Renewing the Countryside series


woman with vegetable.jpg



Stories of revitalizing rural communities

Renewing the Countryside’s books showcase stories of individuals and community groups making positive changes to strengthen rural areas. Our nine books are filled with short stories and full color photos of examples of rural renewal. Some of the books focus on the stories of particular states while others focus on a cross section of rural demographics or sectors, or in the case of our homegrown cookbook, recipes. 

This series was originally inspired by publications from the Netherlands that showcased rural renewal across the Dutch countryside. In 1998, before Renewing the Countryside incorporated as a nonprofit, a partnership of a few individuals and organizations came together to compile a similar project featuring the stories of Minnesota's countryside. This first publication was soon followed by eight others, and our hope is that these stories continue to give people hope, inspiration and practical ideas to apply to their own rural communities. You can learn more about our books below and read some of our stories online in our story clearinghouse

Renewing the Countryside: Minnesota, 2001
Renewing the Countryside: Iowa, 2003
Renewing the Countryside: North Dakota, 2003
Renewing the Countryside: A New Plateau, 2004
Values of Agrarian Landscapes across Europe and North America, 2004
Renewing the Countryside: Washington, 2005
Renewing the Countryside: Wisconsin, 2007
Renewing the Countryside: Youth, 2009
The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, 2014


For purchasing options, please check or 

Renewing the Countryside: Minnesota2001

Renewing the Countryside Minnesota tells the stories of 43 Minnesotans who are protecting the environment and promoting their rural communities through innovative businesses, living practices, or community projects. Published in 2002, this book served as the foundation of our organization and the model for several books to follow.

Across Minnesota's diverse and beautiful landscape, creative, hard-working people are bringing new energy to the countryside. With perseverance, inventiveness, and occasionally, simple good fortune, they are creating a new definition of what it means to live, work, and learn in rural America. Thes people are enhancing our state's cultural and natural resources while spurring local economic development in their communities. While their backgrounds and activities differ, each in their own way is renewing the countryside.

In this book, we share the stories of some of these people. We share them to acknowledge and honor their accomplishments. We also share them in hopes that they will inspire others to pursue their dreams of businesses, programs, and partnerships that can enhance both community well-being and the environment.

We have produced this book in ways consistent with the values and practices of the people highlighted in these pages. Local writers and photographers provided the content and pictures. A Minnesota, union printer printed this book. The paper used is as environmental-responsible as is currently available and was purchased from a company committed to environmental stewardship. 

The Inspiration for this book came from the Netherlands, where the Ministry of Agriculture produced what they called an "atlas" of similar initiatives throughout the Dutch countryside. We graciously acknowledge the gift of this idea from our friends in Europe and hope that our Renewing the Countryside book will, in turn, inspire others to take stock of all the wonderful, creative things being done in their own backyards.


Renewing the Countryside: Iowa, 2003

Iowa is a wonderful collection of stories about innovative people revitalizing rural communities. This book honors those who have found a way to make a living in the countryside while supporting their communities and protecting the environment

Traverse these pages and meet everyday heroes and twenty-first-century pioneers who are bringing new life to small towns, from Spirit Lake to Wapello, from Shenandoah to Decorah.

Read about sun-ripened hogs that are the rave of chefs across the country and how a Hmong family has established new roots with the help of their neighbors. Learn how Carl Kurtz is bringing back the tall grass prairie and how Seed Savers Exchange has built an international reputation for preserving heirloom varieties.

Discover why the slow river towns of Van Buren County are attracting tourists and why those looking for an authentic vacation in the country head to Garst Farm Resorts. Read about the fabulous cheese made by the "goat moms," out-of-this-world milk produced by an organic dairy, and fabulous, fresh produce raised with care and offered at farmers markets and in the best Iowa restaurants.

Discover a school in Spirit Lake powering its buildings with wind and a farmers' cooperative turning Iowa's abundant soybeans into clean fuel. And learn how communities are taking action to ensure a bright future for their citizens.


Renewing the Countryside: North Dakota, 2003

Everyone loves a good story. The stories assembled here are about real people, their accomplishments, and their visions for rural North Dakota. We took great pleasure in collecting the stories, in visiting and learning about entrepreneurs and practical visionaries who, each in their own way, are investing energy, drive, and passion into revitalizing the places they care about and in so doing are renewing the countryside. What no book could capture, though, are the tens and hundreds of people that accompany these individuals and are collectively redefining what it means to build a vibrant quality of life and a stable livelihood in North Dakota.

Entrepreneurs, mentors, innovators, artists, and visionaries, the creative people you will soon read about, and the opportunity to spend time with them, constituted the greatest joy of creating this book. While we can in no way replace the magic of a personal encounter, we have tried to shares pieces of their personalities and stories here. We invite you to see a glimpse of revolutionary activity in everyday life.


Renewing the Countryside: A New Plateau, 2004

They're tucked back in canyons, hidden on mesa tops, and set in cities and tiny towns alike -- some of the world's most interesting experiments in using wind and solar energy, harvesting food sustainably, building to fit a desert climate, and using the renewable by-products of forest restoration to meet human needs.

The canyons and plateaus of the Four Corners states have been the subject of numerous books, films, and photos, as they are recognized internationally for their natural beauty, biodiversity, and ancient, indigenous cultures. But this book, for the first time, tells the stories of the innovators and culture-bearers who are ensuring that diverse human communities can continue to live in harmony with the Southwest's stunning natural and cultural landscapes.

