An article by The Wall Street Journal published Dec. 2, 2009, says more young families and singles are heading back to the country to get a flavor of pioneer spirit -- and that could be good news, in the long run, for dealers and manufacturers of equipment for the rural lifestyle.
An excerpt of the article is below.
In June, 40-year-old Shane Dawley and his 36-year-old wife, Rhonda, uprooted themselves and their four boys from their suburban Atlanta rental home and bought an old five-acre farm in Ogdensburg, Wisc. Their goal: Flee the rat race and adopt a more self-reliant lifestyle amid the troubled economy.
While Mr. Dawley, who had worked at a parking garage, hasn't found a full-time job yet, he's been working on nearby farms learning new skills (one person paid him with an old John Deere tractor), and his family is raising chickens while learning to garden and hunt.
"Our generation has never seen anything like this," says Mr. Dawley of the economic downturn. "Fear sometimes is a good thing and will push you to do things you ordinarily wouldn't."
While urban and suburban real estate is still generally under pressure, the rural market is holding up better in many areas, thanks in part to buyers such as the Dawleys. Sometimes dubbed "ruralpolitans," these city and town dwellers are looking at land as their new safe investment, one they hope could prove more stable than their jobs and 401(k)s—and provide a better lifestyle.
Motivations can vary, but typically there are three groups: young people buying land as an asset or investment, with vague hopes to live on it someday; exurban commuters who have jobs in big towns or cities but want to escape the sprawl; and back-to-the-land types who want to dabble in hobby farming. While the 76 million-strong baby boomers eyeing retirement represent the largest ruralpolitan segment, they're being joined by a growing contingent of 20-to-early-40-somethings freshly imprinted by this recession's pain.
Transplants to the countryside can accumulate an arsenal of heavy duty tools such as chain saws and leaf blowers.
History shows economic downturns or disasters such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks frequently trigger a short-lived appetite for escape, and that those approaching retirement often crave more-remote properties. If baby boomers follow typical migration patterns, the rural population age 55-85 will increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.
Interest in small-scale hobby farming has also bloomed, particularly among the young. When environmental-news Web site Mother Nature Network ran a piece called "40 Farmers Under 40" this year, it garnered nearly 100,000 hits, one of its most popular features since the site's launch. Visitors to the Web site of Living the Country Life magazine increasingly seek info on wood stoves, solar panels and windmills.
"It's a little like the pioneer spirit," says Betsy Freese, the magazine's editor. "They still want high-speed Internet but want to feel like they are doing something else for their families."
That pioneer spirit is also felt by manufacturers of compact tractors and small work-utility vehicles, such as the John Deere Gator. "What we are seeing in this [ruralpolitan] customer segment is growth," says Dan Paschke, product marketing manager for utility tractors at Deere & Co.'s agriculture and turf division. The biggest demographic growth segment for James River Equipment, an Asheboro, N.C., John Deere dealer, is someone who commutes to a metro market 30 to 45 minutes away. "They are buying small, easy-to-use equipment and don't have a lot of experience," says Clyde Phillips, a partner.
Manufacturers also are tweaking seats and designs to suit this new generation of first-time users, including females. "We took a lot of women out on tests to make sure the vehicles are still badass for guys but comfortable enough for a woman to drive every day," says Aaron Hanlon, product manager for Cub Cadet Utility Vehicles, a brand of MTD Products Inc. Polaris Industries Inc., known for its powerful off-road utility vehicles, this month is rolling out its first low-maintenance, eco-model: an all battery-powered ride called the Ranger EV.