I was disappointed to hear of the apparent demise of Modern Farmer magazine recently. I’ve been thinking a lot about the “new market” for “hipster modern farmers” and how rural America is changing. If you would have told me three years ago that I would be living and working in a rural area and living full time in an Airstream, I would have told you that you were crazy. I have long been a city person. I enjoy the energy of the city, and have spent a better portion of my career researching and thinking about how cities work. In my world “the country” was some vague place where farmers lived, and that allowed for some pretty drives in search of vegetables in the summer and leaves and pumpkins during the autumn. Other than that, I believed the (mainly) mainstream hype that rural America was a somewhat scary place, filled with ultra-conservative city-fearin’ rednecks.
Wow, was I wrong.
I have been amazed by the diversity and quality of life that I encounter every single day in my Airstream environs. Here’s a few observations:
1. The economy in rural America has been punched in the arm by big agri-business, but a resurgence in interest in healthy, locally-grown food is creating a new economy. Younger generations of “boutique farmers” are growing heirloom crops, hydroponic and aquaponic crops, and encouraging bio-diversity with enthusiasm. This seems to Williamsburg-centric hipsters to be something new, but really, it’s not. It’s been going on for generations, but the resurgent interest in it among city-dwellers is a leading indicator that the economic potential of this sector is huge.
2. I’m not sure where all the ultra-conservatives have gone, but daily, I meet genuinely nice people who take the time to make eye contact and say hello. Time seems to move at a slower pace in rural areas, and that provides opportunity for discussion and conversation with everyone from the person working at the bank or post office, to your next-door neighbors. I’m yet to meet anyone who seems truly scary… everyone is kind and polite, which is more than I can say for a lot of cities.
3. At one time, most of the country looked like this. Until we ruined it with cars. It’s pretty interesting to see the number of small towns that still exist, and learn the stories of these amazing places.
4. It’s really pretty. Every day on my 20 minute drive to and from the office, I drive rolling hills that are simply stunning. Sometimes it looks like Santa Fe, sometimes it looks like Austria, sometimes it looks like the Rockies, sometimes it looks like Vermont. More than once I have come home to be greeted by a universe of stars and planets, all visible with the naked eye. I have a field mouse that lives nearby, and deer that stop by and visit from time to time.
5. Radio Shack will be missed. It’s sad that big box America has abandoned rural America. Save for a few Wal*Mart stores, the pickings are pretty slim. Despite that, I have come to learn that Dollar General is the best store in America. They are everywhere and have everything. Surprisingly, it all tends to be decent quality stuff at fair price. I always sort of assumed that Dollar General was kind of trashy, but it’s really not. Again, everyone is always pretty friendly, and the stores are well stocked. Some are literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but fields. I pass about a dozen Dollar General stores on my weekly commute, so not only are they ubiquitous, but they’re convenient and quick too.
For rural America, the best is yet to come. I am even going to coin a new term to describe it… wait for it… hipster homesteading. I deeply believe that the hipster generation will “rediscover” rural America for the same reasons as our forbearers: It’s a place where you can live, grow your own (healthy and organic) food, get a house and land for under $50,000. I estimate that this change has started to occur, but will hit critical mass in the next 15-20 years, around the time that many hipsters will flee cities in search for a “better” or “more meaningful” or “real” life, after running the rat race for a few years. With this resurgent interest will come the makers that will foster new business opportunities and the critical mass that will make rural America the natural counterbalance to the great inversion. In the meanwhile, I’ll be here waiting in my tiny Airstream!