Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Rural Futures Conference held in Lincoln with people from all over the world with the common purpose of finding ways to revitalize rural America. The event opened up with a “Thomas Jefferson” discussing the important role agriculture has in today’s society. He emphasized how we need to bring the culture back into agriculture, meaning its okay to be proud of our rural roots and agricultural backgrounds. It is something we should be proud of and the huge role we have in feeding the world.
This was the second year for the Rural Futures Conference; the Rural Futures Institute’s vision is that it “will be an internationally recognized leader for increasing community capacity as well as the confidence of rural people to address their challenges and opportunities, resulting in resilient and sustainable rural futures.” Furthermore its mission is to build “upon the strengths and assets in rural Nebraska, the Great Plains, and globally, the RFI, through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, will mobilize the resources and talents of the University of Nebraska and its partners, including community partners, to create knowledge and action that supports rural people and places to achieve unique paths to their desired futures.”
This year’s conference theme was “beyond boundaries”. This was to remind conference participants that it is essential to step out of our boundaries and comfort zones to make huge strides that are positive for rural communities. Moving out of one’s comfort zone or boundaries is not an easy feat for most people; in fact most people’s natural instinct is to dislike change. In order for the RFI to be successful, however it is crucial that we create synergistic opportunities that allow collaboration to address the complex opportunities and challenges rural communities face.
Also at the conference we were challenged to consider how one person’s “half-baked idea” along with our own “half-baked idea” could create real opportunities or successes. In other words, teamwork will be essential not only for us to solve many world problems but also to reverse the population decline in rural areas. I selected to attend the session on how to engage youth in rural communities in which we brainstormed challenges and opportunities for the younger generation. It was refreshing to have some current college students in attendance and listen to their perspectives. Next steps with the RFI include moving these ideas into action and forming groups with similar interests. There is a RFI grant system, which will also for funding some of the research and outreach opportunities as well.
For more information on the Rural Futures Institute website.