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Editorial: Roots

by Josh Kramer

In April, while many around the country were living under stay-at-home orders, I had a conversation with a friend living in a Washington, D.C., apartment with his wife and children. We were swapping stories about the challenges of schooling, working and keeping the kids entertained at home. I expressed my thankfulness for having space and good weather, so my family could enjoy time outdoors. I then asked my friend if there was a yard or park nearby where his family could burn off some energy.

“Not much aside from a walled-in, concrete pad the kids can bounce a ball against,” he replied.

It was as if he hit my pause button. I couldn’t imagine being cooped up living in a densely populated metropolitan area. I felt for those unable to get out of the confines of four walls and tight spaces.

As I thought about this, I wondered about life in a post-pandemic world. What will we learn? What questions should we ponder?

Will people spread out? Will we see migration patterns shift, perhaps an exodus of folks leaving metropolitan places, opting to put down or reestablish roots in rural communities across the United States?

Will the largest employers, corporate office headquarters, manufacturers and the financial service sector realize the value and reduced risk of a decentralized workforce and assets not contained in only a handful of corporate campuses or high-rise office buildings? Will we see an emergence of second-tier cities? Will there be an opportunity for smaller-scale work segments attracted to relocate to rural communities?

Will we acknowledge how dependent we have allowed ourselves to become on others to meet our basic needs? Will we grow our own food, rebuild local and regional food systems and look into the market concentration of our foods and meats? Will we see more value-added agriculture? Will there be a resurgence in local processing? Will our main streets and schools become more alive? What does this mean for our electric cooperatives, and what role should we play?

I, for one, do not have answers to the questions posed above, nor do I wish for one community’s loss to be another’s gain. But what I can confidently say is that if people decide to relocate, they will do so without a whole lot of prompting. They will be faced with a choice: Which community do we want to be our community?

Their decisions will likely depend on whether a community is ready for them. Have the questions above been considered? Have communities been investing in themselves, their infrastructure and quality-of-life improvements many will seek out? And most of all, are we ready to welcome others to our communities, to share our rural way of life?

Our rural communities no doubt face challenges, the headwinds often work against us. But the strongest forces in every community are the people who have chosen to be part of it. Just like a plant, the more roots there are, the stronger the community.

Josh Kramer, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC. Contact him at