The first time I held a Department of Agriculture food stamp, I was about 8 years old. I’d be asked, countless times, to go to the grocery store off of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue in our nation’s capital. In my community, the food stamp, then in paper form, was a shameful thing for kids to be caught with. So I’d stealthily find my way to the front of the store and quickly slip the coupons to the cashier in hopes that my friends or neighbors wouldn’t find out. The sheer fear tied to the embarrassment of poverty was real to me.
But it wouldn’t be until much later that I found that this embarrassment was an America reality. That it was felt by rural kids as much as urban kids. That our food insecurity as urban dwellers also was lessened, at times, by the farms in places like Nebraska. These farms provided a brief remedy to our food needs. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 provided surplus foods to help needy families while also looking to strengthen the agricultural economy. I tipped my proverbial cap to the nation’s farmers, like Feller’s Cattle Company, Herb Alber’s Feedlot, Meiergerd Farms Knobbe Farms, all in rural Cuming County, Nebraska. I’d find that these folks had more similarities than differences with my urban neighbors.
Humans need each other. They need each other’s differing perspectives and realities, their fundamentally authentic experiences, their challenges and triumphs, the quintessential best practices of life. Yet we have allowed ourselves to believe in some hypersensitive, shaming, blaming and hateful narratives. Words, ideas and actions that limit our growth and our level of advancement as a human race.
We have allowed fracturing of the true intent of humanity, the very simple, yet seemingly perplexing act of collaboration, communication, the mixing of ideas and concepts to continue the evolution of our species. We tell ourselves that “difference” means separation.
The prime example is the urban and rural divide, an unrelenting dance that pits dependent and essential variables against each other. Urban growth and the saturation of human migration versus the sustaining rural heartbeat that consistently fuels the urban landscape. The spiteful dance between urban and rural is nauseating at best. It reeks with the stench of the ubiquitous racial divide.
My hypothesis rests in the belief that urban and rural life have constantly tried to ignore, disrupt, elude and abate their natural mutualism. This isn’t a situation that allows for a one-sided benefit, it must breed a symbiotic relationship; we can sustain each other through truly accepting the dependent need of one another. Another way to look at this is an interdependence spawned out of deeply planned, incentivized and legislated opportunities.
So what has held us back? It’s arguable that a harmonious relationship between the two, shall we say, organisms, would manifest the advancement and evolution of our human species. Yet we see continuous decline in many rural places, while some find innovative ways to fight and turn the population trends. Similarly, we see urban areas of ethnic clusters that are equally isolated and ignored.
So, Nebraska, where are our specific incentives and investments to change the trends in both urban and rural underserved areas?
As a Washingtonian transplant to the Good Life State, I see opportunity in our talent engagement and recruitment if we continue to push toward innovation. Yet it’s difficult for the state to be to a creative place if we are fundamentally traditionalist. Does innovation spawn out of the status quo?
I see my African American and Hispanic brothers and sisters struggling for opportunities and a clear path for advancement in some urban places, while the rural communities struggle to find people to sustain and grow. This math is simple, opportunity is there, but our methods are not creative enough.
In Nebraska’s past we’ve gifted land to folks who would be willing to cultivate it. This wasn’t the status quo at the time.
How can we allow the leaders of the past to outdo us today? We have time on our side, technology and best practices, trends, and statistical wherewithal to be better … to evolve. Are we willing to do the work?
Where are our incentives for potential newcomers, the Nebraska relocation Act?
Think of a struggling urban dweller, with soft skills and a strong work history, getting a bad break from COVID-19 and a limited perspective. Does a rural community have the recruitment plan to attract people from urban America? Can urban America handle a loss in population if it would sustain its food security, natural resources and environmental sustainability provided by rural places? The answer has always been, yes. Balance is key.
These are not two warring states or countries, we are of one body. Let’s act accordingly. Leaders … lead us.
Garry Clark is a husband and father of three. He’s the president and CEO of the Greater Fremont Development Council with 13 years of economic development experience in Nebraska, Florida and Washington, D.C. Clark is a graduate of Dana College and UNO, a published author, poet and TEDxOmaha speaker. He received the Midland Business Journal’s 40 under 40 award in 2018.
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