To reverse the massive degradation to our world that has occurred during the age of oil, plastics and the Green Revolution, we need to completely reimagine our relationship with the land. And there is so much land to tend!
In fact, 85% of the land in the United States is currently classified as rural. However, the number of people in rural areas is declining not rising. That should be shocking to anyone. To tend the land healthfully, we need more people living in rural areas, not fewer. And we have to foster ways of life conducive to healthy stewardship.
I have met many young adults since I moved to the rural hilltowns of western Massachusetts 13 years ago who want to farm intensively and organically. But grossly inflated real estate values, the industrial agriculture market, zoning laws and other regulations prevent most of them from staying longer than a brief period of experience and experiment.
Though the cards are stacked against massively increasing the numbers of intensive farmers and others caring for the land, fortunately there are trends to develop a rich rural life that is so needed to sustain our world.
The number of New England farms is increasing, for instance. While many are smaller than the those that have been lost, creative farmers are adapting and filling new niches. Additionally, the number of women and minority farmers is growing.
In my community, creative and vibrant rural community is being fostered by an older generation who have chosen to age in the hills alongside young families and others who prefer a quieter, more holistic way of life. Many of the people I know have chosen to live in rural areas to consciously cultivate community. Their activities involve gardening, healthy land use, creative community organizing and a high regard for land, people and nature.
At a time when so many signs point toward environmental, social and civic decay, rural communities like ours can provide positive models. We need forums that give voice to these bright visions and allow an exchange of ideas. We need to hear of imaginative, practical alternatives. We need to hash out serious challenges. New Ruralism is a nascent but burgeoning movement. I want to help the concept gel and advance by providing a venue for it to live and breathe in cyberspace.
To do this, I am launching the New Rural Advocate, a website that will provide a public forum for the discussion of the widest range of issues currently affecting rural communities.
The New Rural Advocate will provide space for multiple authors to share original writings about relevant topics, including healthy agriculture, creative economy, community regeneration, nonprofit organization, cooperative networking, democratic governance, care for the commons and much more. It will provide a platform for organizations to share their experience and increase interest in their causes. I also plan to launch a podcast to allow the voices of local farmers, community organizers, small town government officials, nonprofit leaders, pastors and others to share their own vision of why new rural life is meaningful and necessary to them and to us.
While the potential interest in this forum may be wide, I plan to start in the area I know – western Massachusetts, and then New England as a whole. The issues we face here are not the precisely the same as other rural areas in the country, where the emphasis on mining, grazing, industrial farming and other factors are different. Ultimately, it would be exciting to broaden the conversation to include all those voices. But in the meantime, I am encouraged to begin in our own back yard. Those interested in participating should contact me.