By Sam Burnham, Curator
I've let this idea sit for a bit. I didn't want to respond while I was angry or upset and therefore just vent out my frustrations. But I've had some time to gather my thoughts and do some research as well as read Jon Jackson's thoughtful response to the article in question.
I'm troubled by a recent editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Bill Torpy. Bill seems to be a bit upset by the recent passing of a bill that would bring in internet service providers to build the infrastructure for broadband internet in rural Georgia. He seems equally frustrated by the creation of the Georgia House of Representatives Rural Development Council, a group of legislators teaming up to research the economic struggles of rural Georgia and find ideas on how to grow the economies of these places.
What bothers me most is that he seems content to let these areas just die and dry up. He addresses the economic despair of the area, going as far as to point out the tax dollars collected and spent in rural areas vs metro areas. His point is valid in writing but he neither compensates for the rural areas holding a monopoly on the state's top industry nor the differences in the costs of living in the rural vs the metro. In Atlanta a parking place can cost more for a worker per year than an acre of Irwin county would cost that same worker to own outright. Basically, 200 square feet of concrete parking garage in Atlanta for 8-10 hours a day for a year costs as much or more than 43,560 square feet of land that can accommodate a home, a garden, livestock, a commercial building, pick something. The acre of land might include dirt, trees, grass, birds, maybe some concrete and rebar but not typically.
The biggest difference I see between these two editorials - Jon's and Bill's - is that Bill is content to let the state continue to swirl as Atlanta consumes the state economy like a whirlpool or a black hole. Jon's is so wise and well thought out. He is seeking a much more unifying effort.
Jon's direction is the one I want to take here. Jon is bringing people onto his farm - veterans and others suffering from PTSD and other trauma-induced afflictions and teaching them how to farm - not just how to plant some seeds but how to run a farm operation. James Oglethorpe founded Georgia in 1732 to create a place where the head of each household farmed his own land - no slaves, no plantations, no large operations. Family farms in which each person made a living for themselves and provided goods and services for purchase or barter in their communities and elsewhere. Jon calls his model the Georgia Model and I'd say history supports that label.
But we find ourselves in 2018. While rural areas are watching their populations and economies shrink, Atlantans like Billy Torpy are saying "good riddance." He wants to try to divide the state with his "tweener" category but while places like Rome, Cartersville, Ringgold, and Carrollton might be doing well, we are seeing this withering of our state even in places like Macon and Augusta. It's not just Lumpkin that is shrinking while Torpy fiddles. It is a significant part of our state.
This Georgia model, when applied to agriculture and commerce, could revive many of these small communities. If we build a based of small communities we could make our own world-class metropolis stronger as the entire state grows economically.
Strong local agriculture can create a supply for restaurants and farmer's markets in our small towns, but also in Atlanta. Strong arts in our small towns could create a network of culture and entertainment throughout the state in which our artists can thrive. Local businesses could enhance Atlanta's economy by adding customers and sources for goods and services throughout our state. The airport in Atlanta can bring the entire world to the doorsteps of these small towns and make other doorsteps available to them as well. Having the entire state linked to broadband internet enables Atlanta businesses to employ telecommuters throughout the state, increasing their reach while putting less strain on the transit infrastructure. Telemedicine can bring world-class medical options to the smallest of our towns. The healthier economies strengthen the medical and educational systems of our rural areas. All of these relieve Atlanta's "burden" and makes the big city economy and culture even stronger. This is a win-win.
Broadband internet is but a start. I'm not saying that it fixes everything or even anything. More will have to be done. But none of it is possible without it. There are stigmas that must be overcome. These areas will need to be protected from huge companies and agribusinesses that will thwart the economy for their own gain. But this is a huge opportunity for Georgia. We can be an example to the rest of our region - for South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi - to strengthen their rural economies and therefore our region and, in turn, our state.
It's teamwork. It's a better model. It's a wiser way to run our state. It will benefit us all. Instead of "Atlanta's thankless burden" let's start talking about Georgia's wisest investment.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire