Rural Community Revitalization Digest

To tweak the famous Albert Einstein quote a bit, "If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the right question." Each month we probe the right questions for people who are working to revitalize rural communities. These are published in the Center for Rural Affairs monthly newsletter, and linked here as the Rural Community Revitalization Digest.

Agriculture & Small Towns Need Beginning Farmers
When you think back 20-30 years, what’s changed about your town? How many young families do you have now compared to then? How many of them farm or ranch? I’m asking to get you to think about how you and your town might begin to change things. October/2012

8 Steps to Help Small Town Grocery Stores
Everyone needs to eat. Having a grocery store is more than just a place to buy food. It’s a necessity for any vibrant town. If your grocery store is struggling or closed, consider these simple first steps. June/2012

Hometown Housing: the Sustainability Factor
Small town Burnet, Texas, takes a unique approach to housing. They offer incentives to develop existing lots in historical parts of the community. Other small towns build far from the community core. Find out what they may be overlooking. June/2012

Where Did that Business Help Come From?
What a mouthful: Ever heard of the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program? Your business might be helped by it, and you may not even know it! That was the case for a sawmill in Powers, Michigan. Get the facts here. June/2012

A Community Creates Land Access for Beginning Farmers
The price of farmland continues to rise at phenomenal rates. Nebraska's average price is $1,833/acre, with $2,410/acre the all-time high. Iowa experienced a 32.5% increase from 2011-2012. Farmland values topped at $16,000 to $20,000/acre. How do you attract beginning farmers into an unaffordable system? Lloyd Hannah is a great example of a community member addressing the problem head on. He wanted to do something for veteran beginning farmers. 05/2012

Growing Fresh Produce, Fresh Opportunity
To reach the hometown of the Santee Sioux Nation, in Knox County, Nebraska, take a right after the Ohiya Casino and keep going for 9 miles. The highway spur follows hills and ridges that rise over a sweeping view of the marshy Missouri River before descending into town. Then, the road ends. Aside from the 346 people who live here, not many visitors make it out to Santee, Nebraska. Not many opportunities make it out here, either. With unemployment, obesity, and diabetes rates sky-high, the Santee Sioux Nation is working hard to make positive changes in the community. 03/2012

Model Legislation for Rural Wind Development
Legislation is being developed in Nebraska that could become a national model for incentivizing wind development in ways that benefit rural communities. The US Department of Energy study 20 Percent Wind by 2020 concluded that ramping up wind generation to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity would create 3,000 or more permanent jobs in many Great Plains and central US states. 02/2012

It’s a Wonderful Rural Life
I recently attended a presentation of It’s a Wonderful Life. A troupe of local actors from nearby towns put on the stage adaptation of the classic Frank Capra film. I enjoyed it. The cast was good, Bonnie Chat, who played the gender-adjusted role of George Bailey’s guardian angel Clarice Odbody, in particular. It reminded me of the ongoing debate I’ve had with anyone who will listen about the importance of cultural amenities in rural communities. 01/2012

Bringing Rural Food Systems to the Table
When I got interested in food systems, I learned everything I could about food access, food justice, and the American food environment. Upon graduating from college in May 2011, I felt prepared to work on any food systems issue I might encounter in my professional life. And then I moved to rural Nebraska. 12/2011

Spotlight on Rooks, County, Kansas
Roger Hrabe is the Economic Developer for Rooks County, Kansas, an area of six small towns located in northwest Kansas with a total population of around 5,000. This is his 11th year, having worked as a teacher and coach before life took him in this direction. Developing small local businesses is a main focus; Roger has helped many of the more than 70 new small businesses get started in Rooks County since 2001. 11/2011

Small Town Shares Sales Tax Revenue
The idea of regional rural development takes a cultural shift to put into practice. It happens when people recognize that “destinies are intertwined,” as our friend Marcel LaFlamme wrote about a very successful regional system he discovered in Carrington, North Dakota. 10/2011

Local Organizing Brings Local Food to Local Tables
Interest and demand for locally grown foods continues to grow. Increases in farmers markets are a good indication. They have more than doubled since 2000, from 2,863 to 6,132 in 2010. Over 100,000 farms now sell directly to local consumers, and this growth translates into improved local economies. 09/2011

