One thing that continues to be an issue in the church responding to rural issues and creating resources for rural communities is the conflating of rural and agricultural. Yes, quite a few people in rural communities are involved in agriculture directly or indirectly. Essentially, unless we are only hunter/gatherers, we are all indirectly involved with agriculture by eating. But, according to the USDA, agriculture only made up 7% of job in non-metro counties (the horrible name they give rural counties).
Dominating rural spaces in terms of employment are government jobs manufacturing, retail, and healthcare/social assistance programs. While this may not include people who farm alongside their full time work ( a very real reality, as agriculture can often not full support a family), agriculture is still not the dominant economic driver overall. Although it likely is in many areas.
Therefore, as we think of rural spaces and how we engage them, we cannot simply reduce them to agriculture. While it may be part of their lives and heritage, overuse of one symbol or archetype or even stereotype, can make people who do not fit into that particular frame of reference or that rural life is crystalized in a time where agriculture was it.
Instead, I recommend a variety of images based on the realities of the community. Even when I teach Jesus as rural figure, I know that he was likely not a farmer, or at least, not as his primary role. He likely worked in construction (as historically we think of him as a carpenter). His disciples worked in government (Matthew), resource extraction (The fishing disciples), community organizing and activism (Simon), and likely other jobs.
And today, many rural folk have no idea how to farm or where their food even comes from. The reality is, rural life is complex, rich, and multifaceted, and we cannot distill it down into a singular images. Instead, we should be collecting stories of rural life, experience, and industry, and work to create the responses and resources needed.
The reality is, my understanding of rural life growing up was farming on the side if you had land and time, and working in manufacturing, schools, or retail.
What has been your rural experience?