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Rural America’s Potential

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Rural America faces great challenges amid a changing world, but it also has the tools to survive and even thrive: strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that it’s home to much of the food production system needed to feed a growing world population.

The University of Nebraska’s new Rural Futures Institute aims to bring together university and local expertise to harness this potential. Launched in 2012, the institute will tap faculty expertise across all four NU campuses for research, education and engagement involving partner organizations and rural communities across the Great Plains.

To help new ideas become reality, the institute is awarding seed grants to launch multidisciplinary research related to rural places and to develop educational programs.

Although agriculture was the foundation of rural America and remains critical to its economy, that’s not all there is, said Ronnie Green, Harlan Vice Chancellor of UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and NU vice president.

“It’s not just an economy of production,” he told the inaugural Rural Futures Conference in May 2012. “It’s a natural resources economy. It’s a knowledge economy.”

More than 450 people from across the nation attended that conference, a major step toward establishing the institute. Conference discussions helped to inform the institute’s agenda.

“I think we’re at a time when the planets are aligning in a way that’s really unusual,” Green
said. “We have to figure out a way to make this landscape sustainable for the long term.”

It’s time to change the conversation from what’s wrong with rural America to what’s right, he added. “Rural America is about to experience a renaissance. I really believe that.