Growing up, some of my fondest memories were made on my Grandparents’ farm. Building forts with my cousins, freezing sweet corn and just being in wide, open spaces are experiences that I wish I could pass on to my children. Those times are gone for my family. And they seem to also be passing for many other Nebraska small towns and farms.
After my Grandpa’s death, the farm was too much for my Grandma. When they put the house on the market, my husband and I debated on going that direction. As the house needed some work, we hesitated – after all, there was not even an upstairs bathroom. Even more compelling was the lack of work opportunities. At the time, my husband had just started a good job in the city. Moving to the country could have required him returning to the life of a trucker. Not exactly what you want to happen when you have an infant. After being in our family for several generations, the mailbox now has had a different last name for almost a decade.
Driving out to our kids’ piano recital at a small country church caused both my husband and I to feel nostalgic. As newly marrieds, we lived in a small Nebraska town and attended a small church bordered by farmed fields. This place was very similar to the country church that my Great-Great-Grandpa had helped to found over a century ago. The church I still love to attend whenever we are out that direction. Yet I know that while I may dream about living again in a small town, sometimes those living there may feel like they are trapped in a nightmare. Nebraska small towns and farms are not always what they seem.
Many reasons exist for concern for the rural lifestyle. Unfortunately, suicide rates are higher in non-metro areas. Surviving economically in rural America can be more of a challenge. While big farms can easily find government support, often smaller places struggle. According to this same article in the Daily Yonder, many people do worry that small towns are dying. Some have legitimate cause for concern according to this Journal Star article.
The town of Newport was once a thriving town that shipped off hay. Gradually over the last several years, businesses have continued to close. So far they are trying to keep open their volunteer fire department and are trying to raise the funds to open a new community center/fire station to help revitalize the needed services to keep a town alive. The process is a challenging one, as gradually many people feel the need to move on in order to have a chance for economic survival.
When businesses close anywhere, the community is impacted. Recently a Lincoln Railyard restaurant (Jack and June) closed their doors after less than a year. While disappointing for the owners, this will be a small blip for the community that still has multiple restaurants to choose from in just a several block radius. In a small community, this is often not the case.
Some good friends of ours live in a small Nebraska community. While he has another regular job, he still cuts meat at their local market for a few hours a week. Not for the pay, which is minimal, but to allow their small town grocery store to stay open. Without the option of buying fresh meat, many of their customers would possibly do most of their shopping in larger town. This allows the town to keep their grocery store.
What is the solution? Often moving in a large manufacturing plant can help provided needed employment. Yet this changes the dynamics of a community. This also causes 2nd and 3rd shift positions often which can change the dynamics of a family.
What about family farms that are gradually being taken over by larger operations? What about farmland that is gradually sold off for development? After all, when the demand for acreages is large, this can seem like more of a viable option for those struggling to maintain their land. How can Nebraska keep the positive parts of having a primarily rural culture while avoiding the pitfalls that can come with limited opportunities? The struggle is real for Nebraska small towns and farms.
How about you personally? Do you live in rural area, a small town or a larger city? What type of environment is in your community? One full of optimism or despair? This opinion letter by Jeff Yost, president and CEO, of the Nebraska Community Foundation highlights a few small town success stories. Do you have suggestions or solutions of your own? Please comment below or make a post on the Odyssey Through Nebraska Facebook page. I look forward to hearing some fresh ideas on how to keep this part of Nebraska that I love, the small town community feel, alive and well! I want Nebraska small towns and farms to thrive again.