RFI Discusses Rural-Urban Collaboration At Tufts, Harvard

Article By: Katelyn Ideus, Director of Communications & Public Relations, Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska

RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder and Associate Executive Director Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., present “The Future of Rural,” at Tufts University.


We believe that our complex future requires mutual respect and collaboration between rural and urban regions and communities.


The Rural Futures Institute recently traveled to Boston, Mass., to present, “The Future of Rural,” and visit with several faculty and students of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University as well as the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.


Visits With Students

The students we met are working at the graduate level in the areas of food policy, environmental studies, agricultural studies and nutrition. They hailed from Hawaii, California, New York, Illinois, Puerto Rico, and, yes, Nebraska — Omaha to be exact.

With backgrounds and experiences in both rural and urban areas around the world, we gained tremendous energy from their interest in the intersection of agriculture with diversity, inclusion and public health. We explored areas of challenge for migrant workers as well as the recruitment of young people to rural communities. One young woman who intends to move to rural Hawaii shared her uncertainty about what her occupation would be that would best contribute to her community while also providing for her family.

It was with these deep conversations of translational need that we brought forward the work of several RFI-funded research and teaching projects, collaborative projects between the University of Nebraska and rural communities throughout our state. Two in particular resonated with the students:

Many more projects have contributed important movement and context in the areas of community development, education, health care and more, showcasing Nebraska’s rural communities as models for the rest of the world.

“While our intent was to answer their questions and learn, the outcome of these conversations is a demand for immediate action,” said Chuck Schroeder, RFI Founding Executive Director. “These students are high-level, high-energy, motivated and passionate. In this regard, they are so similar to those we interact with here in Nebraska—young people who are driven to build their understanding of others’ experiences.

“We will be hosting an online student-to-student interaction between NU students and Tufts students before they depart for the summer, and we are exploring formal exchanges ongoing.”


Visits With Faculty Researchers

Our entire visit was orchestrated by Tim Griffin, Ph.D., Chair of the Division of Agriculture, Food and Environment. He brought forward several of his colleagues including:


The unique structure of our Institute across all four campuses of the University of Nebraska, our reach, the scope of our work as well as our social entrepreneurship framework were all of interest to the faculty members. They were also straightforward in their request to interact with agricultural and rural community leaders in action. Access to RFI’s network of successful leaders in this space would be useful as they look to make their policy work increasingly translational and soften the divisive rhetoric that continues to permeate our national narrative.

“We are all intrigued by the idea that the interests and opportunities in urban and rural areas are somewhat different, but they’re not totally different,” Griffin said. “There is overlap there. People who live in different environments have the same interests for themselves and their families and their businesses. With RFI we are looking for opportunities to have a larger conversation about how we can guide our work in a way that is collaborative and beneficial to all of us.”

Tim Griffin, Ph.D., and Tufts graduate student Kelly Kundratic joined Chuck for an episode of Catch Up With Chuck.


The Future of Rural

In his portion of the presentation, “The Future of Rural,” Schroeder shared the history and context of our Institute, describing our belief statements and emphasizing the need for future-focused leadership and creativity.

“[Creativity] is not just about business development,” he said. “It’s not just about technology, but creativity combines science and technology, and business management professions, art, design, entertainment. And in a small community, that has to happen. That’s where the energy comes from—when we cross those sectors, it’s where creativity happens.”

Reimers-Hild defined strategic foresight for the group as a discipline, a science for planning for the future, but she also factored in mindset.

“We now know that mindset is incredibly important to achieve outcomes,” she said. “We have to believe things are possible. Just like many of the communities Chuck mentioned. If they believe their future is going to be one of opportunity and growth, then that’s what’s gonna happen. But if they believe it’s going to be desolate, that also will happen. They have to choose, they have to make those choices, and we want to help them with that.”

The Rural Futures Institute has many choices ahead for its future. During the last four years, we have learned a great deal about many areas of critical need for rural communities in our state and as far as Japan. We understand that with our current resources, we must become incredibly focused on what role we can carry forward in a deeply meaningful way to the University, our state and the world.

Our mindset is one of abundance, purpose and passion. With this mindset and the relationships and trust we have built with colleagues, we are preparing a reintroduction of our Institute in the near future for students like Tessa Salzman of Tufts, who was kind enough to answer our two focus questions of 2018 — Why Rural? Why Now?

“To me, rural represents existing and future potential,” she said. “As an urban planner specializing in food systems, I see how we can learn from mistakes of existing urbanized areas and re-think how we develop space and community. Rural agricultural communities in particular have the opportunity to grow into sustainable communities with conscious design and intentional foresight.

Rural brings balance to our rapidly urbanizing world in so many ways: providing food production, community and additional life experiences and perspectives in contrast to our densely populated cities. Rural in some places offers a less complex landscape, inspiring creativity and innovation in diverse ways.”