What I Learned about Resilience in Rural Oregon

I recently gave the keynote at the annual meeting of Oregon Rural Action in La Grande, Oregon, “Making the Shift: Building a Vibrant Local Economy Amidst the Broken Global Financial System.” (My slide deck is posted on our resource section here.) To convey my personal sense of the potential of place-based, holistic financial practices and business, I spoke about some of the related projects I have invested in, including The Grasslands LLC and Farmers Diner.

At the annual meeting I met the wonderful and empathic Joel Rice, a local psychiatrist and community activist who acquired an empty four-story brick building in downtown La Grande (a former department store that became a victim of Walmart) that he hopes will eventually house a workshop where local residents can engage in relearning old skills and practicing related artisanal activities. Joel has also purchased a “White House” where the community gathers for reading, cups of coffee, and rich conversation. He said he couldn’t imagine a better return on his investment than the value of seeing his furniture used and his books read by lots of people every day.

Although the people of rural Oregon are facing incredible economic challenges, I witnessed an enlightened determination and resilience that one does not see walking down the streets of my affluent town a few miles north of New York City where everyone is plugged into the global economy and financial system. We are sleepwalking down our pristine streets unaware of the seismic structural and systemic changes that lie ahead. Meanwhile the people of rural Oregon are redefining wealth and nurturing their local economies in amazing ways.

As part of my keynote address, I tried to convey something of my personal experience as an investor in place-based, holistic projects. Here are some photos from the event, taken by Oregon Rural Action’s communications director Shaun Daniel. Click for full-size:


john fullerton joel

At Oregon Rural Action’s Annual meeting, I met Joel Rice, a local psychiatrist and community activist, who purchased a four-story brick building in downtown La Grande. He hopes it will house workshops and studio space for local artisans and community members. 

.Man in Foreground  People listening

Although they face real economic challenges, what I saw in the faces of the people of La Grande was a determination and resilience that is largely absent in my affluent Northeastern suburban community. 

white house

The “White House,” another of Joel Rice’s community investments, where local residents gather to browse the library of books he has donated, drink coffee and enjoy one another’s company.