If you’re looking to break free of the rat race, or you’re looking for a good reason why you never entered the race, check out Progressive Farmer magazine’s “Best Places to Live in Rural America.”
The magazine used a formula as well as a general sense of the “intangibles” to craft their 2006 list of the top 200 rural counties. Progressive Farmer’s statistic crunching including cost of living, crime, air quality, access to health care, education and leisure activities.
NUMBER 1 – Ontario County, New York: While this part of western New York state is blessed with an abundance of scenic mountains, lakes and fertile farmland, the editors at Progressive Farmer say it’s “the people and communities” that earned Ontario County the blue ribbon.
“Instead of just relying on what they’ve been given–a great resource in the land–they have worked together to make the most of it and to preserve it,” according to the magazine.
Agriculture is apparently holding steady against the tide of development spreading from nearby Rochester. Tourists are playing a major role in this, attracted in part by the county’s claim: “Grape Pie Capital of the World.” It’s a title few rivals are likely to challenge. But, apparently, cooking up Concord grape concoctions helps pull in about 100,000 visitors during the month-long grape harvest.
Never one to settle for one title belt, Ontario County also boasts that it is also “Cabbage Capital of the World.” Squash, beans and corn also grow well here, and good wines are easily had.
Progressive Farmer pays particular homage to the county’s smooth-running local governments and political-minded farmers willing to take a stand to preserve their rural lifestyle.
“(F)arms here are still farms,” the magazine states. “They haven’t all been divided into 40-acre parcels and then cut into 10-acre plots. Residents place a high priority on keeping their rural roots. Farmers are a big part of the government, and they decided some years ago to limit housing development on good farmland. Yes, most people call it zoning, but it was done by bottom-up planning from local communities, not top-down from county officials.”
NUMBER 2 – Union County, South Dakota: South Dakota in the number two spot? Well, kind of. Union County is so tightly tucked in the Mount Rushmore State’s southeast corner that the magazine should probably give Iowa and Nebraska some credit as positive influences. Progressive Farmer awarded this county the No. 2 spot for its wide horizons, soda fountains, white steeples, soybeans and grazing cattle. Also, its “schools are good, its towns neat and its people friendly.” Still not sold? Well, Union is in close proximity to a number of light manufacturing centers that have “helped create the planned community of Dakota Dunes with its golf course, medical center and shops.”
Ugh. On to number 3….
NUMBER 3 – Oconee County, Georgia: If you lick this north Georgia county you’ll likely not miss its savory “small town flavor.” What’s the recipe? Plenty of rivers, buildings aged to perfection, heaps of brainy youngins’, family farms sprinkled liberally throughout and a few “beatific country homes” to spice it up a bit.
There’s a secret ingredient too: the University of Georgia in Athens is only a river’s width away. Although not noted by the Progressive Farmer, it is here that one can visit Weaver D’s soul food restaurant, where the cookin’ is always “automatic for the people.”
As for the rest:
NUMBER 4 – Grafton County, New Hampshire
NUMBER 5 – Kendall County, Texas
NUMBER 6 – Grundy County, Illinois
NUMBER 7 – Lancaster County, Virginia
NUMBER 8 – Boone County, Indiana
NUMBER 9 – Blaine County, Idaho
NUMBER 10 – Hood River County, Oregon
Progressive Farmer’s website comes with a cool interactive feature where you can find your own ideal rural paradise based on a few quick questions. We here at Rural Ninja took the test and found ourselves with a stunning bit of advice: Move to Texas. We told the Progressive Farmer we didn’t care much about crime rates (because we are tough – you know, like ninjas) and that we cared most about an area’s cost of living (because we are poor). We also mentioned we liked very much to be entertained, liked breathing smog free air and were pretty neutral on schools and how many neighbors we had peering over our fence. We fed these factors into the Progressive Farmer and out it spat a top 10 list containing four Lone Star counties. Try the test for your self, but don’t mess with Texas. We’ve already got the best spots scoped out.