Rural areas by definition are far from centers of population, capital, media, and commerce. These places may therefore be overlooked, under-funded, and under-valued. Local governments in rural areas, even in good times, tend to be low on money and dependent upon part-time, unpaid personnel. Opportunities for education and employment are limited, and there are fewer models of development and enterprise than in metropolitan places. At the same time, rural areas still contain most of our natural resources. Rural communities are full of talented people and are comparatively strong in cultural values, family ties, and habits of self-reliance. In order to build on these strengths, meet current economic challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities, rural places need resources to develop the capacity of their people. People are a community’s most essential resource, without which development cannot happen.
We urge the new Administration to invest heavily in rural areas. In this time of a world food crisis, environmental consciousness, need for new energy, and desire for a “wellness” approach to healthcare, help for small landowners, small farmers, cooperatives, local value-added processing, and creative markets will contribute to nourishing and economically viable local food systems. Diversified farming and use of renewable energy can contribute to sustainability. Help for affordable rural housing is needed to provide structure and shelter for rural lives. Educational opportunities must be strengthened and multiplied. Healthcare needs to be accessible. Support for community development financial institutions (CDFI’s), including credit unions, is needed to provide an alternative to mainstream banks that are often unable to meet local, smaller-scale needs. Rural communities should not be used as dumps for toxic waste. Broadband systems need to be available in order for rural areas to take reach their full potential in the current technological age. The rights of historically oppressed people and newly arrived immigrants need to be respected. Prisons should not be used as a component of economic development. All workers, including farmworkers should have the right to collective bargaining. People need training in financial literacy and other life skills. Cultural priorities need to be respected and supported. Skilled and confident local people can best lead these efforts.
These beliefs, among others, are reflected in our “Platform for Rural Communities,” developed over several years by our Network of grassroots leaders working to strengthen the rural places where they live.
As an organization that has served rural communities over the past twenty-five years by nurturing local community leaders through networking, peer exchange, education and practical project experience, we urge a primary investment in people like these who have shown dedication and ability to work with others toward the betterment of their rural communities.