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Preparing for the future you want

Agriculture.com Staff 02/08/2008 @ 2:22pm

I while ago I started writing a column titled, "Preparing for the future you want." I wrote about a hundred words and it just wasn't coming to me.

I finally gave up and wrote something about my wife's dog instead, but the topic kept percolating in the back of my mind, because it's something I really believe. One of the few things I remember from the time I spent in college came from an off-hand comment from one of professors.

"I believe in good luck," he said, "and I've had my share of it, but I find the harder I work, the more good luck comes my way."

Well...yeah.

My home town of Clinton is celebrating its 125th anniversary this summer (If you're in the neighborhood over the July 4th weekend, stop in. It's gonna be big fun). I'm helping with the pageant, and the more research I do, the more impressed I am with how much hard work went into building rural America.

Even the easy things weren't easy. It was a struggle just to get the lights turned on. You see, back in the 30s, the powers that be -- the big utilities and management companies -- decided that there wasn't enough money to be made by delivering electricity to farms. It wasn't that they couldn't make a profit, just that they couldn't make enough of a profit.

So, our Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed into law, an act that made it possible for us to...take care of ourselves. Isn't that cool? You know, as Americans we pride ourselves on being rugged individualists, but our most impressive accomplishments, the things we've done that absolutely astonish the rest of the world, from the Declaration of Independence to putting a man on the moon, have been the result of many people working together.

Because that's what works. In 1936, about 12% of rural America had electricity. Twenty years later it was almost 100%. What amazing, stunning progress -- and it absolutely transformed rural America. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a hitch or two. On our farm, the electric poles made it as far as our neighbor's place, a mile away, in 1941. Then Pearl Harbor and that whole WWII thing happened, and my Great Uncle Carl spent half a decade cleaning kerosene lanterns while he watched electric lights shining just across the slough.

The story continues. In 1949, the Rural Electrification Act was amended to allow cooperatives to improve telephone service in rural area. At that time, people who lived in the country and had phones more often than not shared their line with up to eight other families.

Remember those days? I do. And today, when each family might have 3 or 4 phone lines, plus cell phones, it's easy to forget what it used to be like. Once again, the smart guys, the power brokers, and investment firms had determined that there was no money to be made in rural America, so we didn’t need any modern conveniences. And, once again, they were wrong. We pulled together and pulled it off and made some money along the way.

So, if our history shows us where we've been, does it also show us where we’re going? Well, yeah, it does. Our grandparent's needed electricity to get ahead; our parents needed decent telephone service to do the same. Now we live in a world where reliable high-speed internet service and other infrastructure is just as necessary for progress and, once again, nobody really cares about us out here. That means our future is in our own hands.

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