Recognizing the strength of our rural roots


Fixing fence on our acreage this spring, my husband and I stumbled over something big hidden in the grass at the pasture’s edge. It took our joint effort to pry it up: a large, spoked metal wheel almost four feet across. It was heavy, but once freed, one person could lift and move it easily. When I glanced back at the ground where the wheel had lain concealed, I was struck by what had bound it so tightly to the earth: grass roots.

Each individual grass root was a tiny, fragile white thread, yet my arms still ached from the struggle against them. Over time, the collective root system of the grass plants had intertwined to securely fasten the old wheel in place, defying our brute force.

We talk a lot about “grassroots” with our policy work at the Center for Rural Affairs: grassroots organizing, grassroots communities, grassroots activism, grassroots support. It is a common word in the nonprofit sector as well as the political sphere. The term suggests collective effort, many small contributions joining to advance progress.

When people describe grassroots organizing for a common cause, they’re often talking about an effort that moves upward and outward, roots pushing up green blades that spread to create a lush lawn. The movement is transformation, beautification, improvement. The wheel in the grass reminded me that grass roots have another powerful function: to hold us together, to anchor us, to conserve the soil on which we stand—to root us in our rural landscape.

The Center works tirelessly to bring together diverse people and cultivate lively and vibrant rural communities. But as grass grows up and out, it also grows down. Our collective action is effective not just because our roots are many; our movement is deliberate, our collaborations are meaningful, and our roots run deep.

Feature photo: While fixing fence, Jillian Linster found a large wheel bound by grass roots. At the Center, we talk about “grassroots” often and use its strength to drive policy efforts.  |  Photo by Jillian Linster