A century ago when this state consisted mainly of farm and ranch families, it was a common sight to see neighbors helping neighbors. They swapped farm machinery. They loaned labor back and forth to work harvest thrashing crews. A barn-raising presented another opportunity for friends to help build and support the community.
Kansans have always been an active bunch. Citizens of this state have always believed they can “get the job done.”
Today, Kansas farmers and ranchers do their barn-raising by supporting those in need across the state. A recent example is the monster wildfire that burned more than 500,000 acres of grassland in Barber and Comanche counties.
While farmers and ranchers in these counties continue to look to better times and a renewed commitment to their farm and ranch operations, they marvel at the overwhelming support they’ve received from people across Kansas and neighboring states.
In addition to encouragement and well wishes, hay and fencing equipment has arrived by the semi loads. Volunteers have offered their support and help as well.
With natural disasters there has always been a tremendous outpouring of neighbors helping neighbors. Such action warms the soul.
But this is not a new or recent phenomenon. Since Kansas was settled, farmers and ranchers have supported their communities. They’ve always appreciated main streets that are bright, clean and well maintained. They’ve actively participated in the school system, served on the county planning board, taught Sunday school and worked with other community organizations and activities. Farmers and ranchers have been part of the fabric that has made Kansas the viable state it is today.
Some people have the mistaken belief government can control the economy and provide a better life for its citizens. This is unrealistic, and in the case of Kansas, unnecessary. Both for theoretical and practical reasons, governments are unable to control the economy or create jobs.
Kansans know this. Our communities have never stood idly by and waited for the federal government to care for them. Instead they form alliances to tackle community issues, foster business development and ensure an environment where they will continue to grow.
Still, with the number of farm families dwindling each year, it is not enough for rural Kansas communities to have and follow a strategic plan for economic development. Such communities must not forget they need institutions that bring farmers into the communities on a regular basis.
This means places where rural and townsfolk can gather. This means a place where they can talk about mutual interests — children, the high school football team, the remodeled library — just about anything that relates to the welfare and well-being of the area.
Restaurants, grocery stores, a church, active participation in the school system and involvement in farm and community organizations are all ways to rekindle interest.
Vibrant communities thrive and grow when farmers participate in their towns or become actively involved in local affairs. Farmers, ranchers and businesses remain the key to growth and vitality in any rural area.
Agriculture has always been the crucial ingredient driving the economic machinery of our state. Kansans are proud of the leadership our agricultural community provides. Working together in rural and urban areas, with progressive community leadership, we can improve our standard of living and the quality of life in Kansas.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.