Annette Tait & Katy "Kate" Kassian
Has someone from your town has been to a rural conference lately? If not, you've got plenty to learn! Take it from us — rural conferences and summits can change your community. Send someone who loves your town or area, is willing to go in with a positive attitude and is ready to absorb information like a sponge. He or she will come back inspired by the people they meet and the tons of ideas and examples you can put to use in your community. And that excitement is contagious!
There's an old joke about "Our town's so small we don't have a town drunk — everyone has to take turns." If you get past the "town drunk" part, there's a ring of truth to the statement — it takes everyone to get the job done.
Overall, we have probably spent more years living rural than in the city. And we do know that one definitely needs a sense of humor to live "out here." For instance, it's a fact that nylon stockings have the same tensile strength as a tow rope. Yes ... really.
It's officially spring — time to put on our "ready for company" faces and get ready for tourist season! Every rural community has at least eight things that, with a little bit of creativity, can tempt travelers to stop and spend some time — and some money — in your town. You may not have all eight, but we're willing to bet you've got most of them: art/culture (think annual celebrations and the like), cuisine (we mostly just call it food), geography, architecture, commerce (shopping!), people, customs and history.
We love seeking out little cafes when we travel. You know the kind — where locals meet for breakfast, grab a meal with family or hang out with the coffee crew. It's where we get more than a meal — we get a sense of the place we're visiting and the people who live there.
There's still good in our world, despite what we see in the news. There are people out there pulling together to help others in need and achieving amazing results. And it's not a new phenomenon. This isn't meant to minimize the recent school shooting in Florida — we are just as shocked, outraged and saddened as the next person. As a nation, we need to put party lines aside and look more deeply into the root causes if we're to find means to stop the senseless killing. There is no single cause or easy solution.
We love coffee as much as the next guy, but having a Starbucks — or any other nationally recognized franchise — doesn't put a town on the map. Some of the best places we know of aren't much more than wide spots on two-lane roads. Take Regan, N.D., (pop. 44, plus or minus). Most people driving through this little town miss its many treasures, even though they're "hidden in plain sight."
It's the middle of January, and the annual grumbling about how far sales have dropped off is in full swing. For many, sales are down to nearly nothing compared to the high season. It's a natural phenomenon that happens every year to large and small retailers in rural communities and big cities alike. The difference is the customer base — small town and rural businesses are off-the-beaten-path, so don't have the same opportunities for foot traffic, impulse shopping and being "on the way" to or from other errands. The struggle is real.
Small towns may ebb and grow, but we're not going away. Sure, there's plenty of trash talk — it really ticks us off to read articles that suggest rural people should just pack up their U-Hauls and flee small towns because they are "dysfunctional, downscale communities ... that deserve to die," as a National Review article suggested.
If you live rural, you probably use your cooperative extension service for something — it's a one stop shop for information and resources. What would you do if it closed? Folks who live in urban areas — what we rural folks call "the city" — have all sorts of options for consumer information, horticulture and youth programs. They can go to community education classes, local nurseries, YMCAs, recreation districts and more.