Greenfield – A Lesson of My 4th

We were here for 4th at a friends’ place and the trip was like a soothing balm for our aching souls. Firstly the noise levels were at a bare minimum. It was more about lights than sounds.

There was food, conversation and children having fun and friends dropping at our seat with all the warmth and without any fake formalities. The farm was shut down and everyone just reveled in the holiday and festive spirit. There was an easy exchange of warmth and hospitality and I wondered how it came so easily. We for once truly lived in the moment and just flowed with the events happening. Nothing was organized, not one moment was choreographed yet they all came together to form one memorable holiday. Truly the fireworks lights of 4th brightened our hearts and freed our souls from the stress of a modern chaotic life. We are alive again. Now if only this could go on forever.

For us newcomers, it was a lesson. When it’s festive time, it’s meant to be celebrated and with no guilt attached. No juggling last-minute assignments and deadlines to accommodate the festive spirit and then regretting that we didn’t get enough time to celebrate.

This is the beauty of small towns. They have a pace, an aura, a timelessness of their own. Everything moves at a speed at which it is meant to move. We new dwellers may find it a bit slow for our liking but think about it, there’s no mad rush for anything. We were with a new “family” and we were happy. Who wanted to know whether the DOW plunged or soared? All we knew that our spirits were soaring with all the love and happiness around us.

In our new life in Greenfield, every morning the newspaper comes in much after the “designated hour”, yet no one was in a rush to read it. We have conversations, pulled each other’s legs over steaming cups of hot coffee while my wife indulges happily with her new friends and children. We go out often and inexpensively to a piping hot delicious meal day after day. No stale stuff pre-packed and stored for god knows how many days. What more than this could you want and how I wished I could give all my family this gift all year round! Greenfield needs to share this message with outsiders.

Rural sociologists do not dispute that 18-25-year-olds are leaving small towns for other areas, many of them to metro areas. Losing young people is the rule, not the exception — don’t beat yourself up because it’s been that way for 100 years and it is not a measure of failure; it is a measure of the success of our school system that allows students to attend college.

Long-held beliefs about the loss of rural population are peppered with inaccuracies. School consolidations, closing of churches and some business are not new — that has occurred since 1950. The partnership of agriculture and small towns has changed dramatically, with only 5 percent of small towns today tied to agriculture. Even adding ag-related businesses to the mix raises that to 7 percent.

What is not readily understood is that while 18-25-year-olds leave small towns — a natural consequence of college and single years — 30-45-year-olds are moving to them. America’s small towns are not losing population, but gaining numbers — and that has happened since 1970s. nationally, 2.2 million Americans moved from a metro county to a non-metro county between 1990 and 1999; that trend that is continuing. What has declined is the relative percentage to overall population. If there was the continual decline everyone talks about, “where are all the dead towns? A Pew Center survey found 51 percent of Americans would prefer to live in a small town or in a rural area.

Instead, a rural renaissance is taking place, a “newcomer” trend of 30-year-olds who, according to surveys, want smaller communities that they believe provide a better quality of life, including a slower pace, a safer environment and less expensive housing. Those who come to the small towns at that age are real “brain gains. They are educated — 43 percent have college degrees — and often become small business owners. They sometimes leave careers to move, or are underemployed. But not to Greenfield.

The quality of life is the trump card. Studies have shown that people don’t just look at one town, they look at four or five. Security and activity are most important – not housing cost. And that should be instructive to economic development and Chamber of Commerce officials to understand attracting and retaining newcomers. Tapping into that demographic, and its needs, will give position to Greenfield for the trend. Studies have shown that with each newcomer moving to town, it is estimated that $120,000 is funneled into the economy. America is highly mobile, far more than people might think in this poor economy. Life transitions — new jobs, children entering school, retirement —tend to spark population moves. Even though 30-45-year-olds move to smaller towns, studies show they begin to move again after 50 — when their children have graduated from high school or college.

Let’s change our warts with effort and ordinance to attract these newcomers because they will like Greenfield.

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