It's no secret the northern Great Plains and other places the readers of Agweek live are peppered with far more rural communities than cities. It's also no secret that there is a direct connection between local farms and ranches and their nearby communities. Rural communities invest in themselves.
As someone who loves new ideas and learning, it was easy to get on board with attending the RuralX Summit in Aberdeen, S.D.
But why RuralX? And what IS it? RuralX is truly is a new way of doing business.
Gather your crowd, make connections and take small steps were the basic tenets. Gone is the old way of having to always form committees and talk an issue to death. Here to stay is the simplicity of just doing.
Don't get me wrong - committees are still needed. But for many fabulous ideas, simply gathering your crowd and taking small steps is the solution to growing our rural towns.
It can be as simple as asking questions to get the ball rolling. "What do you do?" "Who do you know?" "What do you think?"
RuralX brought together community leaders, economic developers and regular joes, all trying to make a difference in their rural areas. Folks came from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas to share ideas, strategies, successes and failures, and to hear some mighty motivating speakers.
Jason Roberts of Better Blocks (www.betterblock.org) uses the "gather your crowd" strategy to recreate whole streets quickly. He uses items gleaned from friends and neighbors to show what CAN be done in communities lacking gathering places, walkability or experiences, and he helps to visualize how streets and neighborhoods could be reimagined.
Deb Brown and Becky McCray from SAVEYOUR.town (www.saveyour.town) also wowed the crowd. These two ladies from different parts of the country have teamed up to share their expertise applying the Idea Friendly method to build connections and make a difference, all with little or no budget.
A huge highlight at RuralX was following up with two young men who attended last year's RuralX as its only "youngsters" (ages 16 and 17). Dylan Fulton and Camden Breitling went back to Miller, S.D., with the idea of having pop-up shops over the holidays. With a little help and a newly formed youth leadership team, they were able to get sheds donated for booths at the first Cozy Cabin Christmas. They had five vendors and, from this event, two of those businesses are actively looking for permanent buildings. Win!
Building on last year's event, RuralX 2017 had nearly a full dozen youth in attendance! That is amazing! I thank them for taking an active role now and in our future, and teaching us how best to communicate with our youth.
Another outstanding presenter was Hugh Weber, founder of We Are OTA and the Potluck Society (www.hughweber.com). Hugh has been a driving force in making connections across the OTA region - MinnesOTA, North DakOTA and South DakOTA - and has sparked many into acting on wishes and dreams for our rural areas. Hugh's strategy of stopping the disconnect and pulling people together is based on basic potlucks where everyone has something to offer. A simple invitation to do XYZ creates intentional acts of community, conversation and celebration - with incredible results!
Rural areas need more rural folks to participate in events like RuralX. The ideas, conversations and actions that result are what help keep our towns growing and thriving.
"Not all towns will survive - but those that do are open to new ideas."