Rural Communities: So far behind, they’re ahead

With consumerism in the United States at an all time high, many steps are being taken by households and communities to be more efficient. Being a product of a rural community myself, some of the “green” ideas being considered in urban populations nearly seem like no-brainers, as they are practiced today and always have been outside of city centers. Country folk don’t have many of the modern conveniences that large cities do, such as grocery stores with fresh produce, streets with curbs, city-wide underground drainage systems, chain restaurants, and high-speed broadband Internet access. In many ways, these “modern conveniences” add to the negative environmental impacts and extreme consumerism that so many are concerned with today.

Keeping It Local
The less access you have to fresh, quality produce and meat, the more work you have to do to create your own. Small towns usually have residential lots of generous size and it’s not uncommon to have at least an acre within the city limits. Having more square footage means having more outdoor space to garden and boy do these people garden. With no reliable retail source of fresh produce within possibly 50 miles or more, growing your own in your backyard makes sense. Many smaller towns also do not have livestock restrictions within city limits. Depending on the open space that is available, one could have anything from chickens to cows right in the backyard. Eggs always taste better straight from the chicken rather than the cardboard carton anyway. Not to mention hunting seasons for game. Many rural dwellers have larger acreage for hunting or know someone who does. Venison, pig, turkey, quail, and dove are common targets in Texas and are frequently found in my parents’ freezers.

Water Management
The luxury of treated and filtered water was a dream for many agrarians (and still is) and is something city folk tend to take for granted. As a child, I remember pulling up water from the cistern to make fresh sun tea when the stock pond was too low and the water was murky. This cistern has been in use for more than 80 years and the concept employs tactics that suburban housewives today are scrambling over: harvesting rainwater runoff from the roof. In rural communities, concrete curbs and underground storm sewers are few and far between. Instead, gravel roads and bar ditches (known to the engineer as bioswales) are an equal substitute. These porous surfaces allow water to seep into the ground while still evacuating it from structures. And because of smaller building footprints, there’s less water to evacuate.

Alternative Energy
Horses and cattle have been used by humans for thousands of years to perform jobs too large for human hands. And even today, horses are still used when they could be easily be replaced by motorized all-terrain vehicles. As for transportation, the urban equal to a horse would be a bicycle. With Texas’ wind energy production experiencing a boon  in the last 20 years, one can’t help but think of how windmills have been used for over 150 years on the same plains to pull up precious groundwater for human and livestock production.

Yes, I realize that many of these practices are a result of a lack of financial and technological resources, but there’s no denying that these once-archaic concepts are now in vogue. What’s even more ironic is that these rustic folks don’t even realize the economical and environmental value and potential in what they are doing; it’s just “always been done that way”. Is it possible that rural communities are so far behind, they’re ahead?




  1. Michelle · · Reply

    It’s good to know some of my practices are in vogue!! Good post!

  2. Every day I realize new complexities of “sustainability”. I blame the grunt of our problems on overpopulation. Yes, these rural practices are solutions to some problems that modern urbanization has caused, but can they sustain the population in its entirety?

    I read an article a couple years ago about the “most sustainable city,” and the winner wasn’t a rural one. NYC took first place based on a per person impact scale. Most people in NYC don’t use cars because of public transportation and use less energy in their homes. (There were several other points that I can’t remember.) The argument was that when people are spread out they have higher negative impacts to the environment with a smaller number population. Of course, I would assume that the suburbs are worse than a rural town.

    Whether people live rural lifestyles or urban lifestyles we are still a growing population that the environment won’t be able to sustain, and our problem is consumption; consumption of water, gas, mass produced food, and other energies. Take the horse you mentioned. Did you know that one of the first urban planning conferences was held because the mode of transportation had such large negative affects? It was polluting the environment, straining the daily lives of citizens and was thought to be the downfall of civilization if not taken under control. The main purpose of the conference was to create a solution for horses. I have nothing against horses, but the population had outgrown the logical use of horses. On such a large scale they weren’t sustainable, and on a large scale, nothing is sustainable.

    I was at a conference earlier this week and some of the lectures were about sustainability. One presenter said, “We went through the industrial revolution, which has created a lot of our problems, and now people are calling this movement for sustainable lifestyles the ‘green revolution.’ But, as Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I think rural communities are in the right direction; getting back to our roots. We will have to change our paradigm if we are going to take rural practices and apply them to our growing population.

    Side note, now that I’m on a role with my sustainability rant: I don’t like it when people don’t support sustainability because it’s a hippy/tree hugger thing. Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving ourselves. We will wipe out our own species; the planet will heal, and then move on without us. We should care because we get everything from the environment, our food, water and energy. We need the environment; the environment doesn’t need us.

  3. I agree with your points. I will specifically address your last paragraph.

    Image and branding of these “green practices” is something that is so difficult to overcome. Great strides have to be made in order for this “lifestyle” to be accepted as normal. Ugh, I just did it myself. This shouldn’t even be considered a lifestyle choice. It should be the norm. Would someone call a family living in suburbia with a 3,000 sq. ft. house and 3 cars a lifestyle? Probably not. But is the old man with a personal wind turbine and a veggie garden in the front yard living a specific lifestyle? Under the perception of the general public, yes.

    Time may address these perception issues, albeit slowly. Recent political opposition to any sort of enviro consideration has set the movement back a bit, I think. Eventually, this will be overcome, but I would assume because of necessity and emergency of acceptance rather than openness and willingness of the hard-headed.

  4. I believe the environment doesn’t need us. Rather in order to preserve a livable biome, human must play a part it not messing it up so much, even putting practices to use that will regenerate and heal past mistakes.

    These rural paradises are under attack from expanding suburbs and insane practices such as fracting ( poisoning the precious ground water).

    New York my have less of an impact per person, but its still a high concentration of people and there is tons of particle matter in the air. its is not a healthy city to live in. Try the some where in the Rockies or Alaska!

  5. […] this month Travis brought up the idea of looking to rural communities for sustainable ideas. To continue this topic, a good example would be the Amish […]

  6. […] far we’ve had two articles (Travis’s and Tyler’s) on Didactic Discourse written about where to look for the solutions to our […]

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