host of rural economies and communities.
The Biden administration hasn’t helped either. With a 7.5% jump in inflation over Biden’s first year in office, rural areas and minorities have actually been hit the hardest.
ABC (KXXV-Waco) reported that, “Rural households are paying an average of 5.2% more of their post-tax income because of inflation, compared to 3.5% of metropolitan households. Inflation has hurt lower-income families, families of color, and rural households more than other demographics, according to a Bank of America research report.”
At the same time, rural areas have been fighting progressive environmentalists and increasing climate change pressures as if liberals and government officials know better how to take care of their lands. What progressives don’t understand is that farmers are concerned for the climate too.
Do you see why I ask: Could it get any tougher for rural communities? Thank God rural Americans are tough Americans!
How to save rural America
We’ll, I’m an optimist – always have been. Though I’m obviously not a sociologist or an anthropologist, I’ve listened to lots of Americans from all over this great country about what has strengthened and bolstered their small communities. Their solutions for survival reveal that hope comes not from the government but average Americans working together to save our homeland.
Though no one solution suits every community, I consider the following some of the most universally helpful:
- Create or join an organization that seeks to save rural America, like the Winston County Self Help Cooperative. Also tap possible resources in your local civic organizations, churches and other nonprofits, in order to find strength and support.
- Drop the differences and brainstorm together. Whatever prejudices possibly exist in your community and county, it’s time to acknowledge them, break down the walls and come together. It’s been proven that rural America can survive and even thrive, if their communities work together rather than compete against one another or their urban counterparts. If we are to conquer the rural exportation of goods and workers, businesses, schools and local representatives have got to come together and strategize about ways to stop economic entropy and build for a better tomorrow.
- Embrace change and progress as not always ideal but needed for survival. It’s been said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby – and I would add that sometimes even he or she hates it! I don’t know many people who enjoy change, but we all must accept it, one way or another. Everything changes, and everything that grows changes. Growth requires change, and, just like a corn stalk, if your community is to grow again, it must change. Organizations like the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture can help in balancing necessary changes and sustainability.
- Join the global online community. Globalization has changed the playing field, and the rural plains. Whether we like it or not, the internet is not only here to stay but will increasingly become a more prominent avenue for commerce, news, entertainment, etc. Helping the 20% of rural residents obtain internet capability will enable them to better compete in the global market. “If you can solve the availability problem tomorrow, you would get higher adoption in rural areas,” said Pew Internet Associate Director John Horrigan. Or as I heard Newt Gingrich once say, “Rural America could experience a renaissance as technology eliminates the edge bigger cities have over smaller communities. … The lure of a large metropolitan area is its access to advanced services and experts. But the internet can give those same amenities to small towns in rural areas.”
- Consider domestic sourcing as an alternative to offshore outsourcing.
- Don’t be afraid to create new, alternative, and maybe even risky and unconventional ways to increase economic revenue. Outside-the-box thinking is a must to move into the future. “In a global marketplace … commodities operate with ever thinner margins,” notes Mark Drabenstott of the Center for the Study of Rural America. “So the real challenge for most rural areas is (getting) from a commodity economy to a knowledge-driven economy.”
And with the world community equally at all of our fingertips (via the internet), so are worldwide businesses. For example, I know a woman in a small town who started making and selling cloth diapers over the internet, and she now has a clientele all over the nation. I also know a man who has an eBay store for old farm items, which are largely sold to decorate city houses with country style. I even know someone who sells online different pine cones that fall from forest trees – and makes a good living. Of course, for some rural communities, drastic times call for drastic measures. And though I can’t personally endorse these fiscal options, many have had to turn to unusual growth industries like prisons and casinos to stabilize and boost their staggering economies.
- Export goods and import people. While many small-town locals want visitors to buy their products, few desire urban dwellers to become rural residents. This thinking must change. We must export goods and import people, at very least for four-season vacationing. Intentionally attract others to your community. Advertise in neighboring cities about the amenities of country life. Sell the slower pace and community life of rural America. Be proud about the particular benefits of living in your community.
The fact is, most urban dwellers long to vacation in rural areas, would love to own a place in one and someday will likely retire in one as well. Why not help them taste or discover their rural dream? And for those who don’t think they can live without certain city pleasures, remind them that in the age of the internet nearly everything is obtainable by express delivery. And with the soaring costs of gas, paying for next-day air is in many cases less expensive than driving and buying the item from a store.
For more on this subject and rural living, I highly recommend the book by the Washington Post reporter and resident of small-town Minnesota, Christopher Ingraham: “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie.”
- Create ways to migrate young people (back) to your rural area. College is an understandable reason for leaving a rural home, but what reasons are we giving graduates to come back, live and raise their families? With the opportunities for online employment, telecommuting will become more of a norm than the exception. Contacting neighboring big-city companies and informing them of the perks of placement in your community might provide a win-win solution to simultaneously build up your area and their businesses.
Testing shows some of the best and brightest young Americans are those who have lived in rural areas. Rural students arrive with many tools they will need to become tomorrow’s leaders. They already have a strong work ethic. They come early and stay late. They know how to apply themselves to a task and carry it to completion. Generally, they have superior problem-solving skills and the initiative to work individually to get things done. They take responsibility for their actions. When they work in teams, they understand the need to pull their weight for a collective goal.
- Pray. Lastly, though certainly not least, don’t forget to pray, always. I believe that God cares for all of us equally, and that his power and presence is waiting to assist those who call upon Him. Though there is trouble and hardship in this life, God is always there desiring to lead and guide us when we can’t find the way. Even if our farm forecloses or the lumber mill shuts down, He will be there to help us through the heartache and discover a better day. If you want to learn more about God, I recommend this free ebook, “The God Questions.”
Speaking of rural warriors, author and homestead champions Patrice Lewis and her husband, Don, are just one great example of America’s courage and grit in the rural heartland. They have fought hard for their livelihood and utilized many of the steps above to offer a variety of services, including Rural Revolution internet resources via e-publications on homesteading as well as advice and items from their home woodcraft business. Patrice has even been writing awesome inspirational romances and hosting podcasts on successful homesteading. And of course, she’s an exceptional culture warrior columnist for WND, too. Well done, rural patriots, Don and Patrice! You set an example for all of us to follow!
In conclusion, I fully realize there are no quick fixes to save rural America, but I believe it can be done, if we work together and are willing to make changes by taking the preceding steps and others like them.
If we do, I know we will not only preserve but rediscover the simple pleasures of life, as one of America’s founders, John Adams, once described: “As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.”
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