Wednesdays from Washington: What's next for rural America?

USDA Photo by Preston Keres

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Karli Moore. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Karli is an Associate Program Officer at the Native American Agriculture Fund.

As an avid traveler, I’m always interested in how people outside of the United States conceptualize our country. It’s certain that US popular culture is overrepresented on the global scene, but the predominate picture of the nation is heavily skewed to NYC, LA, and Miami. In truth, it’s not just people across oceans who have this urban-centric view; a sizeable (and growing) population within our borders has no realistic perception of rural America today, much less what the future holds for people like my family living on a farm.

The idea of invisibility – of rural denizens not being seen in full color by urban and suburban peers – underpinned the conversation during a panel focusing on the Rural Development agency of the USDA. The panel was part of the programming for the D.C. Policy Week (March 2020) of Arizona State University’s Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership graduate certificate program. The inaugural cohort of food policy leaders were joined by Doug O’Brien (CEO of National Cooperative Business Association), Elanor Starmer (Program Officer at the Wyss Foundation), and Katharine Ferguson (Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group), all of whom are national leaders in rural development with backgrounds in federal government and private NGOs.

In the face of misinformation and lack of information regarding rural populations, what can we do to contribute to the positive development of rural areas? One suggestion that resonated in the room was to focus on storytelling. It’s a simple, yet powerful concept. We humans relate to each other through sharing of personal experiences, private feelings, and firmly held beliefs. Storytelling is a core element of my cultural heritage and could be the tie that binds us together as others harp on the rural-urban divide. We need to uplift the stories and lived experiences of rural people in the US so that the nation can behold the diversity, the heritage and the opportunity innate in rural people and economies.

What’s next for rural America? The book is laid out before us; we just need to start reading.