Small rural towns in the good old U.S. of A. are facing increasingly difficult challenges. The adjacent picture is of Main Street, from South to North, through Fairview, Oklahoma.
Rural flight after World War II came about because agriculture became increasingly industrialized. Many, if not most, small family farms and ranches, which are, by their nature, labor-intensive, evolved into or were replaced by heavily mechanized and specialized industrial farms. Those small farms, which produced a wide variety of crops and animals for family and local use, came under economic pressure to specialize or face extinction. The consolidation of agricultural supply companies has brought about the demise of many small businesses in rural areas. Instead of the many feed, seed, processed grain and goods for livestock producers which used to exist, there are now only a few major producers and suppliers of those products. There are many grain producers in our local area, but much of that grain, which is mostly wheat, goes to very few processors. The flip side of this economic coin is that there has been a decreased demand for labor, especially for skilled labor in small rural farming and ranching towns. A vast amount of experience and skill is needed to make a farming or ranching operation work successfully. One must have a good knowledge of crop and animal needs, know how to judge the weather, be able to work long hours under dirty conditions, know effective methods of animal husbandry, and how to implement those methods when producing livestock, know how to maintain buildings and machinery, know how to interpret market conditions at local, state, regional, national and international levels, know what cultivation and weed-control methods are effective and when and how they can be used, and know how to attain and keep a positive bottom line. Farmers and ranchers must be in it for the long haul, in order to be able to economically survive adverse conditions that are capable of wiping out an entire year’s expected income in one fell swoop. Areas such as Fairview, Oklahoma, i.e.- small rural towns, used to be able to provide employment for all young adults willing to work in challenging conditions. With the exodus of many young people from these rural towns, there is a subsequent decrease in services such as schools, stores, and cultural opportunities. Fairview, working hard to maintain a positive balance in that equation, seems to be holding steady, unlike many other small towns. Alive and well? That is the question which all small-town administrators and concerned residents must be prepared to face. To reiterate, there are real issues facing many small rural towns, one of which has been the rise of gigantic, highly mechanized corporate agricultural conglomerates. Loss of population, decreased incomes for some segments of the population, increased income inequality, decreased community participation, less need for retail outlets, less retail trade and increased environmental pollution – these are real, thorny, issues facing small town USA, and also – how do we keep the young’uns down on the farm?????