Arriving in Menomonie has been an exciting experience and has surprised me in many different ways. Because of my upbringing in a densely populated suburban area on the East Coast, I tried not to have too many preconceived ideas about rural Midwestern America. Though the small size of Menomonie is indeed very different than what I’m accustomed to, what surprised me most was not the size or rural landscape. Rather, the cultural connotations of a rural society and the tightly knit communal connections shocked me the most. Coming from an area where I didn’t even know all of the students in my own high school graduating class, it amazes me how the entire community is familiar with one another and highly engaged in Menomonie. Local business, citizens, farmers, and political leaders are far more intertwined than the social system I live in. Therefore, this concept of a close and interdependent network of rural community members is what I believe has presented the greatest challenge in adjusting to the lifestyle and culture here.
This social structure was never something I considered in my study of economics. This project and community has begun to teach me the importance of individualizing economic approaches in order to avoid thinking of America as a uniformly industrialized nation that operates based on particular economic and behavioral assumptions. Just because these conditions work in the markets of the city atmosphere does not mean that they apply everywhere. This is a great lesson that I am quickly learning since coming here. Also, never have I fully grasped the value of interdisciplinary studies until this past week. The farmer network and sociology work (though I’ve only gotten a taste so far) has been so fascinating to me, and as we begin to discuss the economic project I often run across questions that spill over into these other disciplines. The problem, town, research, and solutions are more complex than I had originally thought. I suppose my New York mind thought of rural areas and farms as much more one dimensional- there’s a pollution problem and once we explore a cost-benefit approach then we have an answer and farmers will switch to BMPs and everyone is happy. How wrong was I. Farms are perhaps more complicated than the capitalist crazy Big Apple. Afterall, in New York it’s all supply and demand and stocks- no one really cares about the people. People are typically reduced to incentives and profit-maximizers. Menomonie has presented the idea that maybe that’s not quite right (and even slightly unethical). Particularly at the Raw Deal meet and greet- where I was able to meet some of the citizens and discuss their attitudes towards the local economy, the environment and the threshold between these two elements- it was dawning on me that people and their interactions matter a great deal in the realm of economics and environmental issues as a whole.