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Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment in Rural America: Workshop Summary
northern United States might be forests and lakes. However, the notion of rural is small communities or individual farmland.
Another aspect that differentiates rural from urban was well captured by Wendell Berry in his book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. He wrote that “the concepts of country, homeland, and dwelling place, become the environment. Thus, once we see our place, our part of the world, as surrounding us, we have made a profound division between it and ourselves. We have given up the understanding … that our land passes in and out of our bodies, just as our bodies pass in and out of the land” (Berry, 1977). According to Thorne, it is the notion of living within the environment, of being part of it in a fundamental way, which rural people experience more often than urbanites. Therefore, one element unique to living in rural America is the feeling of connectedness with the land and the notion that the land is producing food for the nation, so that those who live in the rural environment are somehow connected with this process, regardless of whether or not they are farming. Neighbors become very important in rural areas, partly because they constitute the community. Rural areas also possess a strong heritage of neighbors helping neighbors by sharing the labor involved with daily life in rural settings.
Rural is the notion of living within the environment, of being part of it in a fundamental way, which rural people experience more often than urbanites.
CHALLENGES TO LIFE IN RURAL AMERICA
One of the greatest problems facing rural America has been the loss of small towns and their small schools, said Thorne. As a result of school consolidation, larger schools are increasingly becoming the essence of the rural community.
Rural America faces other challenges as well, including poverty and isolation, as well as the limited access to health care mentioned above. In addition, conditions in rural America—such as unmonitored drinking water, dangerous working conditions, and the notion that it is a shrinking demographic—affect the options and opportunities of its residents.
Seventy-five percent of the land mass in the United States is sparsely populated and is considered rural (USDA, ERS, 2005). In four states—Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and Mississippi—more than 50 percent of the citizens qualify as rural dwellers. Another 18 states have rural populations of between 30 and 50 percent of the total population, and 8 more have rural populations between 25 percent and 30 percent of the total population. Therefore, in a total of 30 states, at least 25 percent of the citizens live in rural areas, a significant demographic by all accounts. In total, the estimated rural population in the Unit-