Small town, big community

By Andy Juris
President, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

wheat field

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer! I still remember watching the Lawrence Welk Show as the Champagne Ladies pranced out in 1960’s beachwear singing the campy tune. My mom has always considered the song a bit of an insult to rural farm country. Crazy seems to be the only accurate word in its opening line that remotely describes the summer experience of a Washington wheat farmer. And while the farming schedule does its best to absorb all our time, summer is also the season where our rural communities come together for the events for which we are famous. Rodeos, fairs, car shows, church events, and bingo nights are starting to fire up across rural Washington as summer kicks into gear. 

Across the nation, 17% to 20% of the population lives in “rural America.” This is down significantly from 100 years ago. But COVID-19 has changed a lot of things in our society, and there has been a trend lately of families opting for the more community-centered life of the country. It’s a place where you live closer to the land and a remembrance of the past. Many of the houses, farms, pastures, and fields in my area still have the original names of the homesteading pioneers attached to them. It’s where children still play outside, and many folks work jobs that get dirt under the fingernails. 

In June, our town celebrated the 112th Annual Alder Creek Pioneer Association Picnic and Rodeo. A fixture of our summers here, this event features an all-school reunion, a 1905 carousel, local arts and crafts for sale, and a NPRA rodeo. It’s a time when we all take a break from the crazy and get together to visit, have some homemade pie, and enjoy an old-fashioned rodeo without the interruption of our busy lives. Run completely by volunteers, it’s a perfect example of a community coming together to make something special and share together in the fun. 

I love living in a small town. While there are less people around, you are never alone. From the friends and neighbors who stop by to “see what’s going on,” to those who are willing to lend a hand when there’s a problem, you seldom ever face life without a group of people standing beside you. When one of our community passes away, this is especially evident. Recently, my neighbor, Dean, passed. He was one of the toughest farmers I knew with ties to the original pioneers of this area. I still remember seeing him out in his field on a bitter cold spring day in an open station tractor not that many years ago, an example of grit and hard work to us younger folks. I always enjoyed his quick laugh and interesting stories of times gone by. During times like this, you see communities share in the grief of loss as they together remember those who spent so many years with us. Whether its food dropped off, the Rebecca Lodge ladies organizing the funeral dinners, or local farmers making up the volunteer force that lays their friend and neighbor to rest in the cemetery, we all share in a part of honoring those who have come before us. 

So, as the crazy of the summer work season descends on wheat country, let’s not forget to take the time to enjoy what our communities have to offer, a talk with a friend, a meal with a neighbor, an evening with grandpa at the fair. Farming can be stressful, particularly in a drought year like we’re all experiencing. Our communities remind us we’re not alone, we are part of something bigger, and we face the joys and sorrows of this life together.