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Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 08:38 am

A rural future from the past?

I have been observing the population decline in Illinois' rural parts for decades now. (See “Devoid of life” from July 14, 2011.) In the current issue of Illinois Issues magazine, Norman Walzer and Brian Harger, senior research scholar and research associate respectively at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University provide their own perspective.

It is not encouraging reading. People here and in other state propose all the usual remedies to revive the countryside, but the usual remedies only work if the countryside has people in it. 

Chickens and eggs. It's hard to attract new factories to rural Illinois if there is no work force, and a resurgence of local retail and service firms is unlikely without local customers.

This, then, jumped out. The speaker is Jim Nowlan, who in addition to whispering in the ears of policy-makers from behind the curtains at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the U of I in Urbana is publisher of the Stark County News up in Toulon. He reports that local growers there 

would like to build Stark County into the ‘Specialty Crop Capital of the Midwest,’ just as the southern part of Chicago’s Cook County was a century ago. If we could establish a critical mass of, say, 100 specialty growers, each on about 15 acres (a total of only 1 percent of the county’s farmland), we could truck produce daily to the 11-million population three-state Chicagoland market, where consumers cry out for fresh produce. And with hoop houses, we can grow produce 11 months a year.”

Interesting, if the future for parts of rural Illinois should mean a return to the past. 

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