How to Promote Sustainability in Rural America

by Jori Hamilton

Sustainability has become a pressing social issue over the past several decades, stirring action from environmentalists, students, and regular citizens as climate change becomes a global priority. Cities across the U.S. are developing local food systems to create self-sustaining communities and decrease their environmental footprint. However, rural areas of the U.S. have fewer resources than metropolitan areas and are less aware of sustainability concepts, which makes them less likely to apply sustainable practices to their everyday lives.

How can environmental activists and industry leaders bridge this gap? Let’s take a look at the growth of urban agriculture in order to show how recent environmentally friendly developments can be implemented in rural areas.

Growth of Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is becoming increasingly popular. People in densely populated metropolitan areas are growing food using all available locations and methods at their disposal, from rooftop and indoor farms to community and backyard gardens. As the push for global sustainability and climate change action grows, more people are seeking out new ways to apply their actions against the problems with our food system.

As a result, many urban communities are opting to grow their own food, which helps cut down on the transportation emissions of sourcing food from rural farms hundred and often thousands of miles away. Because of the resources found in big cities, urban farming is an uncomplicated practice, simply requiring care and attention to growing plants.

Every step towards a more sustainable lifestyle is important, especially in highly populated areas, where greenhouse emissions and human impact are so prevalent. This is why more cities are pushing for urban farms to promote sustainable food growth. An example of this is the Paris Parisculteurs project, which aimed to cover the city’s walls and rooftops with 247 acres of vegetation by 2020. In the U.S., cities like Detroit, Portland, and Austin are all working to implement local food systems and urban agriculture, with elaborate city zoning that focuses on the production of local food.

Federal government initiatives for sustainability are also important, as they push the country down a more environmentally friendly path with initiatives like Earth Day, which began in 1970 and helped pave with way for modern sustainability awareness. These efforts can spur action in local communities, helping to spread awareness and sustainability-minded policies in more areas.

Promoting Sustainability in Rural America

As much as sustainability seems to be growing in metropolitan areas, the same cannot be said for the extensive areas of rural land in the U.S. According to Leaders at the Core of Better Communities (LCMC), rural communities in the U.S. comprise 17 percent of the population, but about 75 percent of the total land area. That said, there are a plethora of reasons, largely revolving around a lack of resources, why rural America is struggling to incorporate sustainable practices into their towns.

Many rural communities often struggle with economic development, which often leads to declining farm employment, one of the main sources of work in rural towns. According to the LCMC, lack of work and big city amenities, as well as the far distance from metropolitan areas, is often enough to convince some locals to seek a home elsewhere. This is partly to blame for the 25 percent drop in the population of rural counties between 1990 and 2000. However, these small towns make up a huge portion of land throughout the country, and using them to grow local food could help to achieve a greater sense of sustainability across the country.

Some of these rural towns, however, do see more economic development when they are situated at the edge of a metropolitan area. This proximity can impact the town’s way of life, depending on how quickly economic changes occur. Unexpected economic development in a rural town can alter a town’s rural identity and compromise their ability to set their own agenda for future growth. For this reason, practicing corporate social responsibility is necessary for businesses that are considering entering rural areas, where they could have a massive impact on communities and the local economy.

Companies that are considering locating to rural neighborhoods must think about the ways they can give back to the community they will be joining, otherwise they will simply be infiltrating and disrupting communities, which can put them in a negative light. Corporations should strive to be leaders for sustainability in rural areas, first and foremost, by being leaders themselves and locally sourcing as many products as possibly. They can also provide tools and initiatives for local community members to pick up their own sustainable practices.

Sustainability in metropolitan areas as well as rural communities is extremely important in the fight against climate change. Although rural areas don’t typically contribute to climate change as much as populous areas full of cars, public transit, and corporate buildings, community members in these areas deserve the clean and healthy options that come with sustainable food growth.



Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest with a passion for covering climate change issues, social justice, and technology. You can follow her on twitter: @hamiltonjori