As one travels through rural Kansas it becomes readily apparent many small communities that once revolved around farm life are slowly fading away or have already died.
A constant battle is being waged out in these remaining small towns to stay alive. Farmers and ranchers once supported their communities and communities supported their agricultural producers.
Although this relationship occurs today, it has become more difficult tomaintain with each passing year.
Today, many farm and ranch families who work or go to school in larger towns, also shop in these places of employment. The result: small-town businesses once supported by local ag producers shutting down and locking their doors because of a shrinking customer base.
Like the rest of us, farmers and ranchers take their business to suburban malls because prices are more competitive. The smaller, surviving stores disappear because they have fewer customers.
This scenario is all too familiar in Kansas and other farm states. What can be done to bring farmers/ranchers and communities together again?
While visiting with several farm and ranch friends who live in the southwestern part of our state?all who are fourth- and fifth-generation ag producers?I gathered some thoughts concerning this challenge.
To bring farmers and communities together again, rural towns need institutions that bring farmers/ranchers to town on a regular basis. No doubt this is happening with some of the ag producers but not with enough.
Strong communities survive when farmers and ranchers retire in their towns and become actively involved in local and community affairs. Such endeavors might include operating a bed and breakfast, volunteering to operate the community or county museum or taking on a leadership role in the county commission.
Farmers and ranchers dedicated to the health and well being of their communities remains the key to survival of small rural areas in Kansas. When ag producers remain uninvolved in community challenges because they see no apparent personal gain, revitalization efforts cannot succeed because they lack broad support from all the people throughout that small community.
Without a central town focus, inhabitants soon travel elsewhere for activity and communities wither away.
A rural community?s vitality depends on townspeople and agricultural producers communicating and working together for their own little burg.
While life continues to afford independence and freedom, too much threatens the survival of the family farm or ranch, its way of life and the community it has its roots in.
Agricultural communities and the people who live in them have always lived in the best environment in this country. It?s worth holding on to. We cannot afford to lose it.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.