Rural Environment and Agriculture Project

If you care about where your food comes from, you need to understand what’s happening in rural America.

That’s why we’ve decided to spend a year telling a range of stories that shed light on the part of the country where the bulk of our nation’s food is produced—and the often-overlooked people who live there. While this is not a new topic for us, it’s an important moment to begin bridging the gap between urban consumers and rural food producers.

Rural America is undergoing big changes. As food production has consolidated over the last four decades, small and mid-sized family farms have struggled to stay on the land. As farming become industrialized, thousands of people have left rural areas to live in cities and suburbs over the last several decades, and many schools, retail stores, hospitals, and banks have closed. Local newspapers have gone out of print, and jobs that pay a living wage have become harder to find. According to a recent Washington Post Kaiser Family Foundation poll, of people living in rural counties, only 30 percent rated job opportunities in their communities as excellent or good, compared with 50 percent in urban areas and 45 percent in suburbs.

Rural communities are also often culturally divided from urban and coastal Americans. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in cities. At the same time, nine out of 10 rural areas are more diverse now than they were 20 years ago—and much of that shift has taken place in part due to large-scale food production, such as the influx of recent immigrants in towns with large meat processing facilities.

Our hope is that by reporting on these tensions in modern rural America and showcasing solutions where agriculture can help to revitalize communities, we will expand our readers’ awareness of the interdependence of American agriculture and food systems. Of course, we realize that many of these stories will raise challenges that don’t have immediate solutions. And we welcome you to join us on this journey and share your thoughts and ideas along the way.

-The Civil Eats Team