When we milked cows when I was a kid, I marveled at some of our Holsteins. I swear that those long-necked cows were never happy. They would not only stretch their necks through a fence to the other side for a fresh blade of grass, but they would stretch it back around the post into the pasture where they were standing. I guess you just can’t please some folks.
The attitude of the Holstein cow might be the same prevailing attitude that drives our young folks to high paying jobs elsewhere. They’ve been told so often that there is no opportunity in rural America, that they start believing it. With population declines, with rural county populations aging and with a lack of big salary job opportunities, they believe that things must be better across the fence in the city or in another state.
Certainly, there are challenges to living and making a living in rural areas. Big salary jobs are not abundant, but smart, innovative business owners and farmers have ample opportunities, especially in small towns. And the cost of living and the occurrence of traffic jams are both pretty low.
We may not have the bright lights, but we do have a bright, starlit night sky, and peace and relative quiet, except maybe when the calves are weaned. You can’t beat a sunset on a prairie vista, and small towns are close-knit, the kind of place where folks look out for each other.
We have strong church communities and good schools where students receive personalized attention. It sounds like a cliché, but nearly every rural poll out there cites “the people” as the reason folks remain in small towns.
And sometimes, like the Holstein cow, folks are gone for a while to seek their fortunes, but they often reach around the post and back into the home pastures when it comes time to raise their families in the comfortable setting of their friends and old neighbors. The grass might look greener on the other side, but it’s often the home pasture that serves us best.
That’s the message we need to carry to our youth if we want them to return to our hometowns and revitalize our farm and ranch country.