After the Civil War, agriculture began to rise as the primary occupation of the day as farmers switched to machine farming from hand labor. More crops could be harvested in less time. The number of farms in the U.S. tripled from 2 million to 6 million between 1860 and 1910, while the number of acres farmed increased from 160 million to 352 million (“Revolution in Agriculture,” n.d.). Young people worked in the fields along with their fathers on family land passed down to them. For these families, hard work, sense of community, commitment to family, and love of the land were reasons to remain in the small towns of their birth. However, this scenario is just a sweet memory for many as their rural way of life declines.

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When the smartest young people leave a small town, brain drain occurs. This is the departure of young people from rural areas to larger cities to attend college and improve their chances of a better life (Artz, 2003). They are the achievers, those who want more, make good grades, and are encouraged to become successful. Brain drain poses a serious threat to the social and economic vitality and sustainability of rural America and has helped hasten the decline of rural towns (Carr & Kefalas 2009). The opposite of achievers are the stayers who didn’t make good grades, had no interest in college, and come from struggling families. As a result, they stay in their small hometowns and work in low-income jobs like fast food, security, or manufacturing plans.

For these rural towns to survive, residents must think in new ways. They must invest in the young stayers with training in computer technology, health care, and retail. Rural towns should take advantage of federal funds to invest in green agriculture and energy (Carr & Kefalas, 2003). These rural communities should target the relocation of immigrant populations who will accept migrant work and whose children will fill up their schools. With targeted emphases on concerned revitalization, these small rural towns can be saved.

  • Artz, G. (2003). Rural Brain Drain, Is it Reality? Retrieved from
  • Carr, P. J., & Kefalas, M. J. (2009). Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America. Published by Beacon Press.
  • Revolution in Agriculture. U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Gillham, C. (2009). How to Reverse the Rural Brain Drain. Retrieved from