The Best Rural Places to Live

People are flocking to Small Town, America, in search of a more simple way of life.

February 1, 2005

The United States is experiencing a rural renaissance as families leave urban areas and seek out communities where crime is low, schools are good, and life is simple. Most rural counties in farming states such as Iowa and Illinois saw population growth during the 1990s, while metropolitan areas lost population, according to Progressive Farmer magazine, which cites U.S. Census data.

What’s driving the trend? One reason is that families are worried about violence in the cities and the erosion of traditional values in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

Farms also are attracting investors and homebuyers who have no intention of plowing a field or milking a cow. In fact, in Illinois, only 44 percent of farm owners are farmers, notes the magazine: "Investors made up 39 percent, followed by individuals wanting land for recreational uses at 8 percent, and institutions at 2 percent.”

From golf course communities to retreats to second homes, farmland isn't used just for farming anymore. Farmers also want to cash in, rather than miss the top of the gains that haven't been seen since the 1980 to 1984 run-up in rural land.

The February issue of Progressive Farmer took a look at factors such as schools, crime, health care, clean air, and sense of community to select the Best Places to Live in Rural America.

"We're seeing a definite trend of people choosing to live in the country rather than in urban areas," says Jack Odle, editor-in-chief of Progressive Farmer. "And we wanted to celebrate that. We've come up with a unique list of some great areas that may be somewhat under the radar.”

The list is the first of its kind to name "best" areas by county instead of city, the magazine says. Here are the top 10:

  1. Fauquier County, Va.: "Lying 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C., this county with a population of 62,992 and an average income of $67,237 is the home of equestrian activities and wineries. The Blue Ridge Mountains rim the northern area, and flat, fertile farm fields cover its south."
  2. Oconee County, Ga.: "Close to Athens and Atlanta, many residents commute to jobs but enjoy Oconee's agriculture in beef cattle and pine forests, as well as the low pollution, low crime, and excellent schools. The SAT scores are Georgia's best."
  3. McPherson County, Kan.: "Children actually walk to school in McPherson County, due to the low crime and small-town feel. Great schools and two private liberal arts colleges serve the county, and the student/teacher ratio is 10.8 to 1. The county is also home to a renowned arts community.
  4. Callaway County, Mo.: "Close to both St. Louis and Kansas City, Callaway County is scenic, with fertile plains in the north and bluffs bordering the Missouri River in the south. With a population of 42,657, Callaway offers low land prices and low pollution."
  5. Grafton County, N.H.: "Dominated by the White Mountain National Forest, over-development is not an issue in Grafton. Despite its large size geographically, its largest city has fewer than 15,000 residents. Grafton also is home to the Ivy League's Dartmouth College."
  6. Gillespie County, Texas: "An influx of newcomers alongside old-time ranching families creates an interesting contrast. German heritage is everywhere you look on Main Street in the county seat of Fredericksburg, along with art galleries, antique shops, and an in-town winery."
  7. Sauk County, Wis.: "Sauk County boasts Parfey's Glen Natural Area, part of Devil's Lake State Park, and one of the continent's most beautiful spots, with rock formations and a glacial lake. Herb and vegetable farms, organic potatoes, and quaint towns sprinkle the region.
  8. Wilson County, Tenn.: "Wilson County sits close to Nashville, allowing many Wilson residents to commute, but in this rural county, small farms abound with cattle and hay, as well as small goat and sheep flocks. The Wilson County Fair draws about 420,000 people each August."
  9. Eagle County, Colo.: "Rocky Mountain peaks, ski resorts, and secluded scenic valleys have made Eagle County a playground for the rich and famous, but the county still retains longtime farm families. To ensure that the county remains true to its roots, the state legislature declared long ago that ranches could not be divided into parcels smaller than 35 acres."
  10. Rankin County, Miss.: "Just across the Pearl River from Jackson, Rankin County boasts the state's top public and private schools. Also, statistics showed that Rankin County's health care index was higher than any rural county's in the nation, with three major state-of-the-art hospitals."

“We hope our list will reward these areas, while serving as a guide for those who may be thinking about leaving stress and other hazards of urban life behind and moving to the country," Odle says.

(c) Copyright 2005 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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