Local Foods Offer Economic Opportunity
Given our vast agricultural resources, it makes sense to look at food as having the potential to build small town economies in Nebraska and other agricultural states. Is it the solution to prosperity? It’s definitely worth a good hard look, as new statistics from Nebraska show. 07/2011

Fitch's Neighbors Inspire Local Attitudes
In tough economic times, it's not unusual to see rural businesses close their doors. So the wide ray of hope shining from Wilmore, Kentucky is nothing short of inspiring. A community member worried about the struggles of grocer Leonard Fitch and the Wilmore IGA his family has run since 1956. An idea struck him. Why not return some of the neighborliness to Mr. Fitch that he's shown to the people of Wilmore? 06/2011

Customer Service and Small Town Development
The example I’m about to give occurred in Laurel, Nebraska, a town of about 980, but it can be any small town’s story, and I think it should be. The Center for Rural Affairs held a meeting in Laurel recently. Three separate “Welcome Center for Rural Affairs” marquees met us as we traveled about town. Business owners both on and off our tour said the same thing, “Laurel wants us here, and we want to be here.” 05/2011

Celebrating What's Wonderful about Rural
Conversations around rural often revolve around the problems facing us – population loss, health concerns, etc. The issues are real and can't be dismissed, but today I’d like to spotlight what’s wonderful about rural. I was reminded of this during the bitter winter that is (hopefully) over. A friend of mine from a town of 900 said, “You know you are in a rural community when there are 7 cars with engines running out front of the grocery store while the owners are in buying groceries.” 04/2011

Keeping People Involved in Communities
People get involved because they want to make a difference. Identifying their skills and interests and giving them opportunities to use them are paramount in keeping them involved. New volunteers start out excited and ready to tackle anything, but end up frustrated, disillusioned, and leave when they aren't given a chance. 02/2011

Community Involvement Spurs New Ideas
“How do we get people involved in our town?” So many of our communities and organizations are suffering from “STP” (same ten people) syndrome. It not only wears them out, we also miss the new people and ideas that can make a real difference. 01/2011

Local Foods Making a Difference
If you think using local foods can impact your community, you're right. Research showed that for every $1 invested in a 7-county Buy Fresh Buy Local Program in Northern Iowa, $6.50 returned in economic impact to the local community. 12/2010

Regional Food Systems as Economic Opportunity
Interest in locally grown food has been escalating across the country. The recent egg recall strengthened the case for knowing where our food comes from. Enter the regional food system and the potential for significant economic impacts. 11/2010

Our friends at Nebraska Rural Living are featured in this video clip.

Bold Ideas & Action Pave Opportunity Highway
Hoffman, Minnesota, population 672, is a community that sees obstacles as opportunities. That’s because of Muriel Krusemark’s work for the Hoffman Economic Development Authority. In three short years, remarkable things have happened. 10/2010

Boomers and Seniors Desire Rural Life
I recently had a question from someone trying to get her town council to purchase a small van to transport people about town as needed. The primary population for the van was to be the community’s seniors, but it would be available to all. 09/2010

Building Our Communities in Our Time
Just how difficult would it be to identify a rural community? Aw, come on, that is easy. On the other hand, is it? A recent Google search of rural community definition provided me with 2,080,000 results. In a way, this did not surprise me. I did not search too deep into the omnipotent internet. 08/2010

Planting a Community Garden Builds Relationships
One of the most important components of successful community development is building and strengthening relationships among community members. It builds trust – and strong, trust-based relationships go a long way toward moving a community forward. 07/2010

High School Graduates: What if they Planned to Come Back?
It’s that time of year when people who live in small towns across the country celebrate and mourn at the same time. We celebrate our high school seniors reaching a milestone of adulthood as they graduate and move on to that next phase of their lives. We mourn the fact that many may be gone for good, with little chance of returning. What if, instead of sending them off as we do now, we changed the conversation? 06/2010

