I travel rural Ohio on a regular basis for my work. We do what’s called “whole community planning” where you sit down with people from every township, every village, and every city in a county and talk to them about disasters and storms, and how it affects them.
In this process, we meet with people from small communities. Most municipalities we work with are considered villages, defined as incorporated entities of less than 5,000 residents. We also meet with townships where when the trustee is elected, they know the job includes plowing snow and filling chuckholes in the roads. This isn’t the entire population we work with, there are cities too. But we definitely have our thumb on the pulse of at least rural Ohio.
Let me tell you, these people are anything but uneducated country bumpkins! Rural America is self-sufficient, resilient, intelligent and educated. I listened to an economic developer in Celina last week talk about how to successfully develop business and industry in a rural community. He really does know how to create jobs and foster success, and it is obvious as you drive through the city. I spent time with agriculture officials in Paulding County a couple months ago, and these gals (yes, females) have a very ecologically responsible yet productive approach to agricultural issues in the state. Paulding County is the 5th smallest county in Ohio and doesn’t even have a “city”, but their approach is anything but backward. I’ve worked with folks in Rocky Ridge in Ottawa County, and while this little community doesn’t have industry, commerce, or glitz, you probably won’t ever see these people crying for someone to come save them no matter what befalls them. They pretty much just get ‘er done, whatever that happens to be. The folks in Bellville in Richland County have developed one of the most innovative approaches to private-public partnerships that I’ve ever seen, and it benefits their residents on a daily basis. Shelby’s floodplain manager was awarded one of FEMA’s leadership awards last year for his role in the city’s flood damage prevention, and I might add in a national competition.
The rural America the media has characterized as uneducated is actually quite educated. In the groups with whom I meet, there is a predominance of college-educated individuals. Maybe they are not Ivy League graduates, but they are far from uneducated. It is not uncommon to find individuals with advanced degrees working in rural America, even on the farms that dot the Midwest. They hold the same licenses, certifications, and degrees that you find in the city, and oftentimes the farmers hold degrees in agriculture, food science, animal science, or production. Let’s not forget that many of the universities in the Midwest were founded on land grants, and thus have a strong background in agriculture even though they have a more diverse offering for students.
I think the media needs to look at what they’re spewing and find a better approach. Rural America plays a critical role in how our country succeeds and grows, and if they media wants to paint them as pathetic bumpkins with no education, they might just be missing the biggest story of all.