Originally printed in the February|March 2018 issue of Rural Route
Growing up in a small town in northeastern Wisconsin, Madison was practically New York City to me. When I first moved to Madison in 2012, I remember being overwhelmed. I avoided the beltline at all costs. The Capitol and its surrounding square was a giant, confusing puzzle. The traffic, the people and the proximity of everything had me stunned.
Now that I am a more seasoned Dane County resident, I can maneuver around the city with much more ease. While my husband and I live north of Madison, we spend a decent amount of time in each of our hometowns visiting our families. Both of our hometowns we consider small. We classify them small because we usually are recognized by at least two or more people at the grocery store.
Working in a metropolitan area, we have grown accustomed to some of the things that go together with ‘the city.’ We have even made comments about how our wardrobe has changed since moving and how some things we wear in Madison, we would never pack for a trip home.
We’ll sometimes find ourselves at a bonfire in the ‘back 40.’ Other times we find ourselves at a reception at the exquisite Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Talk about a nice lifestyle mix of rural and urban.
I recently attended the Wisconsin Ag Outlook Forum hosted at UW-Madison where Professor Katherine Cramer discussed her research on how people make sense of politics and her thoughts on the prominent rural and urban divide.
The divide between the two sectors is nothing new, and has always been there to some degree. However, has there ever been so much resentment between the two as there is right now?
According to Cramer, rural folks feel isolated and that decision makers in Madison are not listening to them. They feel as though they work hard but earn very little. I’m sure in the other corner, urbanites don’t understand the needs of the residents living in less dense areas and the challenges they face.
Now for the token question: how do we bring these groups together?
Cramer suggested agriculture.
Food: it’s something both sectors need and care about. Could it work? Maybe.
However, before we tackle this divide, we must remove the one within agriculture.
Yes, I said it.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that within agriculture we have things we don’t agree on. We have many divides within our own industry. Whether it’s production methods, conservation efforts or farm size, there’s a lot that can be debated.
It was Wisconsin Counties Association Executive Director Mark O’Connell, who also spoke at the Wisconsin Ag Outlook Forum, who admitted that divides give us someone to blame when times aren’t good. With the prediction of another year of ‘scraping by,’ this could cause even more divide.
I hope for the sake of our industry, it doesn’t.
In a time where there are so many divisions, we can’t be divided amongst ourselves. We must think big picture and how we can step up to remove these splits.
I’m not naïve enough to think we won’t ever have differences within the industry; all I ask is that we focus our energy on working together at the big things that matter: like bridging the rural-urban divide.
So, I challenge us to start those conversations. What are you doing to connect to the urban areas?
Amy Eckelberg was raised on her family’s dairy farm near New London in Waupaca County. As an active member of the Sandy Knoll 4-H club, Eckelberg grew up showing hogs and dairy animals at the Waupaca County Fair and was a New London FFA member. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2012. Amy is the Executive Director of Public Relations for Wisconsin Farm Bureau and resides in DeForest with her husband.