As the world’s population is increasingly removed from agriculture, the urban/rural divide continues to be an increasingly important topic of conversation. Unfortunately it can often be discussed in a negative light (from both sides). I have the unique experience of having live (and loved living) in both settings. I decided to feature a two part series on rural and urban living, highlighting some of my experiences and realities of living in both settings. In part two of the series I will focus on the benefits of urban life from my point of view. I am different from many farmers and ranchers in that I love urban settings, I love city life almost as much as I love rural living. Urban living is certainly different than rural life – highlighted by the convenience and location of a lot of shops, medical facilities, jobs, and entertainment venues.
I spent several years living in Bellevue WA while I worked for UPS and Amazon.com. I loved living in the city, I loved the close proximity to several grocery stores, my beloved Bellevue Square, theaters, professional and college sports teams, concerts, restaurants, and the heart of Seattle. While food deserts can certainly be an issue in urban areas, for the most part, urban areas provide close proximity to grocery shopping and other services that we can only dream about in rural, remote locations. My apartment in Bellevue was located within 5 miles of 6 grocery stores, was serviced by several grocery delivery services, and eventually saw a grocery store, several fast food restaurants, a Starbucks, and a 24 hour gym move in across the street. I also had access to all of the food delivery options seemingly under the sun. Have a sudden craving for teriyaki at 9PM? It can be delivered. Pizza? Yep, no less than 10 different options. Mexican food? There are several options. American? Yep. BBQ? Yep. Really good sandwich? Yep. You get the idea.
My apartment was also located several blocks from a park with walking trails that allowed you to feel far removed from the city, a dog park, and a relatively short drive in any direction allowed me to escape the city life and take advantage of all the wilderness Washington has to offer. Almost every urban experience can boost the same, one does not have to travel very far to find themselves immersed in “nature” again. I spent many weekends traveling to up and down the Washington and Oregon coast line, discovering beaches, prime sea shell hunting areas, and the best weekend escapes from the city.
There is certainly no shortage of entertainment options within urban areas. If I was not traversing rural 2 lane highways across Western Washington you could find me at a Mariners, Sounders, Seahawks, or Huskies game on most weekends. If sports are not your cup of tea, there are hundreds of theaters, concert venues, and movie theaters. I typically worked an odd schedule (Wed-Sat) which meant I had a lot of down time on Mondays and Tuesdays when most of my friends were at work. This led to my standing movie day on Tuesdays when it was raining (and it is Seattle so it was often raining). I took advantage of Groupon deals for the local movie theater.
If I was not partaking in one of these activities I could usually find a good Groupon for spa days, adventuring through downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square or other destinations. I did not even begin to scratch the surface of all Seattle had to offer in the two years I was there. It is difficult to run out of things to do, new places to explore, or new restaurants to try.
Traffic has long been a downside of urban living, especially in Seattle, and that remains true. It is a downside of urban living, it is one of the main reasons I paid more to live in Bellevue and keep my commute to under 15 minutes rather than live further away for far cheaper. Crowded streets, busy malls, and full stadiums are part of the urban experience. Some people will never be comfortable in large crowds, some like myself can simply ignore the crowds and enjoy the experience.
I have often heard that people who live in urban areas are different than rural residents. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth. Do urban residents understand the heart and soul of agriculture? The passion and the drive that is found in many of us? No. But does that make them less of a person? Absolutely not. If you were not born and raised in agriculture, it is nearly impossible to understand the passion and fire that burns within us, but does not impact the value of the people. My best friends in the world are urban residents, born and raised in urban settings scattered across the country, and every one of them has a heart and soul of gold. I have had no more unfortunate experiences with urban residents than I have rural. We are all people. We all have passions. We all have goals. We all have hopes and dreams.
Agriculture in the City?
Unfortunately agriculture, at least large scale production agriculture, is largely missing from urban settings. There is really no way to fix that in a physical sense, but agriculture can still be found. Agriculture appears in the many farmers markets across the urban landscape, especially in Seattle. Seattle is home to a nearly permanent farmers market in Pike Place Market. The market is full of various vendors, including local farmers, who bring in vegetables, flowers, and other products year round. As a member of the agricultural community there is little you can do to combat the lack of agriculture in urban areas, aside from bringing your stories with you. Bring your stories to the urban area and strike up conversations, chat with curious consumers at grocery stores, Farmers Markets, and sporting events. Strike up a conversation about barley production while touring the local micro-breweries. There is only one way to get agriculture into urban areas and that is to bring it.
The lack of agriculture in urban areas is certainly frustrating, but we cannot blame people not knowing about an industry that they have very limited exposure to. We also cannot treat all consumers as uneducated and uninformed, the vast majority of consumers want to go to the grocery store – feed their family – and continue on with their lives. When we are fortunate enough for them to ask questions, when we are fortunate enough for urban residents to have a relationship with rural agricultural advocates we need to treat all questions with respect. I have touched on this before, but it is worth repeating. Urban areas are still great melting pots, full of every background imaginable, it is an opportunity to expose yourself to many different backgrounds, many different experiences, and learn from them.
Urban life is not for every one, just the same as rural life is not for everyone. My experiences in both areas has helped shape who I am, how I approach food and agriculture and how I view consumers. My experiences have filled my heart and soul and fueled my passion for agriculture, adventure, and my Gypsy Soul. Life is certainly very different between urban areas and remote, rural living. Distance is measured in minutes not miles. Time is spent idling in traffic instead of speeding down 2 lane highways. Crowds are measured in thousands and not hundreds. Traffic jams are caused by vehicles and overcrowding not cattle, a tractor or a herd of elk. The skyline is lined by towering apartment buildings and high rise office buildings instead of mountains, fields of corn, or waving golden wheat fields. But the heart and soul of the people is truly the same. We just people, finding our way through life, navigating topics we are unfamiliar with, and trying to be the best we can be.