cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Highlighted
Honored Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Perhaps the best mix is a while away, then gaining the advantage of returning to a going operation. That way, you have a sense thst farming was a choice, not a given, or even expected of you.
0 Kudos
Highlighted
Senior Contributor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Wow! Matt is a pretty good writer. Great post.
0 Kudos
Highlighted
Senior Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Good comments, Matt!

 

Am 20 years older than Matt, grew up on the farm (small farm, large family), left as soon as out of high school, and came back 15+ years ago.

 

In mid1970's, all I heard from my parents was that there was no future in farming, it cost too much to get started, and they couldn't afford to assist a startup like some of the neighbors were doing for their sons.  Away to work and college, and on from there without really looking back.  So, the reasons for leaving were primarily 1) lack of encouragement from parents to stay, 2) the perception of better opportunities elsewhere, and 3) encouragement from parenets to pursue opportunities elsewhere.  Plus, the normal things about small town living, limited non-farm opportunities in rural areas, stepping out of the small-town situation of "this is who you are, and this is your place in our little society" kind of thing, and so on.

 

Still, as long as I can remember, I always wanted to farm.  Even while living in other states far from "home", I would seek out farmer friends and lend a hand on weekends and holidays in the spring and fall when they most needed some help, never willingly accepting payment for helping, just some good meals, somewhere to sleep, friendship and some good times.  Never really found an opportunity to begin farming on my own until my Dad indicated he was ready to rent his ground to someone, and asked me to help him decide.  So, what began with "what about me?" as a renter, turned in to "we'll give it a try, but you can't use my equipment because I might still need it" -- same old vote of confidence from the folks -- so, out with the good job in the far-away city, and back to the place I started.  And, out with the stock market investments, and in with finding somewhere cheap to live, old equipment to get started on small acreage, and re-introducing myself to old friends and old neighbors.

 

It wasn't easy.  It probably wouldn't have happened if I had other attachments, nor without my parents being willing to take a chance on me as a renter, though it was't really much of a gamble for them.  For me, I had outgrown any need to escape, had learned much from other farmers I'd been helping over the years, really wanted to farm somewhere, had my own startup capital, and jumped at the chance to begin farming in old familiar territory.  It has worked out fairly well, have worked at a couple of part-time jobs, have rented other ground, bought the family farm, and have added a couple other small acreages not too far away.  After 15+ years farming, finally getting back to where I can have some time/money for life outside the farm also.  Most of my closest friends today are people I never knew before, and most are people who never left, or came back right after college.  And, of course, a few of my best friends are people I've known all my life even though I never really interacted with any of them for 20 years, which only happened because I did come back.

 

As for keeping the youth around, I've had a few observations from my own experience.  It's easier to keep the youth around than it is to get them to come back.  Encouragement, assistance, family, friendships, and available non-farm activities/income are all important in either case. 

 

If we encourage youth to go elsewhere, they probably will.  If we do not encourage them to return, they probably won't. 

 

 

 

Highlighted
Honored Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

WCMO,

 

No excuse,  I had the same "encouragement" as you, but did what I thought was good for my dad rather than what he thought was good for me.  (Well more honestly there were circumstances that made it good for both of us, though he never thought it was a good idea.  In his mind a degree and a desk job was success and farming was a calling).

 I learned to accept my dad's philosophy that I could live with my own mistakes and failures, and walk away happy for trying if things went bad.

But as a Parent I gotta say, it is so hard to encourage a family member into a life with so much risk and sacrafice when your not sure you are going to make it or not yourself.  Farms are at their highest risk when they are growing.  And when your asking a child to share that risk with you------ your sometimes asking a spouse of a child to do the same.

Risk is hard to share.

0 Kudos
Highlighted
Senior Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

You speak the truth.  As a kid, my dad seemed like one you could never satisfy, just had to do your best and hope he didn't bug you about it, a lot of work and no pocket money, probably similar to many people we know and/or on this site.  Spending alot of time later with my employment and on other people's farms in my spare time allowed me to learn that there's more than one way to do it "right".  Dad looked at farming as something you should do if you didn't have any other better options -- if nothing to lose, okay to take on the risk -- then, once you hit your stride, reduce the risk and protect what you have.  They owned one small farm, and never rented any ground.  They went thru some really tough times in the 1950's when he was just out of the army and starting farming -- which I'm sure greatly influenced his perception of risk.  Some of dad's philosophies I accept, and always have, some not so much.  Never really thought my folks trusted my judgement, yet when they were ready to retire, they did turn to me, probably their subtle way of seeing if I really had any interest in coming back to farm, even at mid-life.  Initially renting their farm was my lowest-risk alternative to get started, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.  Have asked the folks for nothing, have inherited nothing, and live on the "home" place (paid per appraisal) within 2 miles of where all my grandparents and great-grandparents once lived/farmed, back to my roots, so to speak, and glad to be here.  This is "home".

