Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farming Vital, Students Agree but Rural Life Doesn't Appeal to Teenagers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farming Vital, Students Agree but Rural Life Doesn't Appeal to Teenagers

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones, Times-Union staff writer

COLUMBUS -- Rural leaders are finding encouragement in a survey released this week showing a majority of Georgia middle school students consider agriculture important to the state.

While the survey wasn't done by a professional polling organization, the shear number of students labeling farming as vital -- 93 percent -- was significant.

Ironically, urban students ranked agriculture slightly higher than those in suburbs and even in the heart of the state's farm region.

The survey was conducted by the Youth and Rural Georgia Project, a small agency created this year by the Georgia Rural Development Council. Chaired by Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the 31-member council of small-town leaders from around the state secured funding from the legislature for the project as a way to convince young people to remain in their hometowns after completing school.

A second goal is to train teens in the need to devote taxpayer resources to economic development and health care in rural parts of the state.

"I'm very excited that over 92 percent of them see agriculture as very important to Georgia's future," Taylor said.

Project staff is still sifting through some of the results of the 47-part questionnaire which was answered by nearly 4,000 seventh- and eighth-graders last fall. Its authors think it is the first time rural development has been studied from the youth perspective.

"Ultimately, what I hope to find in the survey is why so many young people are leaving their hometowns. It's the brain drain that is killing so many of the rural towns," Taylor said.

He admits that most teenagers find their hometowns boring and vow to leave at the first opportunity. But rural graduates often act on that promise.

Actually, 52 percent of students from all parts of the state said they would leave even if there were adequate jobs available.

Between 1980 and '90, more than 40 Georgia counties lost population, all in rural parts of the state. But the 2000 census showed that trend has reversed, with just eight counties shrinking in the most recent 10-year period. …

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