Mary Sketch: First Day on the Job

This blog post is from Mary Sketch, the Rural Assembly’s new Program Associate.

I spent my first few hours on the job as the new Program Associate for the Center for Rural Strategies hiking up a slope in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.


Struggling to catch my breath 8,000 feet above sea level, I kept pace with twenty other rural leaders from around the country, who an hour earlier were more or less complete strangers. As we worked to keep our balance across icy patches of trail, we marveled at the splendor of the landscape and exchanged words and ideas on what it takes to create stronger, more sustainable rural communities.

This hike marked both the start of my time with the Center for Rural Strategies and the beginning of the 15th annual Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) annual meeting.

Having the opportunity to spend my first 72 hours on the job with nearly 100 place-based practitioners working to create models of rural sustainability was beyond inspirational and the ideal way to kick start my work in building national rural leadership.

My background is at the intersection of communities and natural resource conservation. My desire to connect people to the places they live and to develop stronger communities through this intersection drew me to this field of work. From working on community-scale forest restoration in California to collaborative resource management in Montana to sustainable rangeland conservation in Oregon, I am passionate about how resilience in our landscapes and resilience in our communities can go hand in hand.

The RVCC Annual Meeting reinforced lessons about why we stay committed to the future of rural places. It reminded me that conservation work has something to teach us about the collaborative nature of rural leadership and about the importance of embedding yourself in a place.

Mary Sketch, Rural Assembly Program Associate

Mary Sketch, Rural Assembly Program Associate

Above all, this gathering reinforced the need to continue the work of shaping the rural narrative in ways that bring rural experiences to the forefront of the national dialogue.

I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead, in my work with the Center for Rural Strategies and the Rural Assembly and through collaboration with other organizations such as RVCC.

Here’s to a 2019 full of “keeping it rural!”

Invest in People in Place

This guest post is the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition’s contribution to the Rural Assembly’s call for Big Ideas.

We have to do better.

“The employment rate in rural areas was 2.9 percent lower in mid-2016 than it was in early 2007, just before the Great Recession started. In contrast, the employment rate in metropolitan areas is 4.8 percent higher than its 2007 level, and businesses are adding jobs twice as fast in urban areas as they are in rural ones. The recovery from the Great Recession is dramatically different than recovery from past recessions - there has been no jobs recovery in most of rural America. . .

Image credit: Ashley Rood

Image credit: Ashley Rood

Rural vitality is critical to American progress, prosperity, and political stability. Our nation cannot achieve its economic or social ideals if the cultivation of opportunity is concentrated in urban areas. Rural America is both the home and the steward of abundant natural resources on which the American economy depends, and through which the American spirit is nourished.”
These ideas set the stage well. They are familiar, yet impactful, words from Nils Christoffersen, a leader within the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC).

RVCC’s vision is simple: healthy landscapes and vibrant rural communities throughout the American West. We have to do better to get us there. We need some Big Ideas. We need to invest in people in place.

To find these Big Ideas it’s important to remember, there is no one ideology that represents rural America. There isn’t a one-size fits all policy. There isn’t one big fix. Small, dispersed solutions can make a big impact. We need to not only scale up, but to find ways to scale out.

How do we catalyze the kind of rural communities we need? Invest in local jobs and training for community-based organizations. Community-based organizations play essential roles in designing solutions that cannot be filled by government agencies and businesses on their own. These organizations serve as the nodes of innovation, the liaison between decision-makers, and the heartbeat of the communities they represent. Without these groups and this core capacity, the rural places they serve will slowly fade away. The philanthropic community needs to invest in these community-based organizations. They in turn, must advocate for a clear platform of priorities that articulates a case for positive reinvestment in rural America.

Investing in local jobs and training for community based organizations is at the core of what RVCC promotes because we believe that community, economic and environmental health go hand in hand. Investment in the stewardship of our forests, watersheds and rangelands creates local jobs, while providing clean water and clean air for the Nation. We believe our places, our people, and our work matters.

As we pursue this big idea and others—we need to be prepared to spend some money and make some noise. We’ve got a short window where a lot of people are paying attention who normally wouldn't be.

We will do better.

To learn more about RVCC, and our strategy for rural community prosperity in the West, check out our most current transition memo for the new administration.