Essentials of Attracting Generation Y
Most rural communities are trying to figure out how to attract under-40’s folks. These are young families with school-aged children; young farmers and ranchers who will bring new life to our communities. They are business owners and future leaders. 04/2010

Community Leadership and Generation Y
Generation Y is top-of-mind for rural community leaders. They’d like to know how to draw these young individuals and families back to their communities. Once they’ve done that, they’d also like to figure out how best to involve them in leadership roles. 02/2010

Power of Networking
I never cease to be amazed at the power of networking, not only for individuals but for small businesses as well – and ultimately what that means for rural community development. The more we can do to support small business growth in rural communities, the better the outcome for our communities. 01/2010

Strategies to Work with Absentee Landlords
Absentee ownership of Main Street buildings and homes can present challenges for rural communities: empty storefronts; badly maintained buildings; rents that are too high; poor energy efficiency and high utility costs; homes with overgrown lawns, etc. 12/2009

Building Community Strength
There are many promising strategies to create a better future for rural communities and genuine opportunity for rural people. Members of each community must identify approaches that fit them and then provide the grassroots leadership to make them happen. We identify 7 activities to help. 11/2009

Youth Entrepreneurship on the Rise
Story of 3 small schools at work building future entrepreneurs: Cody-Kilgore, Leeton, KS and Bancroft-Rosalie, NE. 11/2009

Health Care - What If Rural Really Mattered?
Making health care coverage affordable for the rural self-employed should be a driving force in the reform debate. Over half the jobs in rural America are tied to small businesses or self-employment – on family farms, ranches and Main Street businesses. 10/2009

Working Together to Make Healthier Communities
Rural people eat less nutritious food, get less physical activity, and are more often obese than their urban counterparts. Research shows the community environment plays a key role in determining the health of its residents. We suggest 5 measures that work through existing infrastructure. 09/2009

Main Street Revives in “The Most Unlikely Place”
Lewellen, Nebraska, a remote community of 250 people in the Nebraska Sandhills, faces the same challenges as other rural communities. But there’s something different about this town and all of Garden County, Nebraska. Rather than sitting idly by while their future is determined for them, they are actively shaping it through leadership, inclusion, relationship building and entrepreneurism. 09/2009

Rural Communities Weakened by Absentee Farmland Ownership
Farmland ownership is increasingly shifting out of rural hands, costing small communities their natural resource wealth. Exporting that wealth leaves less to support the local economy, churches and development efforts. 09/2009

Building a Future for Your Community During a Recession
Hard times are hard on people. They drive some of us out of jobs and homes. Rural communities that reach out and offer options to those whose lives have been disrupted can help secure their own future. We see 5 strategies to help small communities amidst the recession. 07/2009

Entrepreneurial Curriculum and Rural Development
Rural schools do a good job and have some of the most dedicated teachers around. We’re very fortunate in that regard. But let me pose this question – how much more successful could we be if we infused entrepreneurship into every aspect of our school system? Could we reverse the trend in population decline and youth flight? It’s a thought with merit. 06/2009

Positive, Personal Contact Paramount in Recruiting and Retaining New Residents
I had an interesting conversation about two years back that I’ve not forgotten. After giving a presentation, I was approached by a shop owner from a town of about 1,100 bemoaning the fact that he was not having any success drawing new people into his main street store. 06/2009

Why New Residents Relocate
So many communities are creating websites and marketing plans with the sole intent of attracting new people to come live, work and thrive in their town. What draws someone to a community, and, more importantly, what makes them stay? Is it as simple as a website or is there more? 04/2009

Prosperous Communities Built on Cooperation and Trust
Anyone who wants economic development ought to begin by building cooperation and trust that forms the core of community. That's a recommendation from university research focused on understanding how citizens engage in practical ways to improve the place where they live. 03/2009

Community Attitude Plays Role in Attracting Young
People ask us, "how do we retain youth in our communities?" It’s a tough question, and one without one single answer. Some pieces, but not all, are support of and introduction to entrepreneurship at an early age, encouragement to return, connection to place, and respect of and taking youth seriously. 02/2009


For more information on the Rural Community Revitalization Digest, contact Kathie Starkweather, Rural Opportunities Program Director, at

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