 

Have also tried to mentor a few younger generation farmers in the area, who have also become some of my best friends.  They help keep me young and open-minded, and my support for them has been primarily based on my own life experiences -- mostly non-financial support, though I have backed up a couple of them financially on a limited basis just to help them over a hurdle.  And, I know they would do the same for me.  Good friends are sometimes hard to come by, especially when you need it most.

 

 

Highlighted
Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

I did say I would not go into this subject any deeper, but......

 

Matt's excellent comments notwithstanding, we all know there's a culture within every rural community that is somewhat different from an urban community, though other similarities exist.  There are people or families that are prominent, or even dominant.  They are leaders.  Some are very competent and deserve the respect and admiration of their peers.  They are respectful and decent folk.  Who would not want to do business with or associate with them?  Who would not want a son or daughter to marry into their family?  When retiring from farming, who would not want to give them a fair rental agreement and let them farm your land, if there are no heirs to carry on your legacy?

 

In a small rural community, the pecking order gets established fairly quickly.  This is the big downside.  An acquaintance living in another area of the state made it quite clear when we were talking about potential farming opportunities around the state;  "Hey, we are the p r e m i e r family in our community.  We are involved in every aspect of the community's life.  You don't do anything in our community without our input or some kind of involvement."

 

From my perspective, a community becomes toxic to growth when people---farmers and non-farmers alike---discover there's no opportunity for growth or success in a given career, and they decide to move on to the city where, at least in their minds, opportunities abound.  I've even seen this attitude coming from children of bankers and teachers, plus college professors. 

 

When opportunity for growth is limited to only a select few, whether ag related or not, people will leave.  And that can hurt the survivability of a small community.  It may take awhile for the evidence to become known, but it will happen.

0 Kudos
Highlighted
Honored Advisor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Few places show the effects of good or poor leadership the way communities do.  It is the answer when you ask why did that town grow and that town didn't?  Why did that school produce so many graduate school and doctoral students in the 1960's?  

 

That point is a little bit related to our "beyond the grave" discussions.  Wealth blessed folks tend to want to control "beyond the investment" without regard for the gift or lack of the gift of leadership.  

 

How are we making our community enjoyable for the young future leaders among us? ----- should be a continuous question on leadership committees.

0 Kudos
Highlighted
Senior Contributor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Short answer: US agriculture has done a good job of ensuring farm kids and topsoil are her most valuable exports. Ask anyone removed from the situation that understands the economics and physiology of business succession and they would tell you this is inevitable in this industrialized agriculture.
0 Kudos
Highlighted
Contributor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

Towns/cities grow to a sort of critical mass where they have the variety of stores, entertainment, etc.  Towns A and B might have had the same people and stores/services twenty years ago; town A grew, B shrank, and people starting moving from B to A to take advantage, increasing the gap even more.  One morning we wake up and A is big and B as shrunk to near-ghost town.

   Do the local towns have job opportunities?  A variety of restaurants (Chinese, Mexican)?  Recreation (bowlling alley, movie house, mall)?

  I live so far out in the country I don't have high-speed internet, and it's driving me crazy.

  People, especially young ones flexible enough to relocate, look for this stuff.

  Certain rural communities seem to have the bad habit of having 2-3 old-timey families in charge that think Everything's Fine Let's Not Change a Thing; a friend of mine lived in Town X where somebody wanted to open a 24-hour convenience store and the city fathers shot them down.  Darn shame.

0 Kudos
Highlighted
Senior Contributor

Re: Are rural communities a toxic environment for keeping youth around?

In most/all communities, there is an exodous of 17 -20 year olds.  Re-entry to the rural community after -- typically schooling, may not be easy or desirable.  Rural communities offer less business networking due to the low density.  Younger folks are not the go-to people, so they are cut off rather quickly.

0 Kudos