Different people have different perceptions of rural America today, according to a W.K. Kellogg Foundation study.

More importantly, you need to know how people inside and outside of rural America perceive you and your agricultural business. That's why studies like this one provide the nuggest of information that you need to position yourself and your business within the community. It also provides insight in to areas where you can help the communities in which you live and work.

The survey polled urban, suburban and rural people in eight diverse U.S. regions and found the following perceptions:

  • Rural life represents traditional American values, but is behind the times;
  • Rural life is more relaxed and slower than city life, but harder and more grueling;
  • Rural life is friendly, but intolerant of outsiders and difference;
  • Rural life is richer in community life, but epitomized by individuals struggling independently to make ends meet.

Item No. 3 is particularly worth noting as you may be looking to hire Hispanic or non-traditional workers. How you approach those people in the community and on your staff will speak volumes about your business.

"Respondents hold overwhelmingly positive views of rural life, seeing it as a repository of strong values and religious faith, close-knit communities, hard work and self-sufficiency," says Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. "But respondents' admiration of rural Americans and romanticization of rural life is tempered by their understanding that rural Americans face serious economic hardships and threats to their way of life."

Lack of financial resources and other opportunities topped the list of problems facing rural America. When asked: "What problems do you think rural America faces?" lack of money and poverty at 19 percent was the most common response. Others included: over-development/sprawl, 17 percent; crop prices, 14 percent; droughts/weather, 11 percent; and lack of opportunities, 11 percent. Rural respondents indicated– by a margin of 46 percent– that they have considered moving, primarily because of low pay and sparse advancement opportunities.

Agriculture plays the predominant role in perceptions of rural America, even though less than 2 percent of rural residents interviewed said they were farmers. Two-thirds of rural and non-rural respondents named agriculture, farming or ranching as rural America's main industry even though only 11.7 percent of non-metro residents are farmers, or work to provide farm inputs or agricultural services.

Both rural and non-rural residents saw large-scale farms in a negative light.

"Concerns about poor pay are matched by a perception that rural areas face serious limitations to healthcare and quality education. Six-in-10 respondents, including 63 percent of rural respondents, believe rural residents have fewer opportunities than suburban and urban residents. Only 6 percent (including 8 percent of rural respondents) believe rural residents have more opportunities," says Greenberg

When asked who is responsible for solving rural America's problems, only 17 percent said the federal government. "Individuals" ranked highest at 43 percent, followed by "local communities" at 26 percent.

The survey was conducted Sep. 6 through Oct. 5, 2001, by telephone interviews of 242 rural, suburban, and urban Americans in eight regions across the United States. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted all interviews.

Other studies are planned for the next 18 months will include: interviews with Congressmen and their staffs; a national public opinion survey; regional focus groups and a content analysis of media coverage of rural America.

"Taken together, we hope this research will give all Americans a better sense of rural America, where we are and where we are going," said Ali Webb, Communications Manager for Food Systems and Rural Development at the Kellogg Foundation.

You may access "The Perceptions of Rural America" report at http://www.wkkfweb.org/ruralsurvey.htm More information about the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and its programs is available on the Foundation's Web site at http://www.wkkf.org.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation