As rural areas try to find innovative ways to reinvent or revitalize their communities, we've got two great stories about how this is happening from the bottom up. One is from Kansas, courtesy of Harvest Public Media, and the other is from closer to home, in Floyd County, KY. Both are wonderful examples of how communities can take control of their own futures.
The "Big Rural Brainstorm" in Kansas "brought together about 200 people earlier this year in Newton. The two-day event generated a lot of discussion on how to help small towns stay vibrant and relevant in an increasingly urban world. Most of the attendees came from small towns scattered across Kansas, but some who live in larger cities came because they, too, are committed to renewing rural America."
Similarly, in Floyd County, community members came together in Prestonsburg at the end of March to determine how they could use the growing movement of local, sustainable agriculture to build their economy. Jeanette McDermott, one of the organizers of the visioning center, put it this way: "To move people out of poverty and improve the economic condition of Floyd County, we need to build on local relationships. A stronger economy for all of us turns on whether we can forge personal relationships into something bigger to support livelihoods during our working years and beyond."
One of the key themes behind both of these events is that top-down development isn't the best way to go. Said one participant in the Big Rural Brainstorm, "We need to encourage — especially our volunteer-led communities — to not wait for anything to happen from above. They've just got to go in and make it happen for themselves. I think this kind of event really encouraged that kind of response."
At the Floyd County visioning session, participants first spent time defining their own personal passions and visions for change in the community, then developed four areas of action that build on the momentum of existing projects in the community like Grow Appalachia. Those projects are a farmer's market, a community garden, a youth garden, and a seed bank.
Community-based development is critical for our region. Big projects dictated by the state or federal government haven't always brought the prosperity they promised, often just leaving empty industrial parks and disillusionment in their wake. On the other hand, community residents already know the assets of their towns and regions, know the players, the attitudes and the challenges. As Harvest Public Media put it, "the key to revitalizing rural communities lies within the people who already live there."