What Would Rural America Look Like If?

Periodically, over the last 18 months, we have asked a question in this newsletter, a question that has both intrigued and perturbed – and probably more of the latter. We have asked, what would it look like if rural America truly mattered? If rural people and rural places were given the credit, and standing, that they deserve – not more, not less, but a just hearing and fair consideration – then what would it look like?

Public policies have, often as not, been the enemy of rural America. But policies are choices, choices made by people, choices that can be reversed by people of good will and common sense. What kind of policy choices would reverse the ominous trends that we see in rural America?

Consider Woodbury County, Iowa. Over the last few years Woodbury County has worked to make different choices. In June 2005, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance, a first in the nation local policy that provides a property tax incentive to landowners who convert farmland to certified organic production.

But they did not stop there. Woodbury County and Sioux City have supported and promoted their Floyd Boulevard Farmers Market. And the county implemented a local food buying policy the seeks to ensure that tax dollars for food purchases are spent on food that is organically produced and processed within 100 miles of the courthouse in Sioux City.

Western Iowa Technical College, located in Sioux City, now offers a degree program in organic agriculture. The Iowa Legislature has considered making an organic property tax incentive available statewide. Other counties from as far away as Florida are considering adopting some of Woodbury County’s policies. But one person with the vision behind all this, Rob Marqusee, Woodbury County’s Rural Economic Development Director, concerns himself more with the impact on the local economy, on his home.

“This is all part of my ‘parallel universe’ theory where subsidized markets are called free markets and free markets are called subsidized markets. If we are paying the true cost of food, that’s not a subsidy, that’s paying the true cost of food. When Woodbury County buys local food and invests in local food production, invests in agriculture that returns more of a profit to the local economy, the residents, the taxpayers of Woodbury County win,” Marqusee points out.

Rob Marqusee understands rural economic development in a deeper sense than just about anyone I have ever met. If we choose to understand what rural America would look like if rural people and places truly mattered, perhaps we should look at the direction Woodbury County is heading, or perhaps just talk Rob Marqusee into sharing a little more of his vision with us all.

Contact: John Crabtree, 402.687.2103 x 1010 or johnc@cfra.org with your comments.

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