Friday, November 27, 2009

Rural Divestment in the 21st Century

A typical Thanksgiving in America gives the majority of our population a chance to engage in a great many traditions surrounding our national day of giving thanks.  The two that I have in mind are relatively simple, yet undoubtedly widespread: gracious eating and time around the TV.  In fact, a portion of my Thanksgiving revolved around these two normalities.  I'm not a particularly devout television watcher (although I make time for Storm Chasers every Sunday) so I am not particularly abreast to the latest in sports, sitcoms or commercials for that matter.  However, if you have been near a television in the last couple months, it would have been difficult tot miss the onslaught of  IBM commercials aimed purporting a smarter planet and smarter cities. See below.

Great!  America, and the world for that matter, are getting smarter.   Or are we?  Unfortunately, this thoughtful and well intentioned ad campaign has left me with one single question:  What about rural America? Has the tide finally turned where the great corporate engine turns it's back on the resource providers and laborers of this great nation?  Now that the scale has tipped towards an undeniable urban trend, who is thinking about smarter ways to engage rural populations as a valuable member of the national ethos?  I understand that cities need to be smarter, especially considering the massive population influx that is occurring.  However, would it be equally smart to encourage stable populations in rural areas and small towns as a catalyst to alleviate the constant stress of the urban complex while promoting growth among the blighted rural populous?    Therefore, are we divesting in the success of our nation as a whole to promote the growth of an unstable and unsustainable urban population influx?  Ad campaigns such as this leave me with this question thoroughly ingrained.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lingering Rural

This past weekend, I spent a wonderful day shopping for antiques in Gladewater TX.  Gladewater is known as the "Antique Capital of East Texas".  Actually, some of these titles are somewhat humorous here in Texas primarily because of its immense size.  When googling Gladewater, I found that there are perhaps 5 different "antique capitals" here in Texas; one for each region of the state.  Once I found the our destination, my fiancee and I were off with a late start to spend a great day in small town-rural Texas, as well as find some antiques to use in our upcoming wedding (maybe we can find a spot for this too!)

Later in the week, while working and generally reflecting on the wonderful time that I had spent among the town's people in Gladewater, I came across a recent podcast on Colorado Matters, an NPR show dealing with a wide range of Colorado issues and was stuck by the similarities between my weekend experience and the relationship of the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains describe by Micheal Forsberg. Forsberg has just finished a new book entitled "The Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild" which documents the beauty and diversity of the fly over region in America. Listen Here.

Near the end of the interview, Author Michael Forsberg makes an interesting comment about the theoretical, geographical and social divide so prevalent at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  He mentions the tension between the Great Plains and the Colorado Front Range while plainly stating that many of today's rancher's out east are begging people to "look East because there is beauty [there] too".  This sentiment could not resonate stonger in me having grown up on the Front Range and been given an eye-opening chance to look and experience the vast East on the plains.

How, then, does this connect in any way with Gladewater Texas and a quick road trip to look at antiques?  The contrast between the immense flat of the Great Plains in comparison to the towering height and beauty of the Rocky Mountains stuck me in a moment of thought to be vividly similar to that of the urban versus rural debate.  The towering urban landscape easily parallels the Rocky Mountains in this hypothetical portrait,  teaming with life and rich in biodiversity of people, culture, entertainment and careers. On the other hand, small rural towns are eerily similar to the Great Plains.  Many seem the same; small, flat and uninteresting, lacking the pizzazz and energy that a growing number of people thrive on.

As the author suggests in the interview, one must spend some time in the vast openness of the plains to grasp the gravity of their significance and the beauty of their simplicity.  Paradoxically, my fiancee and I were able revell in a similar notion while visiting Gladewater this past weekend.  Finding the beauty and simplicity of this East Texas hamlet would take some time and observation to appreciate.  In fact, even myself who is accustomed to small rural towns was somewhat turned off by the lack luster entrance to Gladewater.  My hopes of a quaint and friendly town were quickly dashing away as we approached the town with a somewhat unwelcoming appearance.  But then, as we reached the hub of the town, I was able to see with the great promise and fun this experience this might offer, similar to the thoughts of the author enraptured by the wild beauty of the plains.  Indeed, we would need to linger awhile in town to find what we were looking for.

