“Hicks,” “rednecks” and “cowboys” are labels put on people who live in towns with populations below 2,500. I originally came from a school system so large it was forced to treat me as a number. I would walk the halls and pass my peers whom I shared classes with, and they didn’t recognize me. Oftentimes, I was reintroducing myself to school staff just because they saw so many students each day, there was never a true interaction.
I will not fault them. It’s just how it had to be due to the population of the school. I knew it was time to switch to something suited better for me, something more community-oriented. I had friends in surrounding county schools whom I had met through FFA. They would always joke about how much fun it was to be from a small town, and how I basically already knew everyone there was to know.
When I decided to transfer schools from that large city school to South Decatur, a small rural school south of Greensburg, Ind., I received my fair share of jokes from my urban classmates. I was asked if I’d be taking tractor driving classes or if my school would be canceled to harvest corn.
The humorous part was that some of these things were partly true. Our agriculture power and technology class did sometimes play Farming Simulator, and on the very nice days of September and October, there always seemed to be a few fewer farm kids at school.
In all seriousness, these rural stereotypes can feel borderline derogatory. It feels as if our hardworking attitudes and community mentality are drowned out with the image of a man in bib overalls holding a pitchfork with straw hanging from his lip. While I must admit that I’ve run across a couple of local farmers who fit that stereotype, it doesn’t define a small-town community.
What defines a small town are the people who live there. My three years at South Decatur were spent truly seeing the other side of the stereotypes. There were folks who at face value looked as if they had never sat in a high school math class, yet I’d watch them crunch grain prices and predict the highs and lows of the market faster than I could calculate derivatives.
I experienced my community come together in times of hardship and face everything as a family. No one was ever truly struggling alone in my community, which is what I think speaks wonders. Something as simple as passing people I knew on the highway helped me realize there is nothing truly stronger than a community built around hard work. Stereotypes aren’t something we need to let affect how we live. We will see our fair share of them as time goes on.
Our purpose as rural citizens of America is much greater than what the media and other people make us out to be. It truly is an honor and fills me with pride to say that I am part of a small-town community. I hope it feels the same for you.
Fairchild is the 2019-20 Indiana FFA southern region vice president.