Rural Reflections

This article was published on: 09/22/2020

By Emily Reno

Does rural to urban migration mean the end of small towns? Not necessarily, says former intern
image of Emily Reno

Emily Reno was a Dane Hansen Community Intern at the NCRPC in 2018. She primarily worked with the NCK Food Council.

In the summer of 2018, I had the privilege to serve as North Central Regional Planning Commission’s summer intern. At the end of the summer I wrote about the tremendous impact that the internship had on me – not only of my view of how happiness could be achieved in a small town, but how it was one of the only times in my life where I didn’t have the ‘fear of missing out’ for not being in some exotic location instead.

Many people I met were hopeful that I would move to North Central Kansas permanently after my internship, but my path had already been set on the big city – Minneapolis, pop. 425,403 – to complete my Master of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Minnesota. The culture shock was real. So was the overwhelming anxiety and stress from working three part-time jobs and full-time course load. I will never forget the first day I drove out of the city – four months after moving there – and bursting into tears seeing the horizon. Miles and miles of cornfields and the open sky were apparently a much greater part of my sense of belonging than I realized.

image of Lida Farm stand in Minnesota

Fresh produce from early in the season at the Lida Farm stand in Minnesota, which operates on the honor system. (Courtesy Photo)

It was at that moment that I knew my interest and passion for working in rural communities around issues of food and agriculture wasn’t just a pipe dream. The time I spent working in North Central Kansas was a pivotal moment in the trajectory of my career endeavors. I sought out part-time work through research with farmers in Greater Minnesota while going to school, and worked for a start-up that bridges the urban-rural divide by empowering rural constituents to develop a vision of a sustainable future for themselves. The experiences have taught me that regardless of our geographic biases, we are all just people, and that we deserve to live a dignified life.

After graduating in May of this year, I packed up my bags to become an apprentice at Lida Farm, where we grow and sell vegetables on five acres through CSA shares. I live fifteen minutes outside of Pelican Rapids, the nearest town, pop. 2500, and I could not be happier. I have found a new home here, but despite the fact that I no longer live in Kansas, I think this message is important to share: A young person’s decision to move to or attend school in an urban setting does not preclude them from choosing to return, or to move to a rural community elsewhere. If you feel as though you’ve just lost your child or a loved one to the ‘big city,’ I urge you to not lose hope. There are many of us out there longing to return, and many more of us who will dedicate their lives to making their small town the best it can be. I know I will.

This article appeared in the September 2020 NCRPC Newsletter.