I hear and read that most or all of rural America is in trouble. I feel rural communities are the backbone of this country, and every rural community faces economic, family and personal challenges. Most rural communities still provide us with a quality of life we can’t find anywhere else, even if making ends meet is sometimes or always tough. There’s a lot of national news about the country’s infrastructure that’s in poor condition. Here in Grant County and each of our local communities, every one of us are the infrastructure that holds things together and makes things happen.
For the past 45 years, this county has given me a quality of life, and I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t had the help, support and guidance from all my neighbors, friends and even people who have always thought I was a little odd. Looking back, I realize how much in my life here I’ve taken for granted, including the sacrifices my parents made for me back when I knew I was always right. It’s easy to take for granted what we have until a hurricane like Katrina hits New Orleans and Puerto Rico or a fire on Canyon Creek and cancer changing Cheryl Hubbird’s life after years of dedication to the Dayville community. We are all capable of putting our differences aside and working together to make our communities, Grant County and our personal lives better.
“A house that is divided cannot survive” in this present world of nations warring with themselves and with their neighbors. For many years, I have felt Grant County is one of the few counties that could become self-sufficient. We have a small population in a large county with the right climate, the headwaters of the John Day, ranches, local business, a forest, Malheur Lumber, banks, churches, schools, hospital, orchards and now a few greenhouses that are storing water every time it rains.
Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. None of us need to go hungry in the best or worst of times or be out of work. To try to have an outside business come to Grant County to improve the local economy would be great, but a Grant Union High School graduate started a company he was passionate about called Winners Choice that became a success and hired at least eight or 10 people. Paula Berry was one of five graduating students in Dayville and went to the Olympics in Barcelona. Our students, our children, are the future of this county, and we need to leave them a county with the same quality of life or better.
We need a new library with books and technology where a child, a high school student, graduate or single parent can get a college degree or start a business. This library can be the first solar-powered library in the state, even if we have to build it ourselves.
We cannot do this if we are divided. We cannot lose our local businesses, like the dollar store, Naturally Yours or Boyd Britton Welding. I have been criticized for getting too many grants: a small one for bird houses, a $90,000 OWEB grant for underground drip irrigation on 18 acres that can save about 1 million gallons of water in the six-month irrigation season and a BPA grant to replace a 100-horse power pump with a variable speed pump and a 75-horse power booster pump that can save up to 77,000 kilowatt-hours of operating costs and reducing mosquitoes. I know there is criticism of Gordon Larson’s irrigation project to combine his different irrigation diversions on his land on Canyon Creek to a single, more efficient location. I feel that soil and water are the foundation of our economy, and protecting our water and soils, especially after the Canyon Creek fire, is essential. Soil and water conservation districts, the National Resources Conservation Service, the tribe and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board are a vital part of our local agriculture.
None of us are perfect. I make dozens of mistakes every day, and as frustrating as it is, I keep learning. My hope is for Grant County, our communities and for the quality of life we have here, for each one of us to work toward being a self-sufficient county, setting our differences aside to work together and not be part of the national news.
Jim Bahrenburg is with the North Fork Ranch in Kimberly.