The Dilemma

Local Knowledge:
Over the past century rural communities have fallen into disrepair as the principles of sustainable agriculture have been largely forgotten. This is the result of the continuing implementation of economic policies that disregard both place and people. As a result, agricultural practices have grown increasingly energy intensive and degrading to the environment, relying ever more on an economic model that encumbers the land and fails to account for future limitations. As the capacity of the land to sustain life has diminished, rural communities are finding themselves disadvantaged, disillusioned, and unemployed.

The effects of economic policy on agricultural practices have facilitated the concurrent decline of social capital in rural communities. The symptoms of these changes are plainly observable in rural communities both great and small. Derelict buildings, abandoned homes, and crumbling infrastructure are signs with which rural communities are all too familiar. As the capacity of rural communities to sustain themselves declines, the connections between community members has diminished to a level of meager subsistence. For communities it has not been the advent of modernity but the implementation of economic policy in which local knowledge and relationships are rendered valueless.

Economic Vitality:
Rural communities are effectively held captive by a complete dependence on distant corporations and markets as opposed to their neighbors. As a result, the social capital which has traditionally held communities together and enriched our lives has been exhausted. Our local economies have been distorted to the brink of extinction via large scale economies that exist as a direct result of subsidized energy and transportation. Just as we may not restore the mountaintops of West Virginia or Kentucky, a return to our former economic models is no more useful than continuing to live as we do.

The Challenge:
Many rural communities find themselves striving, not to return to the past, but to make a better future. In a framework of limited resources, communities are attempting the daunting task of answering difficult questions concerning their future prosperity. Place making, new urbanism, farm to fork, slow food, and urban renewal are perhaps symptomatic of our collective desire to enrich our lives through a “new” reality.  A reality where we have purpose, place value on the land which sustains us, and live life connected--not to distant markets--but to each other. It is through this paradigm that we must develop new policy which emphasizes the value of place and the people that live there. It is a sense of purpose and the acceptance that economic growth is finite that will rejuvenate rural communities both great and small.