There has been a lot of recent talk about the need to heal the nation. The close numbers of the election, the split between Democratic and Republican voters and the divisive tenor of today’s conversations have demonstrated that the path to unity may be a challenging and broken one.
As someone who grew up in cities and has spent almost 30 years working with farmers, there is another divide. It’s a divide that already existed but perhaps cuts a little deeper in the context of this election — the divide between our urban neighborhoods and our rural communities.
A lot of thought has been given to what this means. More importantly, many have tried to anticipate where we go from here. While it may be naïve, there are more similarities than differences among the two, and the urban-rural relationship is symbiotic. There are some generalizations that can be made, although every community, every city, every small town and every family Is different.
Large cities tended to vote Democratic. It happened in Philadelphia and Atlanta. It happened in Detroit and Columbus. People in cities were seeking a change and wanted a new platform from which to be heard. There was frustration with the lack of empathy and understanding coming from the current White House. There was a belief that only widespread upset in leadership could solve the problems. City folk are proud people; people who have grown up recognizing the government has a role in shaping social justice policies and in helping those in need.
By the same token, there were easy Republican sweeps in strong agricultural areas of the nation. Even in states where the cities went blue, the surrounding small towns and farms remain red. Rural residents are proud people who live a very different kind of life. People are spread out from each other. Farmers are people who put their hands in the dirt, and people with deep generational roots. Farmers are conservative by nature for many reasons, not the least of which is that farming is a very volatile economic proposition. Great years and terrible years are commonplace. Farmers are private people, and people who grew up believing strongly that less government is a good thing when it comes to farming.
These broad statements are not intended to address the minutiae and rhetoric on both sides as it relates to politics. There are Democratic farmers, and there are inner-city residents who are conservative Republicans. But echo chambers exist in both urban and rural environments and listening to divergent points of view is not a priority. Where diversity abounds in most cities, it is lacking in most small towns. And in those communities, there is talk to each other, but not enough effort to talk across the divide.
What we in the farm community know is this: Food is a universal language. The tables may look different, but everyone sits down together with their families. And when they do, they do it with the same sense of pride for their families, their country and their community.
Across the country, as Americans turned inward and spent more time at home during the pandemic, they have benefited from mostly stocked grocery shelves. Forced inside, they cooked, they tried new recipes and they baked bread. Whether we ventured to stores or had food delivered, for the most part, the food was available. And for those for whom food is not as accessible, both cities and the farm community alike have donated resources to assure food for all.
Farmers have not faltered during the pandemic. They recognized and embraced their obligation to continue to supply food to grocery stores. Even in the struggle of this omni-crisis, they supported foodbanks and charitable organizations working in hunger relief. They worked hard to maintain continuity in their operations under the most difficult of circumstances. As essential workers, U.S. farmers and those who work with them didn’t miss a beat. It’s a responsibility that they accept and take seriously.
It is helpful to look for ways we are the same, rather than ways we are different. Safe, affordable, nutritious food matters to all families. Whether urban or rural, food helps us exist. We all want a better future for our children and grandchildren. We have faith, and we have hope.
For those who cannot appreciate the aspirational – accept the pragmatic: Without farmers, cities have limited access to fresh, nutritious foods. And without populous cities and those who live in them, farmers don’t have a ready market for their products. That is the simple reality of supply and demand.
As many gather in small groups for the holidays this year, it is a good time to remember the important role the food system plays in these celebrations. And although our get-togethers may be smaller than traditional meals, they perhaps matter more than ever.
Over those meals, we should take a moment to thank the farmers in rural America who produced the food. And yes, farmers should take a moment to thank the millions of Americans in our largest cities who are enjoying the foods they produce.
In the months ahead, we must be deliberate about forging that connection between urban and rural communities. It’s going to take all of us working with intention, awareness and understanding.
Hinda Mitchell is president and founder of Inspire PR Group, an integrated, strategic communications firm serving farm and food clients across the U.S. Reach her at [email protected]