Walking Taller in Rural America

When I tell people that I work for the Center for Rural Affairs, a frequent response goes something like this: "I've met Chuck Hassebrook, he's a pretty amazing guy. It must be great to work for someone like him."

Indeed it is.

And never have I been more proud to work for the Center than on Friday, February 26, 2010. I was attending the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) annual conference, and Chuck was one of two powerful keynote speakers.

He packed the house - standing room only in a hall that easily held 2,000 people.

Here's an short edited excerpt of his talk, keep reading for the full audio:

People are searching for meaning, community and relationships in life, and this is what many find in rural small towns. If we embrace our rural values of fairness, ownership and responsibility, people will respond positively.

The most inspiring part of the talk for me was when Chuck broke down the 5 key pathways to tap the full potential of rural communities.

  • Authenticity - protect the meaning of rural what it stands for, and being true to the values - fairness, ownership and responsibility - for which we stand
  • Entrepreneurship - Successful rural communities must embrace new ideas, creativity, and a can-do attitude. Sometimes this means taking risks and remembering that a stranger is only a stranger because you haven't talked to them yet.
  • Contribute to community - Spending your dollars to support local businesses is often overlooked as a vital way to keep your small town lively. Participating in local organizations is another, but without commerce, a town dies.
  • Access to germplasm - Organic farmers are especially worried about genetic drift, but all farmers should be concerned with the increased corporate concentration in the seed market. If farmers want a choice of non-genetically modified seed, there needs to be changes in the way the seed market is run.
  • End policies that encourage bigness - Agriculture policy should strengthen the small and mid-sized farmer, not prop up mega-farms.

As Chuck says, we can't wait for anyone to save us - we have to work for the communities we want to live in and the policies we want to live by.

Listen to the whole speech here.

Chuck Hassebrook embodies one of the values we hold dear at the Center - being unapologetically rural. After hearing this speech, I'm prouder than ever to claim and live my rural roots.