Episode 21 | Connecting Rural and Urban for the Good of Humankind

Apr. 5, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, we are coming to you from Boston, Mass., at Tufts University with Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy associate professor Tim Griffin and graduate student Kelly Kundratic. Chuck talks with them about their perspectives of rural and urban collaboration of the future as well as how RFI and Tufts will create opportunities for students and research. 

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Full Transcript:

[0:14] Welcome to Catch Up With Chuck from the Rural Futures [0:16] Institute at the University of Nebraska. [0:19] I’m Church Schroeder, I’m executive director of the [0:21] Rural Futures Institute. [0:23] And no we are not, today, coming from my office on [0:26] east campus on the University of Nebraska. [0:28] We’re in Boston, Massachusetts at Tufts University [0:31] and I’m joined today by two very special guests, [0:34] Dr. Tim Griffin who’s become a great friend of ours [0:38] who is division chair for agriculture, food, [0:40] and environment here at Tufts, and one of his students [0:43] Kelly Kundratic. [0:45] Good job. Did that well? [0:47] Good. [0:48] An outstanding student from West Virginia who came to [0:50] Tufts to pursue her educational ambitions. [0:54] And we just have been having a great time, [0:57] we’ve been very, very grateful for the opportunities [0:59] we’ve had to be both at Tufts and at Harvard Law School [1:02] this week with some of my team members from the [1:05] Rural Futures Institute. [1:06] So Tim and Kelly, welcome to Catch Up With Chuck. [1:09] Thank you. Thanks for having me. [1:11] Listen, this has been a very exciting week for the [1:13] Rural Futures Institute, connecting rural and urban [1:16] in this very urban setting of Boston. [1:20] But we’ve also had the opportunity to think a little bit [1:22] differently about community and what community [1:25] leadership looks like as we’ve been able to visit with [1:28] top line scholars and students at these two legendary [1:33] academic institutions. [1:34] Tim, you started all this. [1:36] You showed up at our offices in Lincoln a little over [1:40] a year ago, based upon your longtime friendship [1:44] with Theresa Klein on our team. [1:47] You were there on a sabbatical and we started this [1:51] conversation about the differences and the potential [1:56] connections between our institutions and our people. [1:59] So tell us what sparked all this on your part, [2:03] you put in a lot of work.

[2:04] I think part of what sparked it was the two things [2:06] you already mentioned. [2:07] It’s like you have to show up, you have to talk to people [2:11] as we were discussing yesterday. [2:13] And this idea that the interests and opportunities in [2:20] urban and rural areas are somewhat different, [2:22] but they’re not totally different. [2:23] There is overlap there, people who live in different [2:26] environments have the same interest for them and their [2:29] families and their businesses and all of those [2:31] kinds of things. [2:33] And looking for opportunities to have, you know, [2:36] maybe that larger conversation about what do we want [2:39] in terms of a linkage between those two things is [2:42] something that, having lived in a rural areas for [2:46] a good part of my life, and now living in an urban [2:48] area is like I don’t necessarily see those as two [2:51] totally different things. [2:52] And certainly here in the educational program that [2:58] I run here it’s– [2:59] We are pretty deliberate about having conversations [3:05] that sometimes like, “We don’t understand this, [3:07] “so let’s go talk to somebody who does understand it.” [3:10] And this, I think, is just kind of another way of [3:14] doing that. [3:15] And then as you mentioned I have a long history with [3:18] the University of Nebraska, having graduated there twice [3:22] in the 80s, still have lots of, my wife’s family still [3:25] lives in Lincoln and the surrounding area. [3:28] So it’s a place that we’re very familiar with. [3:31] And having experience in both, again, I see a lot of [3:34] commonalities. [3:36] And this I an opportunity, I think, for us and our [3:39] fight actually talks specifically about what that [3:42] might look like. [3:43] The context that you bring to these conversations, [3:46] Iowa kid, Nebraska, but you’ve also lied around [3:51] the world in some very rural settings and had the [3:54] opportunity to get to know people in each of those settings.

[3:58] Kelly, we are so delighted to have you with us. [4:02] Our audience has had the opportunity, [4:04] through the course of these Catch Up With Chuck to [4:07] meet a number of students that are high ambition, [4:10] high achievers, and they always want to know [4:13] who are you really? [4:15] What do you think about? [4:18] Why are you here? [4:19] So you come from West Virginia, a very rural city, [4:21] here you are at Tufts in a very urban setting. [4:24] Talk to us a little bit about your upbringing and [4:27] what brought you here to pursue your ambitions.

[4:31] I want to thank you guys for having me, [4:32] this is a really great opportunity. [4:34] Thanks again, Tim, for extending that. [4:37] So I spent a lot of my formative years in West Virginia [4:40] in this very rural setting, but actually I have a lot [4:43] of ties emotionally and I’m originally from Maryland, [4:48] not far from the Baltimore area. [4:50] So this rural urban divide is a lot of where I call home. [4:56] My family is also from very rural northeast Pennsylvania, [4:59] grew up on a dairy farm with them, doing that. [5:03] So this rural/urban area of conversation is really [5:08] actually where I feel comfortable and understanding [5:11] the complexities of the issues that are in urban areas [5:15] and the complexities of the issues that are in rural [5:17] areas and I find a lot of comfort there. [5:21] Your legend as already been growing as we’ve heard [5:24] about some of the things that you’ve been doing as [5:28] a student already to connect rural and urban and [5:30] creating conversation, at least through the internet, [5:33] with people to help build that conversation. [5:39] So we’re proud of what you’re doing.