Unbeknownst to us, my fiancee and I happened upon a special event put on by the town to mark the official beginning of the holiday shopping season.  Instead of closing at the usual Saturday time, the merchants all around the town square were going to be open until 8 that particular night, hoping to invite a crowd of people to enjoy beverages, food and fellowship while helping to jump start the holiday season the stores for the community stores.  We watched as the small town came alive with a strong showing of patrons to populate the sidewalks and stores while sharing their friendly town with us.   Stores became filled with people sharing stories, laughing, and eating all while the faint ring of the cash register kept account of the events success.

What a truly great surprise this had been; a genuine rural experience in small town America.  This is the stuff they make holiday movies about, hoping to give us warm fuzzies while we sip hot chocolate and reminisce with family.  Hats off to Gladewater Texas and their Lingering Rural.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National Ag Day and Google Art

Today is Veteran's Day and I would like to personally thank all of those who have served in the US Armed Forces to ensure my freedom on a daily basis.  I hope to remember this each day as these brave heroes make a grave sacrifice for their fellow Americans.

That being said, I also found it interesting to follow the google art from today aimed towards Veteran's Day. Hopefully I am not in violation with their policies by pasting this into my blog, but here's todays Veteran's Day logo.

The clever artwork that Google supplies on special occasions is interesting visually as well as educationally.  To find out more about the topic, one must simply click on the picutre to be supplied with a wealth of information on the subject at hand.  They provide special artowrk for a number of historic dates and causes.  The traffic this promotes is most likely awe-inspiring.  One specific cause that comes to mind is Earth Day as an example.

Well what about agriculture?  Our agriculturalists have their own day as well and it will occur the next time on March 20, 2010.  So, here's the deal.  I just contacted google about the idea of creating a special google art day for National Ag Day and I would like your help if you are intersted in seeing what the rural agriculture community can get done.  Unfortunately, I was unable to save the message to post directly here on America's Great Divide.  But, you can help by contacting Google's Business Development people to advocate for National Ag Day appearing as google artwork coming up in the spring of 2010.  Follow this link and share the idea.  I shared with them that I would be willing to spearhead the event and coordination that may need to occur but will undoubtedly need to continue with more people resounding the wish to have National Ag Day appear.

I contacted their business development group and shared my thoughts here:

If you think this is a worthy cause, let me know and we'll try and gain some steam for AG!


Monday, November 9, 2009

Expand and Prosper

It's the name of the game in America...EXPAND and PROSPER!  We are notorious for it and undoubtedly accomplished at it.  Corporate business models give credence to the philosophy as they grow and succeed, then grow some more.  A recent conversation on twitter has made me think a bit about what I see as an interesting situation brewing in truly rural areas dominated by the agricultural sector.  The optimist would tell you that there is great potential for young adults entering the agricultural realm while the pessimist would argue against this sentiment.

The Optimist:

The slant in the optimist's mind goes something like so: a great majority of America's farmers and ranchers are now over the age of 60 and will be reaching retirement age in the near future (assuming this actually exists in agriculture, I'm not quite a believer) leaving a huge void in our agricultural production system.  Great!  This means more opportunities for agriculture's up and coming generation to EXPAND and PROSPER.  Therefore, vast land holdings may come on the market as a result of disinterest from younger generations or retirement of the older generation.  Either way, when there is void, the people who step up and fill it stand to make a substantial gain.  Could this be a positive light in the future of Rural America?

