Random Thoughts

There’s a hidden economic upside to residing in a rural area during a recession

    By Bob McNitt

    The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) just announced that hunting licenses in the nation increased by 3.6 percent in 2009. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported a total of 14,974,534 paid license holders for 2009, the largest figure since 2002 and an increase of 526,494 over 2008. The number of fishing licenses in the nation also increased by 4.7 percent.
Many study groups that follow trends feel that our recent struggling economy plays a role in the number of people who continue to hunt and fish. Despite recent studies that hint activities such as hunting and fishing are on the decline in our country, there are apparently still a sizable percentage of Americans that believe being more self-sufficient by harvesting their own food helps see them through tough economic times. In 2009, the DEC estimated that hunters in New York State legally harvested 12 million pounds of wild meat valued at $40 million. Add fish harvested to that and, well, you get the picture.
Another indicator that the self-sufficient attitude still exists has been the increase in people now growing their own vegetables. Whether it requires replacing a section of lawn with a tilled garden plot or raising the vegetables in pails, window boxes or other containers or a community garden area, it helps reduce the family grocery bills. And with all food prices steadily increasing, it’s expected these trends will continue.
It’s somewhat ironic that in recent decades, people relocate to the larger populated urban and suburban areas because these areas promise the best employment opportunities, while rural areas saw their populations shrink .Social experts predicted this migration, claiming it was a natural eco-social phenomena. But these often belie what happens when our national economy goes sour, as it recently has. Thanks to the “global economy,” employers sell out or are acquired by larger foreign interest and operations are relocated elsewhere, usually to another country, and employees are left with very few options and often no job or income. Just being able to afford food could become a major concern.
I recall seeing demographic charts that showed the rollercoaster economic differences between larger urban areas and rural areas. While the larger ones often saw much high spikes in their economy, they likewise experienced much deeper ones during recession periods. Conversely, more rural areas, while not seeing the higher spikes were spared the deeper ones. In other words on a graph of economics flow, lines tended to be more level in rural areas, while those of urban areas had numerous hills and valleys.
Obviously, no one can survive without money today, but the national trend to become increasingly dependent on someone else for all food needs is more prevalent in urban areas than in more rural ones. While not everyone chooses to hunt or fish, grow a vegetable garden, or has the opportunity to, those of us who do certainly have a leg up on those who don’t.
It’s said that history tends to repeat itself, and I think we may see this happening again, with shades of how some survived tough times during the Great Depression and other challenging economic declines. Many of our senior citizens can attest to falling back on natural outdoor resources to help put food on the table. They hunted, fished, grew vegetables and some even had poultry and livestock if conditions allowed. Children of many Depression-era families can attest to eating far more rabbit, pigeon, and sometimes woodchuck meat than store-bought meats. If you don’t believe it, ask some of our older local citizens, especially those of Italian heritage, who seemed more self-reliant than most during that time.
One truly beneficial thing about many of our natural outdoor resources is they are renewable and require little effort on our part to cultivate or insure their reproduction. Those that supply meat are also basically free for the harvesting, despite requiring a hunting or fishing license and gear to harvest them. Flora, such as wild greens, mushrooms, berries, fruits and acorns don’t require any special gear or licenses, only the effort required to locate and harvest them. Many flourish on public land areas such as state forests.
We as a society tend to concentrate on what we don’t have more than what we have available. Living in rural areas may not yield the highest paying employment opportunities nor the largest shopping malls, but we’re surrounded by a wealth of renewable outdoor resources, the consumptive value of which may indeed be measured in dollars and cents when matched against the cost of purchasing food items that someone else harvested and processed.
Organically grown foods have become all the rage in recent years, claiming they are healthier and lack chemical contaminants. Well, that pretty much describes the natural and renewable food sources we have readily available in our outdoor world, if we make the effort to find and harvest it.
Just be aware that they don’t come pre-packed in plastic or cans or Styrofoam, and you’ll probably get your hands dirty. But you can’t beat their price. Best of all, being rural residents, most are out there for the taking. And it’s far more enjoyable and healthful than shopping.