Rural Lifestyle Goes to Town

by Kristi Moss
March 25, 2013

Remember just a decade ago when the “rural lifestyle” market segment was the hottest topic in our industry? We saw a shift in people wanting to live the rural life without necessarily making a living off it. People had a desire to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. There was a desire to own land.

Then in September of 2008 we watched it hit the skids. The recession hit and made that lifestyle more difficult to afford … and therefore harder to market to.

The good news is the traditional view of rural lifestyle—the acreage, the outbuildings, the equipment—will always exist. But it’s also time we, as marketers, expand our definition of the market and look for new ways to reach customers.

In that regard, I’ve been reading a lot about a movement called Urban Ruralism (or Rural Urbanism; the terms seem to be used interchangeably). My recent search showed thousands of results for the term “urban ruralist.” It’s a concept that has been around for ages in other countries. Go ahead…Google it. See for yourself. You’ll find page after page of articles, videos and photos about backyard farming, creating green spaces within cityscapes, as well as healthier eating and living.

The urban ruralist strives for a little bit of country life in the city. This market understands food sources and embraces the idea of removing the layers of the food distribution system. These city dwellers say they think like their rural neighbors. They show an interest in community-focused interactions. These consumers want to know where their food is coming from. They care about the environment.

The urban ruralist walks on concrete but dreams of grass. I think it’s safe to say there’s a little urban ruralism in all of us by that definition. Anyone else humming Counting Crows “Big Yellow Taxi?” right now? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. (Or perhaps you’re hearing Joni Mitchell’s original version.)

It’s important to see there’s a market here. There’s a market for seed, for small greenhouses, for perennials, for fencing, for proper companion animal (and chicken!) housing. There’s a market for feed, for tools, for animal care and for knowledge. This market is thriving in social media. Blogs, Pinterest, Etsy and flickr are giving the global community a chance to connect with each other. This market is asking questions, looking for answers and exchanging ideas. I think the Facebook page for The Rural Urbanist sums up the idea nicely: living a more agrarian life in the heart of the city.

This market is not the typical rural lifestyle market in need of tractors, trucks and buildings. It’s not defined by land size, which is how most of us defined the market a decade ago. This market looks to make the most out of small spaces. They maximize green space in urban areas through farmer’s markets, containers and community gardens. They are turning used pallets into herb gardens on their outdoor walls. They’re converting cinder blocks into pots for planting. For these people, containers aren’t just for flowers; they’re for tomatoes, strawberries and other food to feed their family. They’re taking concrete patios and apartment balconies and turning them into greenhouses and gardens. They might even be raising a few chickens in their backyard.

Recently I discussed this market with Ann Marie Gardner, CEO/Editor-in-Chief of a launch magazine called Modern Farmer. She noted that in her part of the country (New York), they are still seeing a movement from urban areas to a more rural setting. I certainly agree with that observation, as the consumer equipment market seems to be seeing good years.

She said, “The rural lifestyle market is a powerful and changing demographic that is a result of the new rurbanism. People are moving from urban areas to rural places, bringing with them their city sensibility and style, curiosity for locally made, a new appetite to grow things, a desire to know their farmer and be part of a community. Consumers genuinely want to talk about where their food is coming from, who grows it and how that affects the health and the environment of the world-at-large.”

And although these are two distinct markets, they share a common thread: the general feeling of being closer to the food source, a better understanding of our food chain, and a thirst for knowledge and education.

So, what do you think of rural urbanism? Or urban ruralism? Can you see opportunities for your brand to connect with this exciting and emerging market? At Paulsen, we see acres of potential. As a rural urbanist myself, I just hope my neighbor doesn’t decide to take up beekeeping.

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