The dozens of people and projects profiled here ar the harvest of a multi-year project sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University to survey the best grassroots solutions to sustainability from throughout Canyon Country. This book, like no other, will inspire a new generation of innovators on the Colorado Plateau to learn from the wisdom of resident cultures and the land itself and to live by enriching rather depleting the resources of this arid land. Inspirational and hopeful, the stories in it point the way toward a lasting future.


Values of Agrarian Landscapes across Europe and North America, 2004

Most people know agrarian landscapes by what they produce whether it's the corn and soybeans of the American Midwest of the olives of the Mediterranean. But agrarian landscapes are vital in countless other ways, and as the world's farmland continues to shrink, these values and no longer be taken for granted. Values of Agrarian Landscapes across Europe and North America calls attention to the crucial roles that farmland plays in a variety of regions. For instance, we discover the role of farmland in a region's cultural heritage, along with its job of maintaining biodiversity and preserving a beautiful undeveloped landscape.

As valuable as these benefits are to all people and the planet, there are powerful threats that cannot be ignored. Economic hardship for most of the people who work the land has created pressure to intensify or industrialize in ways that cancel out many of the benefits of these landscapes, especially ecological services and habit, or had resulted in displaced families who have left the land because of inadequate income. Some international policies, especially in the financial and trade areas, have tended to work against the people on the land who are responsible for maintaining and passing on these valuable human and ecological assets.

In this time of great world tension and unusually strong feelings in the context of US and European relations, this book and the process by which it was made is an important reminder of that which binds us at a physical and cultural level. This book can make a contribution to remembering that we are all on this blue-green planet as a result of grace and that we can share that gift with future generations if we act thoughtfully and responsibly.


Renewing the Countryside: Washington, 2005

Through bold innovation and entrepreneurial creativity, a sustainable society is emerging. Its citizens are guided by a deep respect for human health, animal welfare, natural systems, environmental resources, individual opportunity, and the economic and cultural vitality of current and future generations.

Renewing the Countryside: Washington chronicles forty-three examples of rural sustainability and natural resources stewardship. Inspiring stories of community development, environmental restoration, and economic success are told in this beautifully photographed and highly informative publication that profiles the positive changes currently taking place in the fields, forests, towns, watersheds, economies, and people of Washington State.


Renewing the Countryside: Wisconsin, 2007

In these pages, we take you on a journey across Wisconsin. The journey weaves through the state's beautiful forests, farmlands and small towns as we search out some of the remarkable people who are building a new, sustainable rural economy. The people we visit are just a sample of many across the state who are developing new enterprises, growing healthy food, fostering the arts and preserving culture in ways that protect Wisconsin's rich natural resources and contribute to its economic viability. Through their innovative work, these people are building the infrastructure for an even better Wisconsin and creating a lasting legacy for future generations.

We've divided this journey not by regions of the state but by different aspects of rural renewal. We begin with a chapter on the arts, showcasing how artists and lovers of the arts are sharing their passion and vision with residents and visitors alike. From hand-crafted Windsor chairs to the throb of guitar strings escaping from under a big blue tent, this chapter explores how the arts are expanding minds, providing entertainment and connecting people to the unique and the interesting in rural areas.


Renewing the Countryside: Youth, 2009

Smart, young people are returning to the roots of American Agriculture-- roots steeped in a tradition and culture of diversity, quality and respect for the Earth. Full of brilliant color photographs, Youth Renewing the Countryside shares remarkable stories of young people in each state changing the world through rural renewal. Produced by Renewing the Countryside in partnership with young writers and photographers across the country and with support from SARE and the Center for Rural Strategies.

Young people are vital maintaining vibrant, rural areas. We need them for their ideas, their energy, and their ability to see things differently. We need them to steward out land and our history. We need them to grow food, harvest energy, and manage our forests. We need them to help created a new, more sustainable, more just economy.

A growing number of young people are embracing life in rural communities and small towns. As we set out to find them, we were inspired--not only by how many we found but by their ambition and dedication. Some are building on their history and culture. Others are creating uniquely, twenty-first-century opportunities like renewable energy businesses or Internet0based companies. Some are fighting for the environmental or social justice. Many have found a foothold in building a stronger, healthier food system.

We use the word "countryside" broadly. While many of these stories come from very small towns or vast tracks of land in the West, others are set in urban areas. A piece of the countryside can prevail amidst impinging urban development; it can exist in an urban school garden or at a farmers' market.

The young people showcased here are representative of many more we didn't have room to include. The stories we have included are told by another inspiring group-- young writers and photographers who beautifully captured them for these pages.


The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, 2008, revised 2014

The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook celebrates the best of our state with 100 local recipes from the state's finest restaurants, cafes, and bed and breakfasts, using incredibly fresh ingredients from regional farmers, markets, and organic producers. Restaurant profiles will tempt those who want adventures on the road as well as in the kitchen -- you'll find yourself planning a trip to taste these inspired dishes.

The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook is beautifully illustrated with full-color, full-page photographs of the finished dishes, the ingredients, Minnesota landscapes, and the chefs and producers themselves. Originally printed in 2008, the 2014 revised edition has been updated with 30% new material and restaurant information.


Contact us to inquire about purchasing one of our books.