A century ago when this state consisted mainly of farm and ranch families, it was a common sight to see neighbors helping neighbors. They swapped farm machinery. They loaned labor back and forth to work harvest thrashing crews. A barn raising presented another opportunity for friends to help build and support the community.
Since Kansas was settled, farmers and ranchers have supported their communities. They’ve always appreciated main streets that are bright, clean and well maintained. They’ve actively participated in the school system, served on the county planning board, taught Sunday school and worked with other community organizations and activities. Farmers and ranchers have been part of the fabric that has made Kansas the viable state it is today.
Some people have the mistaken belief that government can control the economy and provide a better life for its citizens. This is unrealistic. Both for theoretical and practical reasons, governments are unable to control the economy or create jobs.
Kansans know this. Our communities have never stood idly by and waited for the federal government to care for them. Instead they have formed alliances to tackle community issues, foster business development and ensure an environment where they will continue to grow. Consider towns storm-ravaged by tornadoes like Greensburg to see evidence of this.
Still, with the number of farm families dwindling each year, it is not enough for rural Kansas communities to have and follow a strategic plan for economic development. Such communities must not forget they need institutions that bring farmers into the communities on a regular basis.
This means places where rural and townsfolk can gather. This means a place where they can talk about mutual interests – children, the high school football team, the remodeled library – just about anything that relates to the welfare and well-being of the area.
Restaurants, grocery stores, a church – active participation in the school system and involvement in farm and community organizations are all ways to rekindle interest. Leaders must, however, be willing to live in and become part of the community.
Vibrant communities thrive and grow when farmers retire in their towns or become actively involved in local affairs. Farmers, ranchers and businesses remain the key to growth and vitality in any rural area.
Agriculture has always been the crucial ingredient driving the economic machinery of our state. Kansans are proud of the leadership our agricultural community provides. Working together rural and urban, with progressive community leadership, we can improve our standard of living and the quality of life in Kansas.
John Schlageck, a Hoxie native, is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.