I’m really passionate about this 40 Under 40 issue. And, I hope that the extensive efforts on the part of our editorial team can help open up new avenues of communication through the generational divide between today’s farmers and ranchers.

My initial excitement about this issue did not wane until I began asking our readers and interview subjects to nominate their friends, family and neighbors for this issue. The response to me was overwhelmingly the same:

“I don’t think I even know anyone under the age of 40.”

Farming and ranching are industries with inherently high barriers to entry for young people. If someone my age (29) wants to farm, even if they have a family farm or ranch to inherit, acquiring capital, maintaining old leases, estate taxes, immediately attaining profitability and more will inevitably make entering the ag industry a daunting challenge.

If there’s no farm or ranch to inherit, all of those challenges increase tenfold.

If they want an ag adjacent or rural career instead of one in production agriculture, maintaining those rural ties will mean that they inherently make less money than their peers in the same jobs with fewer hours in larger metropolitan areas.

None of those things mean young agriculturalists are worth less. If anything, it makes them more. More resilient, more conscious, more grateful, more communicative, more willing, more imaginative, more open. You get the picture.

As someone who has experienced this, who has moved into a rural community far from home in pursuit of a job that contributes to agriculture and has been willing to make sacrifices both personal and professional in order to make that dream a reality, the highest barrier to entry for me, (aside from finding housing which is hard in any rural community) was purely social.

In my pursuit of finding a comfortable place to “fit” in my new community, I was either too young or too old for activities, too single or married but I didn’t have enough kids or old enough kids, or I didn’t “qualify” in other ways. I hadn’t lived “in town” long enough. I didn’t have a community member or relative to “vouch” for my character.

My husband and I attempted to buy tickets to the county fair benefit banquet only to have our request denied initially because I had an out of town area code on my phone number. When I assured the organizer that we indeed wanted to support the county fair, they were unsure why I would since I didn’t have any kids in the program. Once I progressed past the constant questioning: “Yes, I was in 4-H and FFA and just want to give back. My husband and I thought attending might be a good way to meet people in our new community that also value ag the way we do. We don’t have kids now, but we will someday and want to help build a good program for them.” We attended the banquet only to be sat at a table completely alone. When the few people we sought out to talk to found out that we weren’t from the area and didn’t have kids yet, the conversations always abruptly stopped. We haven’t been back.

I’m not angry or upset about those interactions. I grew up in a small community and I know what it’s like to be skeptical of newcomers. I’m being vulnerable with you about these experiences to help you see your community differently.

I hear churches and rural leaders ask all the time “How do we attract more young families?” And the answer in my mind is not to alienate young people in the interim. Just because they aren’t “there” yet, doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to contribute. In fact, sometimes they have more, more time, more effort, more energy, more ideas.

My husband and I have now been in Southeast Kansas nearly ten years. We’re finally, kind of sort of beginning to feel at home here. We’ve had a warm welcome from so many people that have treated us like family. And I’m grateful for that, but I want you to be aware that other young people aren’t as patient as us. They won’t wait ten years to begin to sort of feel accepted.

They won’t go out of their way and embrace the questioning and the alienating with the endurance that we’ve had.

We want to be here. We want to be a part of this community. We want to contribute, to grow here. Our eyes are firm on those goals. But, if they weren’t, if we were just testing the waters to see if this area might fit us, our reality would be much different today.

I’m not asking you to go out of your way in this instance. You don’t have to be one of those giant, flashy Branson “Come one, come all” enticing billboards for you community. Just maybe don’t unintentionally become a roadblock.

The more vulnerable I am throughout the course of this column, the more I open up my life to readers and friends, the more I am assured that this world is still a good place. That people are almost unfailingly kinder than we give them credit for. That we are all so much more alike than we are different.

And my purpose in bringing this to your attention, is that you might also open yourself up and be rewarded by those same findings. For me this has been the ultimate joy and I want to share that joy with you.

I hope you read through the names of the young people in this issue and seek out those closest to you to encourage them. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reception you’ll receive in return.

Rural Rapp-ort

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