Restoring rural America: community building in the modern era

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It’s Friday Jan. 27, 1877. The sun sinks below the horizon as you secure the horses and help your children down from the wagon. As your family approaches the grange, you hear lively music and laughter. Farmers from every corner of the county have gathered for a potluck supper and social.

The grange was established to bring rural communities together in support of agriculture, economy and community. In the 1870s there were 900 active grange chapters in rural Ohio.¹ Fast forward 140 years to 2017. The old grange is vacant and boarded up. Communities are increasingly disconnected. Our food is imported from faraway farms. We commute to work in the city. Life is too busy to get to know our neighbors.

Many of us who live in rural communities mourn the loss of connection. The good news is we can restore our rural communities by supporting local food systems, investing in the local economy and participating in community building activities.

Support local food systems

Agriculture is the backbone of community. Everyone in the community eats. We all share an interest in food and benefit by having a strong local food system.

Supporting local farms ensures a secure supply of food for the community. Farmers feel a sense of pride feeding friends and neighbors, and residents feel good eating food raised on local pastures and grown in local gardens.

Farmers can support local food systems by sharing their farms with the community. This summer a local farmer held a farm-to-table event. Members of the community were treated to a tour of the farm, a homegrown dinner and had a chance to purchase farm products. Another local farmer posted a Facebook event inviting community members to a spring work day on her farm. Volunteers will gain firsthand knowledge of what it takes to build a strong local food system.

Residents of the community can support local food systems by participating in agritourism and by purchasing food direct from farmers, at local food hubs, farmers’ markets and farm stands.

Invest in the local economy

Small business drives the rural economy. Rural areas that don’t have the infrastructure and population to draw in big business, support thriving small businesses.

Over the last 30 years small businesses created over eight million new jobs. Fifty-five percent of all U.S. jobs are with small businesses.² In Ohio, the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry has an 87 percent small business employment share.³

Mom’s diner and Pop’s bait shop create a sense of place for community members. Each time we visit my dad’s hometown he points to an old diner that served the best turkey gravy commercial sandwiches back in his day. Many of our sweetest memories are memories made in mom n’ pop shops.

When you are tempted to pass by small businesses because they have higher prices, are out of the way or an extra stop, remember that the economic future of your hometown depends on your support. Money spent on Main Street is always money well spent.

Participate in community building activities

No matter how small the town, there are always opportunities to get involved. Look for community event listings in your hometown newspaper. The library offers activities for diverse audiences and ages; my library has a knitting circle, weekly kid’s crafts and book clubs. The YMCA downtown offers health and community enhancing programs for the entire family. Check with the chamber of commerce to discover civic and other community focused groups and community development initiatives. Ask the county Extension office how you can get involved in the Master Gardener and 4-H programs.

When I moved to Chillicothe, Ohio in 2011, I engaged in community building activities to meet people. I made a ton of new friends and gained an appreciation for my new hometown. As I became more involved in community building activities I became more committed to improving my community. Community building activities enrich our communities, our neighborhoods, our families and ourselves.

Resources

¹ “Grange,” Ohio History Central, accessed January 21, 2017 from http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Grange

² “Small Business Trends,” U.S. Small Business Administration, accessed January 20, 2016 from https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/running-business/energy-efficiency/sustainable-business-practices/small-business-trends?leavingSBA=http://www.nsba.net/

³ “Ohio Small Business Profile”, U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, 2015, accessed January 20, 2016 from https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/Ohio_1.pdf

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Ohio and the federal governemnt need to get rid of the over regulation and worker and help nonsense that either resticts or makes small farm and farm businesses either nonviable or likely in violation of regulations. In my case: Wine kills human pathogens and has no history of food safety issues, and since licensing passed in a 2009 budget bill (by surprise) we have been subject to food processing licensing and regulation by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. This is duplicate of licensing and regulation as provided in Ohio liquor codes. Many other states exempt from this sort of duplicate licensing and regulation. Ohio’s regulation is superfluous, unnecessary, duplicate and also discriminates against Ohio wineries by wineries from out of state that are not subject to the same food processing licensing and regulatory costs that sell wholesale in Ohio. As a traditional artisan winemaker that values microbial diversity in the winery environment I also find the regulation is in direct opposition to my winemaking principles. http://www.FreeTheWineries.com or http://www.facebook.com/FreeTheWineries

  2. I read so much here that almost stung to see it listed out in front of me. There’s the “way things were”, when the focus of our lives rested with people and a sense of caring about lives intermingled from knowing one another, and a goal of pursuing locally-grown food and buying from area farms. But it all changed as we chased the next new fad or the new big thing….and in doing so we “left town” in so many ways. This touched a nerve and underscored how easily disctracted we can be, and how little it takes for us to loose interest and move on to the “next big thing”.

    • So true Andrea.

      I grew up in a rural community, but left when I was 18 to enlist in the military. The Air Force was my “next big thing”, and though my time in the military was time well spent, I craved a return to my rural roots. A lot of farm kids experience the same thing when they graduate high school and go off to a big city University.

      I think that distractions can serve us when we come back fully appreciating what we left behind and resolve to improve what is in front of us.

  3. OneSmallTown.org has what I believe to be a brilliant plan to restore small towns. :-)

    Check out the 5-minute video and the downloadable manifesto to get a summary of how all who participate can benefit. :-)

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