The Pessimist:

"Well, the only get bigger, the rich only get richer and I'm out of the running anyway."  Have you ever heard something like this?  Even in my limited experience in rural America, I have heard it many times.  Take for instance out home in Eastern Colorado.  Kirk, Colorado (try googling that one if you're up for something rural!) is a true blue farm and ranch community with a good deal of family agriculturalists doing a great job feeding the world on a daily basis.  Even in this real deal family farm community, it would be a safe estimate that roughly 4 families essentially "run" things around town.  Most likely their success has been driven by sound management and an intense will to EXPAND and PROSPER.  In fact, one family farm in the community farms over 56 sections of ground!  Farming operations that big have the connections and capital to create a great advantage and expansion possibility.  In my experience with western farmers and rancher, the will and need to expand is vital. However, land deals from retiring or failing producers often get swept under the rug and are usually arranged before any party might even have an incling that land is for sale.  With this type of system, the big continually grow and prosper while the smaller farms who indeed want to expand find a great difficuluty in procuring the land assets they need to enter the realm of profits.  Mustering the clout and political connection to find any additional land almost becomes an impossibility.

Personally, I find it interesting that a good deal of honest, hard working farm families are unable to find success in their operation because of the inability to expand.  Judging by the American journalistic climate, one might assume that a small beef operation or organic farm has great profit potential.  Unfortunately, discussion among a variety of normal family farmers here in the US would probably warrant a different answer than portrayed in the media.  In the end, I believe that our rural constituents in America need to find perspective in moderation in order to keep agriculture solvent while cultivating tomorrow's wave of optimists.  In no way do I advocate government regulation and limitation to the size of holding that a person has the right to pursue.  However, if you're in the 50+ section club, maybe its time to allow fresh blood into the mix so they too can EXPAND and PROSPER!

Any input and discussion you may have on this subject is welcome and encouraged!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rural Success....mmmmm its so good

 The previous post on America's Great Divide dealt with the big role that West Virginia has to play in the global climate change debate.  This morning, I would like to highlight another positive story in the fight for continued vitality in rural America.  It's Nebraska!

You've got to hand it to the state.  They are focused and have always been good at, well, "The Good Life".  Nebraska seems ever positive about their rural heritage and they really take it serious.  I come from half Nebraskan lineage and have experience rural Nebraska many times. I harbor fond memories of the quaint little towns and beautifully productive farms and ranches sprawling across the gateway to the west.

In keeping with the rural state theme I'd like to highlight a website that keeps it rural and inspiring.  Its not too fancy and really pretty simple, but very direct in telling the story of "rural success stories" about entrepreneurs out making the grade in the Cornhusker state.  Watching the continual flow of negative press for rural America, I was happy to find this list to remind us that our rural constituents are out making a living, and doing a great job at it to boot!

Enjoy the list and think about people in your own state out making rural living feasible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Go get 'em West Virginia

I ran across this an interesting article a couple of nights ago and I'd like to share some thoughts about it.  The article is entitled "Can rural America hold the world ransom?" and is a blog post from a BBC news reporter doing some gallivanting state side.

Interestingly enough, Justin Rowlett nailed the point by simply naming his article.  Yes, rural America can hold the rest of the world ransom.  Regardless of whether you believe in the consensus on climate change or not (in which I do not), the article aims right at the heart of why our country is great and why it is important to remember what rural folks provide.  After reading the post, you will discover that the key to passing any climate change legislation lies with the senators from West Virginia who are not budging on their position opposing the bill.  I have to hand it to them, they are doing what they are supposed to do, holding out for the best interest of their constituents, who would undoubtedly be hurt by the legislation.  Congratulation for having a backbone.

Also, after perusing the comments on the post, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support the rural state was getting.  Sure, their state bet big on one main industry and it is probably crippling them,  but why cause any more pain by helping to disintegrate their economy with unwanted legislation? Why should any elected official get to be the judge of who wins and who loses?

This dilemma exposes the urban to rural divide in extremely poignant moment of world history.  Just when the majority vote of urban citizens thinks they are going to rule the roost, they are reminded of their ignorance by those who ensure the comforts of their existence by working professions many of us see as unfit.  As I wrote in a previous post, our nation cannot simply forget about our rural economy and its huge contribution to our way of life.  So way to go West Viginia and your senators for protecting your own, I can get on board with that.