The Case for Country
“You’re moving where?! Why?!”
This response was by far the most common among acquaintances when I told them excitedly that I was leaving my Washington, DC job directing the policy program at Community Food Security Coalition to be an organizer in rural Nebraska at the Center for Rural Affairs. Not that I blame them entirely – while I did grow up in Wisconsin and am not afraid of the “Midwest fly-over zone” as coastal people like to call it, the smallest town I’d ever lived in for any length of time had a population of 65,000. It was nearly unfathomable to my east coast friends that I would want to live in a town of 963, where the nearest city of any size was 60 miles away. They searched for some reason, some justification that could explain why I would do such a thing.
After all, who doesn’t love the crowds of people, endless traffic, and always being a hair’s breadth away from being sideswiped on my bike or rundown by a bus? Or the bad air, non-existent housing, the unending concrete, and always looking over your shoulder or down an alley for someone trying to make trouble. Few stars, tiny yards, and nowhere for me to really be alone or feel at home.
What’s not to love about city life?
Yet I traded it all for an affordable house with my own kitchen and a garden that is currently giving me more tomatoes than I know what to do with. I’ve got a view of a cornfield, a community where everyone nods a hello when I pass, air that doesn’t make me wince and water I can drink out of the tap. Here in Lyons, I have everything I need on a daily basis within a very short walk: a library, a bank, the post office and the grocery store, the bar and the restaurant. There’s a gas station and convenience store, a mechanic in case I ever buy a car, a doctor and a dentist. All the stars I could ever care to look at, with lightning bugs to supplement in the summer.
Honestly, it was not a tough choice.
While driving through North Dakota last week, what struck me most when I managed to get away from the Interstate was the character and sense of community that many small towns in the Midwest have. Not only that, but I also discovered that the prairie can be breathtaking when a breeze blows over the soybean fields or a storm rolls in with its purple clouds, making the green grasses seem to glow.
As the new organizer at the Center, I look forward to getting to know the communities around me and to contributing on this space. I can’t match Dan Owen’s knack for insightful cynicism, but I hope that even if I don’t convince all our readers to move to a rural community, I at least remind you that small towns and family farms are vital components of the American fabric, and that you are moved and motivated to help us forward our mission to maintain and revitalize strong rural communities.