Will the post-pandemic future lead to a rural revival?

We aren’t going back to where we used to be. It’s not time to be nostalgic. I am not in favor of every rural community renovating an old school or business building into an innovation center as the community of Tuttle, N.D., did in this week's Agweek cover story. But I do think it's time to quit looking in the rearview mirror of what was and focus on what is our future.

Is your rural community poised for growth and the future of new?

America’s workforce learned extensively over the past year of remote work, learning and the importance of home, where and with whom you fill your time with matters.

What are your community strengths?

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Rural, sparsely populated areas, small or tiny towns offer a lifestyle and future for urban or suburban dwellers who hadn’t possibly considered rural life before the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural America offers opportunities for more space, freedom and ability to have careers and kids raised in a place many urban and suburban folks may now be considering for their future.

Are those of you in rural America welcoming to new residents who might not be like you, related to you, and bring new skillsets to your community and area?

Can you organize, focus on a specific growth area, connect to outside organizations poised to help and start your outreach effort?

The community of Tuttle, N.D., population 58, serves as one example of rural ingenuity in how they’ve worked to transform the school that closed in 2007 into a rural innovation center for entrepreneurship, the arts and local foods. I visited Tuttle on Jan. 30, for the Tuttle Rural Innovation Center’s open house. Find my story on AgweekTV in your local listings or on agweek.com. Jenny Schlecht’s cover story on TRIC takes a deep dive into the people, community spirit and drive of the organizers to create a new future for the tiny town of Tuttle.

A key player in Tuttle's revitalized vision for their community is farmer and rancher, Burdell Johnson. Farmers and ranchers contribute to rural economies and their ability to not simply survive but thrive and grow. Rather than stay on the farm, or serve only on agriculture boards, our rural communities need farmers and ranchers to help lead our communities into the future.

Rural communities all need people like Sidney Larson featured in the Tuttle story. People like Sid get the everyday needed work done. And Lisa Goodman is a future example of Tuttle, N.D., working off the farm, raising a family and supporting her farmer husband. She wants a rural future for her farm, family and career. Every town has examples of your own Burdell Johnson, Sidney Larson and Lisa Goodman, spanning across generations. Engage them. Collaborate with them. Build together. Look ahead.

The future of rural America is not old, antiquated or outdated. Let the big city elites or lifelong coastal residents keep their incorrect ideas of rural America while we create our rural future for growth.

Be prepared. Not everyone in your community will agree with your group’s vision. Naysayers may try to interrupt or sabotage your forward progress. Keep going.

If you aren’t doing something, no one is talking about you in a small town. But if you’re creating change, moving forward an initiative, there will be those still focused on the past trying to stop your forward growth. Keep going.

Federal, state or local grants provide seed money to jumpstart or propel initiatives forward like the more than $400,000 in grants Tuttle has received for its project. But the true test comes down to the people and community making any project a success.

Collaborate, put differences aside and work together toward a common goal and future for your rural area. Local investors, outside people who believe in your project and vision, private investors are needed along with passionate, focused local people on the ground. Track your progress. Hold one another accountable to move forward in your rural area.

Let’s build rural America for the future, one tiny town at a time with your ingenuity and leadership collaborating with those around you to create a rural revival we can someday see in our rearview mirrors, being proud of where we’ve been and the future created in rural America.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.