Small towns have a future. Even with all the push toward urbanization, small towns will still be needed for several key reasons. Over the next few emails, let’s talk about some of the most important reasons that small towns are necessary.
Reason we need small towns #1: Food.
I love to eat; you do, too. That’s one reason why I love small towns. Small towns are necessary to growing, producing, and distributing food.
Yes, I know we’ve been hearing a lot about urban agriculture, small scale farming, turning your suburban yard into food, and many other amazing projects. They are all beneficial and will continue to grow.
Over 97% of all land in the United States is rural. *
The vast majority of our food is produced in rural areas by people who live, work second jobs, or do business in small towns. Small towns are the necessary support system for our food supply.
We all know that direct ag jobs are declining. As modern agriculture continues to consolidate farms and increase productivity, fewer workers are needed for direct food production jobs. The need for directly-related industries like farm equipment, grain storage, and shipping facilities, is also stable or declining.
However, opportunities to add value to our agricultural products are increasing. My own town, Alva, Oklahoma, has a plant that turns wheat flour into dough products. (VAP Cooperative) They buy from the milling company two counties away. And the milling company buys from farmers all over this corner of the state. That’s a solid value-added project.
Two big opportunities for small towns:
1. A new wave of innovative food production
We’re seeing more small farms, more organic production, more specialty crops, more exotic produce, more diverse plantings, more humane animal care, more local foods, more sustainable practices, and more farmers markets. Farmers do not fall into just two groups: traditional versus non-traditional. Now farmers come in a much wider variety. There’s an entire continuum of production methods, as the people who manage farms and ranches make more conscious choices about every aspect of their lives.
All of this is buoyed by the massive consumer interest in “small” and “local.” Buyers all over are asking more questions about where their food comes from, how it is produced, how it is cared for. While big agri-business corporations will try (and are trying) to meet this demand, they just aren’t what consumers are looking for. Some small urban farmsteads are appealing to consumers, but small towns are in the best position to ride this wave of innovative food production.
Small towns can best benefit through locally-owned businesses that produce and distribute the kind of food people are looking for today.
2. Food as tourism
This fascination with food also leads to innumerable opportunities to bring people out of the cities and onto the farm. Agri-tourism is just beginning its ascent.
Just look at the amazing stuff that Norfolk County, Ontario, does with their Norfolk Farms agritourism. Now, realize that about 10 years ago, this area was almost entirely a mono-culture of tobacco. Today you’ll find grapes, goji berries, hops, lavender, blueberries, and a myriad of other cool things growing. And the County is taking advantage of these new opportunities for increased tourism.
What food and ag opportunities are you seeing in your region? Who is doing brilliant stuff with this? Hit reply and tell me about it.
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
*Depends on your definition of rural. U.S. Census 1990 definition classifies 97.5% of all land in the U.S. as rural.