Survival of Rural America
Small Victories and Bitter Harvests
Sales Date: March 25, 2008
244 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: March 2008
- Published: March 2008
A Kansas Notable Book
On the high plains of Kansas, the future of rural America is at stake.
Small farming communities are the heart and soul of America, but it’s no secret that they’re under siege. Family farms are disappearing and manufacturing is outsourced. Schools close, jobs vanish, and local stores can’t survive. Some communities resort to giving away land just to get people to move there.
Richard Wood knows that rural communities need more than jobs or money to survive: they need to become valued again as desirable places to live. He takes a closer look at what has happened in several Kansas farming towns and shows that there is much more depth and diversity to rural life than meets the eye.
Wood traveled the back roads to gather stories of people in some of the most vulnerable communities that are trying to stave off depopulation. These are not just accounts of people scrambling to survive in incipient ghost towns like Ada, but gritty success stories like Plainville, where an upscale design business ignited a revival, or Atwood, which shifted from industrial recruitment to home-grown entrepreneurship.
Unlike Thomas Frank, whose What’s the Matter with Kansas? used the state as a political yardstick, Wood sees it reflecting major economic and population trends throughout the world. Looking at projects as small as community medical clinics or plans for vast buffalo grassland parks, he also sees a robust future for small-town pioneers, folks who are betting their—and rural America’s—future on such things as alternative energy (think “ethanol”), sustainable natural agriculture, tourism, and the enduring appeal of rural life to outsiders.
With dozens of photos that bring rural America to life, Wood provides an inside look at what really makes this country tick—and at some of the developments that may turn the tide against what seemed an inevitable decline. Although the odds are stacked against rural recovery, the small victories that Wood shows us hold the promise that transformation and revival may yet stave off the final bitter harvest.
“Wood generally comes down on the side of optimism, arguing for the long term prospects for small places. . . . Certainly worth reading and would make an excellent addition to many rural and agricultural history courses.”—Western Historical Quarterly
“Wood’s wide-ranging narrative, which also examines the diverse rural interests and activities of Wes Jackson, Bill Kurtis, Ted Turner, and others, is an informative, enjoyable, and often thought-provoking read.”—South Dakota History
“What shines through in the human narratives is how the sense of belonging to small communities fulfills and enriches the lives of those who accept the challenges it imposes.”—Kansas History
“Wood demonstrates that there are many small success stories in rural America if one wants to find them.”—Annals of Iowa
"This book is a compact treatise for understanding the causes of rural decline and ways to overcome it. It is an important look at an overwhelming problem not only in the Great Plains but throughout much of the world."—Nebraska History
"A fine book. . . . worth reading. Instead of deploring their fate, many small towns are making considerable efforts to survive."—Manhattan Mercury
“Setting out to find a rural America in decline, Richard Wood found instead a much more complex picture. He found a rural America that is neither fatalistic nor defeatist, places with much to offer those who live there.”—David Danbom, author of "Born in the Country": A History of Rural America
“Wood’s book is about more than Kansas. It’s about community, lifestyle, and the very roots of America.”—Jane Kolodinsky, codirector, Center for Rural Studies, University of Vermont
“Gives a unique look at rural communities and the internal and external conditions they confront, with humor, insight, and wisdom. I really like this book and think everyone should read it.”—Cornelia Butler Flora, director, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development
Introduction: Rural America: Our Field of Dreams
Part One. The Decline of Rural Communities
1. Transition: The Depopulation of Rural America
2. Prospects for a Rural Revival
3. Kansas: The Essence of Rural America
4. Rural Communities at Risk
Part Two: Strategies in the Rural Fight for Survival
5. “Welcome Home” and the “Free Land” Movement
6. Plainville and Rooks County: High Plains, High Style
7. Atwood and Rawlins County: Surviving in the Great American Desert
8. Tipton: The Town That Refused to Die
9. Ottawa County: The Challenges of Becoming a Rural Bedroom Community
10. “The Amazing 100 Miles”: Tourism in Rural America
11. Sedan: Community Building from the Top Down
12. Selling Rural America: Dave Rose and eBay
Part Three. Policy Options for Rural America
13. The Federal Government’s Role
14. Back to the Future: Sustainable Agriculture and Its Effect on Rural America
15. Ethanol and Alternative Energy: Rural America’s Saviors?
16. Reinventing Rural America: The Buffalo Commons and Other Regional Metaphors