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Forget 'Sustainable' Urban Farming: The Return of the Small Town

America was founded on small town ideals. Over the last century though, as industry drew us to the larger towns for work in factories and offices, we traded in large plots of gorgeous nowhere, for tiny, stacked urban dwellings of someplace else.

And now, as cities get even denser, urban farming is all the rage. Rooftops, it turns out, make amazing gardens. Bees love boulevards, and even chickens thrive on concrete. And while these measures are improving the sustainability of urban environments, there's another way to decrease your carbon footprint and boost your self-reliance: move back to a small town.

The boom of the home office environment and interest in self-reliance are already driving some city dwellers out to the edges of civilization. Whether it’s to buy cheaper property or for more space to grow their own food, connect with nature, and enjoy some important peace and quiet, we don't hear enough about the sustainability factor of small towns like we do the most recent rooftop garden. But some small towns are leading the way in sustainability.

With fewer people and less bureaucracy to account for, it's often easier to make changes in a small town that can have a bigger impact versus the years it can take a large urban environment to do much of anything.

Take Rock Port, Missouri. They were the first town in the U.S. to get 100 percent of their electricity from wind power. With only 1,300 residents, 11 percent of the population is actually living below the poverty line. With just four wind turbines, the town generates more than 100 percent of its energy needs. Rock Port sells the excess energy to neighboring towns and is able to provide cheaper electricity for its residents.

Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin is home to just under 700 residents. But the town has committed to make all the buildings in the central business district generate at least 70 percent of their energy from solar power. Can you imagine what it would look like if 70 percent of Los Angeles' power came from the sun? Towns like Pagosa Springs, Colorado and Klamath Falls, Oregon are using geothermal water sources to supply heat and energy to their towns. (A few large cities are doing this too, including Perth, Australia, Reykjavik, Iceland and Boise, Idaho.)

Living in a small town means you can reduce your dependence on vehicles, too. Bicycles and walking are not only easy in most small towns, but quite often much more pleasant, too.

The local food movement is not just an emergent trend in large urban areas. Small town farmers markets are cropping up across the country, as are local growers. Of course, living in a small town often means you have a lot more land for growing your own, as well.

An important yet often forgotten factor in sustainability is the importance of community. The more we can support one another in a number of capacities, the more we all benefit. Whether that means borrowing a neighbor's ladder instead of buying your own or sharing meals or an energy source, working together as a community is one of the most sustainable things we can do.

Learn more about Jill Ettinger

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