[5:41] Listen, okay Tim, the cat’s out of the bag. [5:44] You’re an alumnus at the University of Nebraska so [5:46] you’re not just speculating about agriculture and [5:50] rural culture in this country and in the great plains. [5:54] But you chose very purposely to bring your career [5:58] here to Tufts, here to the east coast, [6:02] the heart of Boston, chinatown, about as urban as [6:06] you can get where you do have this audience, if you will, [6:12] of students of very high talent, mostly urban, [6:15] longstanding reputation for being a student body [6:19] that is pretty committed to, “Let’s go change the world.” [6:23] Tell me why you chose to do that. [6:25] You had many options.

[6:27] Partly it’s exactly what you said, it’s because it was [6:30] clear to me, having met the students when I came here [6:33] actually to interview, that that was their goal [6:36] was to change the world in some way. [6:40] And it might be trying to change the whole world, [6:41] or it might be just trying to make positive change [6:45] in a smaller part of their own world. [6:47] And a lot of that, all of the aspects of the food system, [6:51] agriculture being one of them, but many others, [6:55] there’s lots of needs in that to make positive changes. [6:58] And it was very apparent the first day that I came here [7:03] that that was kind of their attitude, [7:06] which is very much of interest to me. [7:10] And as I told Connie yesterday, that’s why I came here [7:14] was that initial set of interactions with students. [7:18] I was a federal scientist, I had a great job, [7:22] I didn’t necessarily need to come. [7:24] But it was very clear that it was a much different path [7:28] than I was on where I was, it was science 24 hours a day, [7:33] that was my primary job. [7:35] But I had done teaching, I had worked with students [7:39] a lot over decades. [7:40] I started teaching actually as an undergrad in Lincoln [7:43] and then I really enjoyed that. [7:46] Then I also worked with farmers, but that’s also engaging [7:49] in education, did that for a while. [7:53] This was, I’m not the most strategic person in the world [7:57] so it’s not like I had a career path set out in [8:00] front of me and I’m saying, [8:02] “Okay, now I want to go do this.” [8:03] You and I are kindred spirits in that regard. [8:05] We definitely are. [8:07] (mumbling) [8:08] It was more like I saw this job announcement [8:09] and I asked my wife, Janice, [8:10] “Do you think I should apply for this?” [8:12] I know of the program here, I knew of it really since [8:16] it started in the mid-90s. [8:18] And recognized immediately that it was very different [8:20] from any program anywhere else in the United States. [8:24] And at about the time I came here it went from being [8:27] a very small program, maybe three or four or five students [8:30] a year coming in, to 30 a year. [8:33] Because the interest in all of those aspects just [8:37] exploded and our interest is in how those things [8:40] are linked together. [8:41] It’s not in any one particular area, [8:43] it’s how are they related?

[8:45] So the cat is out of the bag, I came here for the students [8:48] and I show up because of the students. [8:51] Okay so as we talk about legends, certainly your legend [8:54] as an effective teacher is all over this campus. [8:59] And we have so enjoyed getting to know some of your [9:02] colleagues over the last couple of days who not only [9:06] enjoy your passion for your students, but by the way, [9:10] your capacity to bring a reality check on what really [9:13] goes on in our part of the world, if you will, [9:18] and that is valuable to all parties. [9:22] Okay Kelly, by your presence here you’ve already [9:26] established that you’re a bridge-builder and we talked [9:29] about that just a moment ago. [9:31] You really are bringing forward a set of talents [9:36] and an ambition right now during a time when our [9:39] society is so polarized on so many issues. [9:42] So we have a lot of hope for your success. [9:47] I’d like for you to talk a little bit about your [9:49] ambitions career-wise and how you might bring parties [9:53] together for a little more civil discourse on the [9:56] pathway our culture is going.

[9:59] Sure, to shed a little bit more light on the project [10:03] that we did, a couple of other colleagues and I [10:06] designed this project in partnership with West Virginia [10:07] University, my previous institution. [10:11] And it was a project to talk about the political– [10:15] In the aftermath of the, well aftermath is a harsh word [10:20] because that’s not what we were doing, we were trying to– [10:23] There were things being, rural people were being [10:26] characterized after the last election, [10:28] and that’s just a fact. [10:31] In a way that was kind of troubling. [10:32] Right, and being here in such an urban setting [10:36] and being around my other students that were visibly [10:38] upset and also seeing what was going on in rural areas [10:42] we decided to really build these conversations in [10:45] an atmosphere of food and environment and agriculture [10:48] and talk about things that connected us, [10:50] but also in this political sphere. [10:54] So it was a bit of a challenge, but I had some really [10:58] brilliant colleagues that also should be recognized [11:01] for that endeavor. [11:05] But it was quite the experience to be able to talk [11:09] to other students that were also engaged in this area [11:12] and really understand and humanize each other [11:15] ’cause we’re all humans and we’re all trying to really [11:19] be in the same space and solve the same problems. [11:21] So how can we take politics out of that? [11:23] It’s really, it’s a non-partisan issue, food, [11:26] in my opinion. [11:28] Absolutely.

