(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

If your winter reading list needs a little heft, the St. Louis Fed has just what you need: a 600-page volume showcasing community-development investment occurring across rural America.

The publication also offers a framework that the publishers hope “can help more communities achieve shared economic prosperity.”

The volume includes more than 40 essays from rural development organizations, academics, policy analysts, and philanthropies. The pieces provide lessons and insights on rural development strategy and policy, according to the forward by Michelle W. Bowman of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors and James Bullard, president and CEO of the St. Louis Fed.

A printed copy of Investing in Rural Prosperity is available for free while supplies last. An electronic version is also available for free download. The book may be ordered or downloaded via the Fed’s website.

The key to creating a prosperous rural America is increasing investment in rural and tribal communities and confronting the stereotype that rural America is beyond recovery, according to the book.

Rural America must incorporate racial and social policies into all areas of life, invest in ownership of land by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), and invest in Indigenous land management and restoration practices.

The book offers a number of case studies highlighting each of these aspects. For example, in Georgia, McIntosh S.E.E.D., a Black-led community-based organization, purchased 1,150 acres and created a community forest that is sustainably managed for timber production and used as a venue to help landowners learn to manage family lands and access conservation resources. 

“The educational workshops and landowner assistance are paying off in increased incomes for hundreds of landowner families, healthier forests, and increased engagement of younger generations,” the book states. “Long-term plans call for extensive community-based programming, agroforestry-based food production, construction of a meeting facility, ecotourism, and propagation of sweetgrass to support small businesses that are generating income and keeping alive the basketmaking traditions of Gullah-Geechee ancestors.” 

Investing in Rural Prosperity also addresses recent structural changes to the economy and long-term challenges, which have left many U.S. rural communities looking for a path toward prosperity.

“Many communities across rural America are at a crossroads for what steps to take to foster sustainable success,” said Daniel Paul Davis, vice president, and community affairs officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in a statement. “This book offers community members, funders and other decision-makers a glimpse into where rural communities find themselves today and examples of how engaged leaders are putting a framework for rural prosperity into action.”

Davis and Andrew Dumont, senior community development analyst at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, are co-editors of the book and appeared on an associated podcast to discuss it. 

“If you look at the headline numbers, which is where a lot of people’s understanding of what’s happening in rural America starts and ends, they don’t, frankly, paint a very rosy picture,” Dumont said on the podcast. “When you look at the headlines, it’s a challenging time for rural communities.”

Now, Dumont noted, it’s important to remember rural America is not one single place and every place is experiencing changes differently. 

“Some places are benefitting from [population change],” he said. “Some places are not. Some places are gaining population and people and energy, and some places are not.” Dumont said he hoped the book can help elevate the conversation about rural America to be more informed and effective.

To make lasting change requires having rural stakeholders at the table to help make decisions, he said.

“The communities that are most effective at being resilient, at turning the corner .., and creating new opportunities are the ones where folks from just across the community get together, sit down and work together consistently over time at figuring out what the next thing is,” Dumont said. 

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