As recent articles and commentary in the Albion News have illustrated, rural populations continue to decline, due in large part to the lack of economic opportunities. There are few employers who can offer wages and benefits competitive with metropolitan areas and the cost of entering farming is enormous.
Yet I’m frequently told by people who live and work in cities – both here and inEurope– that they would love to relocate to this area. Our rolling hills and expansive skies appeal to many cubicle dwellers in ways we don’t understand. We just take these things for granted.
A visitor from England was amazed that we aren’t marketing ourselves inLondonand other major European cities. She said Europeans would head here in droves. And others have mirrored her sentiments. They say we could easily spark another wave of European migration toAmerica’s rural areas if we’d go to the trouble to let people there know about the quality of life we offer.
That was, after all, what brought them in the first place – the opportunity to build a better life. In both cases land is fundamental. The difference is that in the past it was land to farm that lured Europeans. Today it is Nature that is the lure – unpolluted open spaces.
People’s relationship to the land has always defined life in the Plains – from the earliest Native American times to the present. Land remains one of our greatest assets. Today people want the openness, the naturalness of surroundings like ours to nurture their hearts and souls. We are hardwired to need a healthy relationship with Nature. Some cities have invested heavily in green spaces to help meet this need, but many have not.
The need for open places doesn’t require working the land; just working near the land. And rural areas can provide that. People need to let go of the idea that one has to be involved in farming or ranching to live in a rural area. Agriculture will always be a mainstay of the rural economy, but that’s because rural areas offer the best place to farm, not because farming is the only thing that can be done there. Rural areas, in many ways, also offer the best places to live.
I’ve written so many times about “repioneering” that I’m afraid I sound like a broken record. But at the risk of further redundancy, I would like to reiterate my belief that the potential for rural growth and development is still great today. But the challenges are great also. In the main, people wanting to live in rural areas – and there are many – must be willing to work as hard as the original pioneers did to make that happen.
Repioneering isn’t about returning to sod houses and farming with horses. It’s about recapturing the vision and hard work of that time. Sod dwellings and beasts of burden were the “external resources” the pioneers utilized. Today’s pioneers have far, far better external resources at their disposal.
But few are using them. There is uncertainty and sacrifice involved with the entrepreneurial approach to life that pioneering requires. Just as in the past, a pioneer today has to possess “internal resources,” must be strong, self-reliant and driven by a vision of a new and better life.
These internal resources didn’t disappear with the passing of the original pioneers. Just as in the past, when coupled with the unimaginable external resources now available, rural communities can be transformed into areas that combine much of what’s best in both city and country life. But it won’t be easy. The key is for rural communities to reconnect with the pioneering spirit, and this could start by spreading a compelling vision of just how good rural life can really be.