[11:29] I just have to tell you, what you’re doing and what [11:32] you just said is so consistent with our fundamental [11:36] values at the Rural Futures Institute and that is [11:38] people make the difference, it’s about relationships. [11:41] Whatever the situation, whether that’s in a community, [11:46] location community, a community of practice, [11:49] a community of people across the country that have [11:52] interests in seeing the world be a better place. [11:56] It all gets down to who do you know and are we willing [11:59] to sit down and learn a little more about each other? [12:05] Tim, I know this is part of what you bring to the [12:07] table every day in your teaching endeavors.

[12:10] Very much so, it is about sometimes having easy [12:15] conversations, sometimes not. [12:17] And we encounter that even, I encounter that as a [12:20] scientist. [12:22] It’s like there are certain things that most people [12:27] would agree and then there are others, even in agriculture, [12:29] that maybe they don’t. [12:30] And it doesn’t mean that people who disagree can’t [12:34] talk to each other about it. [12:35] Sure. [12:37] But it takes somebody in the middle to say, [12:39] “Hey, let’s sit down here.” [12:40] Exactly. [12:42] We’re gonna be okay. Yeah, right?

[12:43] Listen, as you know, we’re already making plans for [12:47] ongoing engagement and some home, in home, visits by [12:51] students and faculty here at Tufts, at Harvard Law, [12:55] we just had a great visit there a couple of days ago [12:58] bringing folks to the University of Nebraska, [13:00] bringing some of our folks here for these conversations [13:03] that, perhaps, we haven’t had before where people are [13:06] sort of seeing each other behind the (mumble), [13:10] the institution rather than real people. [13:13] So I just have to tell you, having a chance to be here [13:18] and build some of those trust relationships over the [13:21] last couple of days has just been a real treat [13:24] and we are so grateful for your initiative in bringing [13:27] us together and something good will happen, I see it. [13:32] I’m certain of it.

[13:34] I tell you, I would like to give you the opportunity just [13:37] to say a little more about your visions for these [13:39] relationships that you’ve helped to spark and [13:42] anything else you’d like to add. [13:44] I was looking for opportunities, it may be centered [13:48] on students to be able to experience different [13:52] types of things. [13:52] So, for example, having a student or several students [13:57] be able to come to Nebraska, even, for a three day [14:00] workshop or it’s longer, it’s an internship, [14:04] those types of opportunities I’m always interested in. [14:07] We had a chance to some of your students yesterday [14:09] about potentially participating in our serviceship [14:11] program, which would be remarkable. [14:14] Right, so I’m always looking for those types of things, [14:16] but then you also met some of my colleagues here [14:19] and we do education, but we also do research and kind of [14:24] public impact involved in policy formulation and [14:28] assessment in various ways. [14:30] And having those ties to University of Nebraska is [14:35] another opportunity for us to do that. [14:39] As you and I have talked, I have one recently completed [14:41] doctoral student and one just coming up, [14:45] is finishing on May 1st that have had direct [14:48] collaborations with faculty in Lincoln over the [14:51] last three years. [14:52] So this is just another way that, the collaboration is [14:54] already there, and this is just another way to make [14:56] it stronger, although maybe in a different realm. [14:58] Yeah, build out a little bit to rise up. [15:02] So I mean that’s what I’m really excited about [15:04] and I see all kinds of opportunities. [15:06] Some of them can be kind of quick and easy and those [15:09] are thing that can be done really near term, [15:12] and then what does this look like a year from now, [15:14] two years from now. [15:16] That’s the conversation that we’re gonna keep having. [15:18] We look forward to that.

[15:19] Kelly, anything you’d like to add before we we wrap up? [15:23] No, I just want to say that coming here to Tufts [15:27] was in part inspired by these rural and urban [15:31] connections that, especially, faculty like Tim [15:34] bring to the table. [15:35] So I’m really glad for this opportunity and really glad [15:38] that I found Tufts. [15:39] Wonderful. Good.

[15:41] Listen, Kelly, Tim, thank you so much for investing [15:43] yourself in the Rural Futures Institute this morning. [15:46] We’re deeply appreciative and we’re excited about [15:49] the future that has been outlined here. [15:52] Listen, folks, we want you to stay in touch with [15:54] the Rural Futures Institute through our website, [15:57] through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, [16:01] all of those tools because we’re gonna be back [16:04] in another week talking with real people about [16:07] real places and demonstrating that thriving rural [16:10] communities are a legitimate best choice for [16:13] worthwhile living. [16:14] Thanks for joining us.





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Episode 22 | Crossing Cultural Divides To Create Community