Peaceful River Farm lies between vibrant small communities – the revitalized mill village of Saxapahaw (pop. 1,648), and the historic Towns of Hillsborough (pop. 6,087) and Pittsboro (pop. 3,743). Sustainable farming has as one of its goals the revitalization of small towns. For example, a dollar spent at your local farmers market leads to an additional $0.58 to $1.36 in sales at other nearby businesses – this is more than three times the “multiplier effect” for local communities than chain stores.
In 1980 I was part of an interagency/private organization team in Washington that launched the National Main Street Center. With the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the International Downtown Executives Association providing consulting, design, and technical assistance, a total of 30 demonstration communities were selected in six states – North Carolina was one of them. Most of these communities had been adversely impacted from big box stores in addition to manufacturing and agricultural decline.
That demonstration program proved extremely successful, and each year more small towns have received assistance from the National Main Street Center, assessing their strengths and taking the bottom-up steps to revitalize their downtowns. The results are impressive according to the Center’s website:
Cumulatively, commercial districts taking part in the Main Street program have spurred the rehabilitation of more than 246,000 buildings, and generated $59.6 billion in new investment, with a net gain of more than 502,728 new jobs, and over 115,000 new businesses. Every dollar a community uses to support its local Main Street program leverages an average of $18 in new investment, making Main Street one of the most successful economic development strategies in America. These community benefits would not be possible without the training, education, and leadership of the National Main Street Center.
In North Carolina our urban areas are by and large significantly wealthier than our nonmetropolitan areas. Forty of the most economically distressed counties are rural, dotted withwith boarded up downtown districts and stagnant economies. Fortunately, there are success stories as illustrated by the communities in our area and by the 64 designated Main Street towns in North Carolina which have seen a dramatic increase in business starts, new jobs, and public and private investment.
It is humbling to reflect back on those beginnings 36 years ago and to recognize what can be accomplished with good ideas, professional attention to challenges and opportunities, and local pride and commitment to community revitalization. Small town living has rich rewards for families, businesses, and civic and religious organizations alike. We love the sense of community, the friendliness, the open space, and the connection with nature that living in the country and near small towns affords.