Cyndi's Two Cents

Sustainability in rural communities


Several times over the past few weeks I’ve been approached by a friendly stranger in the parking lot of a grocery store, restaurant, or strip mall. In early April, my sister and I were approached in the garden of a winery in Hermann, Missouri. The individuals, all of whom were carrying clipboards, were of various ethnicities, ages and both genders. They wanted to know if I would comment on an issue and sign my name in support or opposition.

The issue in question at one of our stops along Missouri’s Wine Trail was opening a casino at the Lake of the Ozarks. My sister and I thanked the young man for getting involved but told him that although we do visit the lake, we do not live there so did not feel our opinion should be as significant to the survey as those who do.

Polls and research on consumer preferences are conducted every day. Many polls and much of the research on consumer preferences does not accurately reflect consumer behavior. Although a shopper might prefer locally sourced meat, milk and eggs, the cost of those items will, in most cases, be the determining factor.

How many small towns in rural communities have seen the local drug store, hardware store, furniture store, shoe store, and clothing store that had been in business since your great-grandparents were knee-high to a grasshopper shuttered in the past two decades? People preferred to buy locally and have easy access to all those stores and services, but big box stores, often in a bigger town a county over, won the business with their lower prices.

Once those storefronts were shuttered, there was little hope they would return. I am very happy to see that there has been a resurgence in local businesses opening in some of those small, rural communities. Much of the credit goes to those communities for supporting a younger generation that has moved back to the place their journeys began to raise their children and be productive members of society.

We hear a lot about sustainability these days. Talk to a dozen people and you will get a dozen different definitions of sustainability. As it pertains to local community, I believe a sustainable one meets the needs of all members and provides a place for next generations to live and grow and thrive.

A sustainable community supports local businesses and prioritizes economic activities that benefit current as well as future generations. It accepts that we are not all the same and supports us in our uniqueness. It promotes community engagement, so those who live there are involved in decision-making and ownership of those decisions.

A sustainable community is resilient. It can adapt and respond to those expected and unexpected challenges that come along.

Finally, I believe a community will thrive if it celebrates its history, traditions and heritage while embracing progress. Sometimes you just have to slay a sacred cow or two for the greater good.

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