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RURAL AMERICA NO LONGER MEANS RURAL
OR FARMING

August 28, 2009



(NATIONAL) -- This is the rapidly changing face of rural America.

A study last year found that the 260 largest farm operations in 13 Midwest and Great Plains states – operations often called “Big Agri-business,” or large corporate owned farms - received more federal money than the Agriculture Department’s rural development programs for nearly 3 Million people in more than 1,400 communities.

The study covered the three most recent years for which data were available, says the Center for Rural Affairs, a non-profit rural and family-farm advocacy group based in Lyons, Neb.

"One (federal) policy doesn't fit all," said Mil Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

RURAL AMERICA: A LOT MORE THAN FARMING THESE DAYS

The institute issued a report this month based on surveys of 8,000 people in 19 rural American counties. Its findings emphasize that 21st-century rural America is not just about farming.

Home to 17% of the nation's population, rural areas in America consist of at least four distinct regions that face contrasting problems. According to the report, the four rural Americas are:

Amenity-rich. They're places like Aspen, Colo., or the Appalachian region around Asheville, N.C., where mountains, lakes, coastlines or forests draw vacationers, retirees and second-home owners. Challenges: Affordable housing for long-time residents and workers and controlling sprawl to protect the environment.

Declining resource-dependent. They once thrived on agriculture, timber, mining and manufacturing — industries that have declined because of globalization and depleted resources. The middle class is disappearing and the population is aging and shrinking. The Great Plains is a prime example.

Chronically poor. These are regions such as the Mississippi Delta where residents and the land have seen decades of dwindling resources.

In transition. Traditional resource-based economies are in decline, but these areas have natural beauty that offers potential for growth in service economies and niche industries. These areas include parts of New England and our own Pacific Northwest.

"Those areas historically have relied on natural abundance (of natural resources) to support livelihood," according to John Berdes, president of ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, a non-profit community development financial institution based in Astoria, Ore.

In the past, says Berdes, folks in those rural areas didn’t have to do much to feel financially secure. But in those same communities today that is no longer the case.

THE PROBLEM: LITTLE MONEY IS AVAILABLE

Government programs that help rural areas diversify are few and far between. In its most recent farm bill, Congress set aside $4 Million dollars a year for a new “rural development” program.

That is less than half of 1% of what the government spends on farm programs every year for large corporation farming yet in today’s rural America, only 4% of rural residents make their living from farming, according to the Danville Regional Foundation in Virginia.
The last time most Americans lived on farms was in 1880 and the last time the majority lived in rural communities was in 1920.

And as rural populations continue to shrink, their needs may get even less attention once seats in Congress and most state legislatures are reapportioned after the 2010 Census.





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