Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Rural By Choice

When I was growing up in rural Knox County, Missouri (population 3,744 as of the 2020 census) I never really doubted that I'd move away when I grew up. It seemed a forgone conclusion, and that's exactly how it turned out. After college I lived in Brazil, New Mexico, and New Jersey, but never moved back to where I grew up. It seemed and still seems impossible. After all, what would I do there? The only options are agriculture, operating a small business, or service work. Besides, I intended to go into ministry (oh right, that's another option, though it's as poorly remunerated as anything), and eventually came to believe that mission work in Brazil was my calling. My kids grew up in urban New Jersey, and there's every likelihood that when I have grandchildren, they too will grow up here. Then again, my kids could move away, but certainly not to rural northeast Missouri.

For years I was pretty negative about the place where I grew up. With that few people the gossip can be vicious and damaging. Opportunities are few. The old buildings erected over 100 years ago are now literally falling in ruins, giving an air of decay that as a teenager seemed to hang over me. High school there made me lose almost all hope in humanity. Most of all, I saw no future there.

The passing of the years have seasoned my perspective. While I am still keenly aware of the negatives, I can finally see some of the positives. I recognize that friendships I formed then still exist now. When I go back to visit there are people who know who I am. The same can't be said of where my kids grew up, with the dense population of that New Jersey township turning over so frequently. Social media does manage to mitigate that somewhat. I also remember the kindly neighbor woman who helped me with and some other children my age with our 4-H fair craft projects, the other neighbor who helped one of my brothers with an electrical project for the fair, and the sweet woman who taught my VBS class how to find chapter and verse in the Bible. There were the volunteers who coached my little league team, the teachers who didn't give up on me, and the various people who cheered me on as I found my way out of the county.

I am not the only one to have such a change in perspective on rural origins. There have been many books, articles, and videos that I've encountered in recent months where people have explored their rural upbringing, or else went from an urban to a rural background. A short documentary series that recently caught my attention has been 'Rural By Choice,' featuring radio host Cory Hepola as he goes back to the Minnesota county he called home in his youth. With around 60,000 inhabitants it's not really as rural as where I grew up, but I guess he considers it small. In any event, this is a quick series to watch, and pretty enjoyable. He seems amusingly out of place for someone claiming a rural background, and he's quite kind in the narrative he shares. The first video in the series is below, or you can click here for the full playlist

As for me, I do have a strong interest in agroforestry, and certainly a small brewery could potentially do well in the right rural community. Still, with two young adult children, one in college, and with my preparation for ministry, it seems unlikely that I could make such a change any time soon. Even were I to do so, the farthest I can envision going is eastern Pennsylvania. After all, as I said above, maybe someday there will be grandkids.