Big changes in Polk beseech cooperation over competition

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

Much is developing in the way of business, both huge (Tryon International Equestrian Center) and historic (downtowns) in Polk County. The huge changes to our tiny little county have us buzzing, and pray God is working diligently to protect what and who is here before. The historic preservations are also impacting our economy, and not simply architectural aesthetic values and benefits. 

When land is gobbled up by outsiders coming in or when historic neighborhoods and buildings are torn down or allowed to deteriorate, a part of our past disappears forever. When that happens we lose the connectivity and the history that helps us know who we are, and we lose opportunities to live and work in the kinds of heritage-based culture and space that these pasturelands, mountain business districts and neighborhoods can provide.

I’ve been watching and participating in efforts to preserve farmland in Polk County, creating marketplace for farmers and developing further capacities for local food in Polk County, from raw commodity to meals and beyond. We have many strong organizations working toward the same goals like the Mill Spring Ag Center, the office of agricultural economic development, Slow Food Foothills Asheville and GRO, Growing Rural Opportunities. Exciting developments make daily progress by leaps and bounds through the dedicated work of leaders in these organizations and of consumers dedicating themselves to buying local.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I’m also newly indoctrinated into an equally dedicated group of citizens for small town business development and historic preservation. Recently the use of historic preservation, and in specific across North Carolina, is viewed as a means to economic development and urban renewal. It aids in community revitalization, increased employment, and preserved history, culture and pride. As in our farmland and equestrian land communities, we must take great efforts that the negative side to progress does not end in gentrification. It happens all too often where gentrification (“upgrading” communities to the point of losing its affordability and sense of place for the people who originate from there) has been the ignorant outcome or intended goal all along.

The only thing constant is change but we can learn from the past, from other communities, and from our elders how to change and progress for the good of all people in our community. There are, in my findings, some non-negotiable tenets that should be studied and strived for when requests and plans for development, progress, renewal come to community and government leaders. I found them in my deep love of studying Wendell Berry, American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.

The following is excerpted from the essay “Conserving Communities,” from Another Turn of the Crank, by Wendell Berry, 1995. If we want to protect our paradise, and thrive in our small rural community in partnership, here are some things we should do.

Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our COMMON wealth?

Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – as a member of community.

Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become a colony of the national or global economy.

Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

Strive to produce as much of the community’s energy as possible.

Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community for as long as possible before it is paid out.

Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, teaching its children.

See that the old and the young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school. The community knows and remembers itself by the associations of old and young.

Account for costs now conventionally hidden or “externalized.” Whenever possible, these costs must be debited against monetary income.

Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.

A rural community should always be acquainted with, and completely connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.