We Are Rural: Reflecting on 40 Years

The Center for Rural Affairs turned 40 years old this year. Think about that for a minute.

When Marty Strange and Don Ralston first threw open the doors 40 years ago, it was anyone’s guess if the scrappy organization on main street in a town of 800 would make it for one year.

It didn’t take long before rural people were flocking in from across the state.

They came to early Center gatherings. They had heard about a new organization located in the heart of rural America with a mission to lift up everyday rural people. An organization with a belief in a better future.

Soon the national media took note. More and more rural people from further and further away joined the ranks – calling themselves supporters of the Center for Rural Affairs.

It was clear. The Center answered a powerful calling; it would endure. Many of you contributed to those early successes. You helped secure early wins and build a base that pushed us to new levels.

The Center’s mandate has always been the same. In recent years we’ve expanded the strategies to get there. We’ve reached out to new friends and new allies across the nation too.

Some of you responded and joined the cause in more recent years. Together we are stronger than ever.

When I accepted the job of your Executive Director last fall, I became just the 3rd director in 40 years. If you know the Center, that is not surprising. People who commit to our cause are in it for the long haul. That includes supporters like you. It includes board members, staff, and allies.

As we reflect on 40 years of history, we also look forward. Our work has never been so important. Demand for small business capital is exploding; family farm issues remain important; while health care, energy , and climate demand more attention. Small towns are becoming more diverse, creating new opportunities and new challenges.

It is time for all of us to step up to the plate. Our success going forward depends on you.

In our 2013 annual report (pdf), you will read about the rural America you are helping create. That includes intensive work in individual communities close to home all the way to federal policy organizing efforts engaging supporters like you from all 50 states. We seek to change communities and to move the needle in Washington.

It is a unique set of work tied together by a belief that rural people, acting together in their own community and banding together across communities, can shape the future of small towns and the countryside.

It is work we do together with you.

Feature photo: Executive Director Brian Depew pauses after working lambs through the barn at his small farm near Lyons, Nebraska. His favorite thing about living and working rural? Hands down, the people!