By Julie Tesch, President & CEO
March 6, 2019
I recently moved back to rural Minnesota after living in densely populated cities in the Midwest and East Coast for the past 25 years. This was a conscious choice that I made because of my age and stage in life. After living in St. Paul, Indianapolis and the Washington, D.C., area, it was time to take stock of what I valued, and I realized that I valued the rural lifestyle.
Granted, I loved being able to walk to get my groceries and take the subway to Nationals baseball games. How convenient! I loved being close to concerts, lectures and museums. I loved that if I didn’t want to cook, I had my choice of hundreds of fantastic restaurants.
And so I was hesitant when I moved back to rural Minnesota 18 months ago. I had been living in Washington, D.C., for almost four years and had become accustomed to those conveniences a large city has to offer.
But I also couldn’t tolerate that way of life anymore. Riding a subway to and from work every day is a lesson in patience, while the price I paid to rent an apartment could buy me a nice amount of farmland in a rural area. I just couldn’t shake that logic. I loved my job and my friends, but I wasn’t happy with what mattered most and that was actually living.
I craved space. My green space was an historic cemetery. Not exactly the wide-open spaces of the prairie or even of the lakes in Minneapolis/St. Paul that I was used to.
I wanted community. I missed seeing my neighbors at local sporting events or at the pancake breakfast for the fire department. I missed that sense of connection when you rally for something valuable to a community. I missed knowing that my neighbors are also the ones who are on the local fire department and who I trust with my life.
I missed belonging.
When I moved back to rural Minnesota, it was a bit of culture shock. People recognized me in the local grocery store and asked what I was doing back in the area. I was very used to being just another number in Washington, D.C., so knowing people at the store was somewhat odd. I reconnected with friends and community members that I had grown up with and who had been the base of my community experience in my youth. I wondered if that same community that I remembered—not the community of houses and buildings, but the community of people—still existed in my small rural town.
Then I went to watch my niece play at a girls’ basketball game at the local high school and realized that it had been 25 years since I had been in that gym. It was comforting to know the town still showed up to cheer on their local teams. The thing I had forgotten about rural Minnesota was that much of life revolves around the school and the activities there. Out east, the only reason I knew about the local high school there was because it was the school depicted in the movie “Remember the Titans.” I didn’t even know where the school was located. I never felt tied to the community, and I missed that feeling.
I like knowing that when I go to yoga class or go to get a massage that I am supporting a local business. I like knowing that my dentist and optometrist are active in our community and not just in their profession. I like knowing that when I do my Christmas shopping at a local giftshop that I am directly affecting her bottom line and helping her family live. Is this possible in urban areas? Absolutely, but in my experience, it is much easier to know your local store owners in a small community.
Why do I share this with you? Because I am part of the “boomerang” age bracket of people moving back to rural Minnesota. Research shows that even as 20- to 29-year-olds leave rural counties, 30- to 49-year-old people are moving back. This age range is ready to put down roots and build a community with their families in a rural setting. They may have already enjoyed the amenities of metropolitan living and are now ready for a rural lifestyle.
As I was walking the halls of the Minnesota State Capitol a few days ago, I ran into a legislator who recognized my work for rural Minnesota. I went to greet him and ask him to sign on to a bill, and before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he stated, “Now what is wrong with rural?”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks because it was then I realized that most people who hear about rural Minnesota hear about our issues and not our benefits. Sure, there are issues of an aging population, access to health care and education funding, but those issues exist in urban and suburban areas as well. The problem is that we too often lead with our complaints and don’t market the best of what rural Minnesota has to offer.
I say all of this to convey that rural is a great place to live. Yes, we have our trials and tribulations like everyone else, but I encourage you: go out and find the good in our rural lifestyle. You’ll see there’s a lot of it.