The growing desert that's rural America
Ultimately, if a rural city wants to grow, the people who live there have to invest in the community.
Chuck Jolley, Commentary, Feedstuffs
Oct 09, 2017
My old friend Dr. Dick Raymond recently wrote about the 'junk fooding' of rural America. If you're living in a town of less than 5,000 people, odds are that real, healthy food is hard to find. Junk food, however, is available in almost every c-store, gas station or truck stop. Vending machines dispense gum, candy, soda and baked goods with a shelf life measured in years.
But fresh fruits and vegetables? If you're not growing them, you probably won't find them unless you're willing to take a half day or more to travel to Costco in the nearest Omaha-sized city. Fresh meat? Better be ready to knock your own cow, pig, chicken.
Therein lies the problem. Rural America is quickly becoming a desert and I'm not talking about the miles of sand and interminable heat of the Sahara. Too many rural American towns can't claim much more than a church or two and a corner gas station, maybe a very limited selection grocery store, barely hanging on, and a nearby school for their children within a two-hour drive. They are emptying out, becoming as desolate as parts of the Sahara. It's why most rural youth are abandoning the agricultural centers of our nation as soon as they can.
Standing virtually alone in that rapidly emptying field is the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska. They boldly go where few others are willing to venture. "Rural America," its vision statement says, "unleashes the full potential of its leadership, economic capacity, cultural creativity and natural resources, creating explicit value for small and large communities within and beyond its geography. Rural places have become the legitimate best choice for leaders, businesses, families, graduates and explorers. Rural people earn global respect for fueling the future of humankind."
RFI is mining for tiny nuggets of gold and they'll sift through millions of acres populated by thousands of people to hit pay dirt. Fortunately, many of those people tend to be hard-nosed, self-reliant types with a 'get 'er done' attitude. The John Wayne-inspired cowboy myth that defines the hardiness of the Old West is not a myth for them.
Maybe that's why Charles P. “Cowboy Chuck” Schroeder, founding executive director of the RFI was chosen to run the organization. He served 12 years as president and executive director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He earned his spurs as CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and served as executive vice president and director of development at the University of Nebraska Foundation and director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture...