The link below is to a post from Richard Florida on examining rural-urban tropes that are used ad nauseum often in lieu of updated facts. It is my opinion that with this type of analysis (often done for the excellent CityLab), Florida has mostly made up for what many believe was his famous yet flawed theory of an emerging creative class as the main driver of economic success. Many of his critics believed he included too many non-creative careers in his accounting, or that he cherry-picked cities where his theory fit best, or they pointed out its lack of info on the structural inequities that allow some (read young white people) to have unequal access to resources and to opportunities. (I’d also add that the very mobile/online nature of many of the careers and the age of those who hold them means any effect will need a longer span of years to truly analyze its effect.)*
Unfortunately, that original theory has been misused over and over again by municipalities, allowing developers to profit from shiny “open space” monuments to unchecked consumerism for technology-addled people to sit in silence, more divided than ever, rather than insisting on meaningful public spaces serving a diverse group of people. I know many farmers market leaders that read this blog know exactly what I mean by that rush to capitalize on it.
Since the election of 2016, the rural/urban discussion has become a juggernaut of its own, and yet in most analysis, it still lacks regional context and nuance. I am sure that is not surprising to anyone, as that is the norm in American election campaigning. In terms of our work in farmers markets however, this issue is something we must understand and own and we cannot allow easy reads of it to stand. The good news is that our work illuminates what Florida and others have already found, and our data can help even more good analysis to follow – that is, when we collect and share data and when we challenge our own assumptions.
For example, I always question food system activists when they use the term “urban agriculture” because I don’t think it means anything. Or rather, I don’t think it means what they think it does. It seems to me that term does disservice to both urban producers and to their rural sistren and brethren, as well as confusing the visitors that we want to attract. I also challenge rural activists when they refuse to share their lessons learned with their urban colleagues. Cannot tell you how many times people have rolled their eyes at me when I suggest they publish something about their small town triumph, or when I suggest they go to regional conferences that include urban topics. And our just-as-dedicated suburban food system leaders almost always get scornful dismissals from rural and urban colleagues and funders even while they are seeing a huge influx of immigrant diversity in their midst, as cities becomes too expensive for many newly arrived residents.
This is important because as I have written on this blog previously, I believe one major impediment to more resilient food systems is this lack of regional thinking, and the unwillingness of many food activists to explore the effect of their work across planning or political boundaries or to think critically beyond the short-term outcomes of their project.
When farmers markets are thriving, I find they are challenging assumptions and boldly expanding who depends on that market community. So understanding your own regional rural-suburban-urban challenge seems like a good first step to your farmers markets becoming place-based regional hubs of innovation, inclusion, and import-replacement. (that alliteration just happened, I swear.) I hope Florida’s piece helps.
Not all of rural America is in decline. Far from it. Significant parts of it are thriving, while others have economies that are in transition. The same is true of urban and metro areas of all sizes. Some are succeeding, others are failing, and still others are standing still.
The reality is that economic growth is not only uneven and unequal between urban and rural places; it is also uneven within them. Some cities and large metros are growing like gangbusters, while others are declining; some suburban areas are booming, while others are beset by economic dislocation and poverty. So it is with rural places.
*To his credit, Florida has written a lot about the lopsided nature of technology and economic drivers since then.