Does suburban sprawl have a new name?

Are you or anyone you know a ruralpolitan? This new fangled term describes a demographic of “urbanist/suburbanists” who are disillusioned with the drudgery of the nine-till-five world and are packing up and heading for the country. They do this spurred on by fiscal uncertainties in a depressed economy, and for some, to provide a better and more fulfilling life for their children. Journalist and self proclaimed ruralpolitan, Wendy Bounds, found through her research that usually one of three motivating factors tends to bring individuals or families to make the move to the country. I find two of these reasons to be downright scary.

To lump “hobby farmers” in with those “who seek land as an asset or investment, with vague hopes to live on it someday…” and with “…exurban commuters who have jobs in big towns or cities but want to escape the sprawl,” is unsettling. After all, how can the aims of consumerist culture be reconciled with self-sufficient living? There are dangers associated with transplanting the lifestyle of a city dweller into the countryside, and these commuters and absentee land holders should beware of bringing their urban problems into rural America. This is one area of our country that has been ravaged enough by big corporate interests. Unbeknownst to many, one of the largest forced migrations in human history took place here in the U.S. during the 1970’s with the introduction of the Green Revolution. Most family farmers gave up competing with big, mechanized agribusiness, so they simply got out– by the millions.   

Almost two generations later, those same families who crammed into cities, having acclimatized themselves to the unrelenting demands of the daily-grind, now find their childrens’ children drawn back to the land that once sustained their grandparents. But, without proper perspective, this new wave of migrants might find that they will simply carry their insecurities (economic or otherwise) to their new homes. The only way to revitalize small town and rural America and their respective economies is to increase the number of small family farms, not play host to a new type of suburb.

If the true impetus for this widespread urban discontent is a quest for economic security through a more self-sustained livelihood, then the goal is easily obtained without a sizable population shift. Instead of transmitting urban values into rural places, rural philosophies can be enacted in the cities. Whether by supporting already established small and local farms by buying their produce at a farmers market, joining a CSA, planting a garden or helping work a community garden, urbanites and suburbanites alike can homestead without leaving town. The real pioneering spirits can start their own backyard farm. By minimizing inputs, by not having to buy as many groceries or run as many errands, these proper ruralpolitans will greatly stretch their paychecks. There is no need to go to the country for workable land, especially if you plan to carry the responsibilities of the city with you when you go.