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When rural leaders come together, hope and solutions multiply

Isaac Nehring in front of a backdrop reading "Radically Rural" holding a chalkboard sign reading "Reimagine Rural 2023"
Isaac Nehring, '26, at the Radically Rural Conference in Keene, New Hampshire, September 2023.

As a center with a dedicated Rural West Initiative, we spend a good deal of time focused on questions related to rurality. That's why we were thrilled to send Isaac Nehring '26, our newest student ambassador, to the Radically Rural Conference in Keene, New Hampshire last month. A native of Helena, Montana, Nehring is committed to thinking deeply about securing a hopeful future for rural communities.

Isaac Nehring ‘26
Hometown: Helena, MT
Area of Study: History + Minor in Earth Systems 

“Hope is not a strategy, but there is no strategy without hope.” Keynote speaker Gloria Dickerson from Drew, Mississippi shared that quote during the opening panel of the Radically Rural Conference from September 27-28, 2023 in Keene, New Hampshire. With support from the Bill Lane Center, I was able to attend this conference taking place a little ways away from Stanford that has the mission of “building powerful networks of passionate, engaged, innovative people willing to share ideas and resources and take action to strengthen their small communities across the country.” Hope is a huge and hard-to-measure factor of sustaining rural communities, but coming away from this conference, I definitely have a much more hopeful and informed outlook on the future of rural communities and states like Montana, where I come from. 

Attending sessions on the “Land & Community” track, I soaked up a lot of information about community agriculture and small family operations and the problems they’re facing across the country. It wasn’t just about struggles, though; I also got to hear many success stories that showcased a lot of creativity, from finding ways to share agrarianism with urban communities to programs supporting former convicts through agriculture and career training. These speakers came from organizations such as the National Center for Appropriate Technology (headquartered in Butte, MT!) and Benevolence Farms out of North Carolina. Coming from the very agriculturally heavy state of Montana, this is a huge interest of mine both from a policy standpoint and also in thinking tangibly about what I can do to incorporate agriculture into my own future career back home.

Outside of the Land & Community track programming, I was also able to attend sessions on rural entrepreneurship and local journalism, as well as the two keynotes and closing sessions that offered more holistic perspectives on how we should think about serving rural communities as a whole. The conference definitely covered a lot; you could choose from not only the Land & Community track, but also tracks in Arts & Culture, Clean Energy, Community Journalism, Entrepreneurship, All in for Health, and “Main Street” (economic health and communities) to focus on. Although I was stationed about as far away from the West as one can get for this event, the things I learned are definitely applicable in rural communities across the country. Keeping the small farming and ranching industries alive and non-monopolized is a huge issue where I’m from and across the western U.S., and my takeaways from Radically Rural will be so helpful when I come across these issues at school and beyond. 

The Radically Rural conference was a rare convening of rural folks from so many different places and backgrounds that I can easily say I’ve experienced nowhere else. I’m so grateful that the Bill Lane Center made this experience happen and I can’t wait to share what I learned with the community back here on campus. 

P.S. – Interested in rural community-building and programming right here at Stanford? Follow Stanford Rural Engagement Network (@stanfordrural) on Instagram to get involved. 

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