The Rural Renaissance

Updated: Jun 17

If you believe the portrait of rural America depicted in the Netflix film Hillbilly Elegy, you might conclude that its residents are hopelessly impoverished, addicted, and depressed. That’s also the view of Eduardo Porter in The Hard Truth of Trying to ‘Save’ Rural America,” whose much-discussed piece in the New York Times argues that the economic decline of rural America is so severe and irreversible that it may be better just to write it off and encourage its residents to move into nearby cities.

Yet as Mark Sappenfield writes in the Christian Science Monitor, a far better representative of rural America is Cassie Chambers Armstrong:

Ms. Armstrong is author of Hill Women, which chronicles the generations of strong, resourceful Appalachian women who helped her on her way to three Ivy League degrees. ‘The impression is that it is so broken that it can only be saved if outsiders swoop in to rescue it,’ she tells me. But Appalachia ‘has all the skills it needs to solve its own problems.’”

I met another incredible rural woman about six weeks ago in rural North Carolina. Judy Carpenter, an award-winning trap and field shooter, is now investing her life savings into creating a model sustainable agriculture destination called Lucky Clays Farm. She invited me to lead a workshop on “Healing the Urban-Rural Divide.” I suggested to a room full of socially- distanced state and local economic developers that Stanly County, the rural locale we were in, should pursue a bunch of mutually beneficial projects with the fast-growing city of Charlotte, an hour’s drive west. Among them:

  • Diversify the food-growing capacity of Stanly County, where land is plentiful, to ease food insecurity in Charlotte. Lucky Clays Farm itself is prototyping hydroponic and aquaponic growing methods with urban sales in mind.

  • Upgrade the internet infrastructure in Stanly, so that entrepreneurs from Charlotte can take advantage of Stanly’s more a