Recently Michael Katz was a guest on The NPR show, Morning Edition, where he discussed his controversial ideas on rural America and Broadband access. Rightly so the question of what to do with Rural America is becoming a legitimate hot button issue again.
Over twenty years ago Frank and Deborah Popper began to call for their visionary “Buffalo Commons” in which the Great Plains would be returned to the prairie of the past and in part given back to Native Americans. Their dream seems to be gaining traction during this most recent economic crisis. Some are saying that we have been fighting against the plains long enough and instead we should be working with them.
Other voices, like Karl Stauber (past president of Northwest Area Foundation) and Joel Kotkin (New America Foundation), continue to speak out for saving the Great Plains and it’s rural ghetto’s through restoring its pioneer economy and spirit. But what exactly is Rural America? And how should we go about saving or restoring the dying Great Plains region as well as other rural ghettos in states as diverse as California, New Mexico, and Montana?
I disagree with the idea of turning rural towns and villages into ghost towns. I think many of these communities have been ignored too long, and we as a country should actively seek to strengthen them. Rural America contributes a strength and work ethic to our nation that we need, not to mention products that our cities can’t do without. But, I also have a passion for justice, and the ruthless betrayal and destruction of Native cultures across this continent is something that we should also seek to repair.
Is there a way to accomplish both? Can we see a sort of “Buffalo Commons” work in conjunction with a recovering Rural economy? The USDA’s latest farm bill includes a new Grasslands Reserve Program, which offers incentives for ranchers and farmers to protect sensitive grasslands. This could be a humble beginning, but The Land Institute is a group that is working on a much more sustainable solution toward solving, as they like to put it, the problem of agriculture. I think their Natural Systems Agriculture could be the answer we desperately need. While trying to restore the polyculture health and stability of the plains before we tilled them they also seek to produce equivalent crop yields to modern monoculture farming. This discovery could be instrumental in allowing us as a nation to move forward in both bringing justice to Natives and an abused land while also bringing dignity back to our agricultural heartland.
There is a divide occurring in America between the Urban and the Rural. Maybe it has always been there, but recent blue state and red state maps are being used to widen this divide and drive it home in the hearts and minds of Americans. It would be unfortunate if we allowed these differences and growing hostilities to lead us toward unsustainable actions against our own “country” in one extreme or the other.