Monday, April 19, 2010

Survival of Rural America: Small Victories and Bitter Harvests by Richard E. Wood

Small farming communities are the heart and soul of America, but it's no secret that they're under siege.  Schools close, jobs vanish, and local stores can't survive.  Richard Wood knows that rural communities need more than jobs or money to survive: they need to become valued again as desirable places to live. He takes a closer look at what has happened in several Kansas farming towns and shows that there is much more depth and diversity to rural life than meets the eye.

Kansas farming towns are our heritage and our livlihood.  One of my (Tami's) grandpas was a farmer - working small rental farms during the depression - and my dad still farms in north-central Kansas.  The other grandpa was the manager of the local grain elevator.  Dave comes from hardscrabble farmers in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle.  Since we married nearly 28 years ago, he has worked in the grain elevator business in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.  We are no strangers to agriculture, rural lifestyles or the hardships that small towns are facing.

The small town where we both attended high school, and where my family still lives, closed it's school this past year due to declining numbers.  Already the difference is apparent in the town.  As all parent's know, the family's social life and recreation center around school activities and friends.  Parent's who's children must now commute to school in neighboring towns will naturally commute there for social functions and business.  The feelings of pride and community that are the heartbeat of a rural town are fading.

In this book, Mr. Wood examines several Kansas towns that have faced these same challenges and found a way to survive.  It's a tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of towns that refuse to give in to changing times.  You don't have to be from Kansas to enjoy this book - it could just as easily be set in Oklahoma, South Dakota or any other mid-west state.  Even if you're a life-long urban dweller, this book is fascinating insight into the people who forged a life on the prairie and who continue the fight to keep it.


  1. Because of our connections with Kansas, I want to read this book. I also want to read this book from the point of view of an observer of American life. As we travel around it is apparent that rural life is changing drastically. I hope the book has some nugget of hope in it or some suggestions of ways to change what's happening.

  2. I've been thinking about this subject today and was thinking that perhaps the eat local and the slow food movements might be a possibility for resurrecting small towns. I happened to see this article on the NY Times today and thought you might be interested. Lots of viewpoints. I apologize in advance for the link. It's pretty long.

    NY Times:

  3. This book reminds me of The Worst Hard Time, a book about the dustbowl.