Town and Country

Town and Country

A big topic I've noticed in the past few years has been the disconnection of urban centers from agriculture, as well as the reliance of urban centers on agriculture. However, it seems there is a lack of emphasis on the reliance agriculture has on urban centers.

Published on: February 15, 2013

I remember my first day of Ag Science my freshman year of high school in Creston, Iowa. Ag advisor, Galen Zumbach introduced the course with British scholar Thomas Malthus. It made sense to introduce an introductory ag course by discussing the expanding world population and the importance of agriculture in sustaining that population. However, it wasn't until I left home for the "big scary metropolis" of Iowa City that I understood why this had to be stressed.

A big topic I've noticed in the past few years has been the disconnection of urban centers from agriculture, as well as the reliance of urban centers on agriculture. However, it seems there is a lack of emphasis on the reliance agriculture has on urban centers. This interconnection is mutual, and a lack of understanding is apparent on both ends of the spectrum. Growing up on a farm and attending high school in a small town before attending college and now living in an urban area while traveling back and forth to farms for interviews, I've witnessed this firsthand.

This summer, I noticed a perfect example of these misconceptions in a YouTube video. The video, a parody by singer/songwriter Granger Smith, depicts the life of "country boy" Earl Dibbles Jr. (Some of you in Ames may have even caught his recent performance.) Although it's a parody, it portrays the disconnection urban centers and rural agricultural areas seem to have from one another – the stereotype being rural/farm people are less sophisticated (I actually overheard this one recently from someone using more elitist language) and urban areas drain rural resources and people – aka rural flight, brain drain, etc.

The common complaint of the amount of kids raised by rural families and school systems who leave town for college and go on to work in an urban center is well-founded, but I've also seen it can work the other way. In a recent interview with Missouri State FFA Advisor Leon Busdieker, I found out 53% of the students in the University of Missouri College of Agriculture come from urban or suburban areas.

The same thing applies to resources like food and fuel. A good read on the subject is a book I read during my senior year at the University of Iowa – University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis, which outlines Chicago and how it became THE urban center of the Midwest.

Without agriculture, Chicago would have ceased to exist. Without Chicago's stockyards, railroads, and grain facilities, agriculture would have ceased to thrive. I plan to use this book as a future reference, as it draws connections to resources, the economy, and environment. The ideals outlined apply across the country. Most of us are aware of these connections. We just need to be reminded sometimes. Urban and rural must coexist and cooperate to make it work.