Why move to rural Minnesota?

New University of Minnesota Extension research being published later today shows people in their 30s and 40s continue to move to rural areas that otherwise are experiencing population declines.

So we asked sources in our Public Insight Network why they had moved to (or back to) rural Minnesota and how the experience has been. The benefits and challenges seem to break down into three categories: community, lifestyle and economics. Check out what some of our sources had to say and click on the link at the bottom to add your thoughts:


traciyule.JPGWe wanted our child to have a sense of community and to know all of her classmates. I like knowing that I can count on any of my neighbors in an emergency. I also like the fact that she can run around our neighborhood and I’m not going to worry as much as I would in the city.

-Tracie Yule, moved to Belle Plaine 10 years ago

alyssabesonen.JPGIt has been a much more difficult transition than I anticipated. Many people who are here grew up and have family connections. Our biggest challenge is forming relationships with others in hopes that we can have adult conversation other than amongst each other.

-Alyssa Besonen, moved to Madison, Minn. three years ago

ericaellis.jpgMeeting people when I first moved here was very difficult. A lot of people have lived here their whole lives and have established friendships, so breaking in to that was difficult. But the friends I have made are wonderful. And the easy access to nature and outdoor activities is nice. We have a house on two acres and it’s nice to have that kind of space.

-Erica Ellis, moved to Bemidji 14 years ago

adriennesweeney.JPGMy community is nothing like I expected and everything that I had hoped. Growing up in a huge city like Philadelphia, I had no idea what to expect from a small (REALLY small) town. What I have found is that it is one of the most artistically creative places I have ever been. To be able to participate in a molten iron pour or attend a barn dance or string quartet performance with your neighbors is so inspiring. I have been more artistically energized here in this town of 750 than any of the “big cities” I have lived in. People seem actually more open-minded than in the metropolitan areas in which I have lived. Since you know everyone, suffering is more real, as is joy.

-Adrienne Sweeney, moved to Lanesboro 10 years ago

shawn simonson.JPGWe thought we would live here five years or so and then move on. We have been here fourteen years and now have a seven year-old too. It just became the place we are going to stay at and raise our family, possibly passing on our place to our daughter someday.

-Shawn Simonson, Lake Crystal

shannonpeterson.JPGIt is very isolated. Before having children I hated it here and went to the cities almost every weekend, but since my second child’s birth I have enjoyed the time in the country. Is it what I expected? Yes. People are very private and stay to themselves. I don’t have many friends, except now have more with children in school and active involvement with that and sports.

-Shannon Peterson, moved to Sleepy Eye 19 years ago

pauljensen.JPGThe folks are nice but colder than I expected, it has not been easy to break into the community without relatives or history here. On the other hand, folks have been nice, the home and property are awesome, schools and health care are off the chart good, it is safe and stress-free, and the distance to the Twin Cities would be considered a commute by my old neighbors in California.

There is no perfect place to live. I have also lived in Florida, Virginia, Guam, and San Diego. They have crime, a huge homeless problem, poor local services, poor public schools, bad healthcare for regular people, and everything is super expensive. But Minnesota is not perfect either, “Minnesota Nice” isn’t really. It is more like “Minnesota Polite & Passive Aggressive”. I wish folks would actually tell me what they think more and worry less about someone getting upset over the truth. That is the dirty little Minnesota secret, if you ask me. But we are staying put, even with as much as we hate the weather! This is a great place, and a great place to live.

-Paul Jensen, Alden

sarahlutter.jpgA big challenge is knowing who to trust. We have learned the hard way that those who befriend us right away can have ulterior motives because they have power (real or perceived) in the community and use it to manipulate. What I like the best is being able drive to the Twin Cities (in roughly an hour) to visit friends, which helps me feel less isolated.

-Sarah Lutter, moved to Litchfield seven months ago

lauraknudsen.jpgWe felt that growing up in an area with a stronger sense of community was important when raising our kids. What I didn’t consider before moving is what it would be like to live in a non diverse area. We have been shocked at some of the racism we have found. We share the same European heritage as most of the residents and haven’t been directly impacted in anyway but it has been difficult to express my concerns about this topic. I want to make sure these attitudes are not passed on to my children. I also didn’t expect the cost of living to be so out of balance with the wages in the area.

When I lived in the metro the legislature passed a law limiting the ability of local school districts to tax second homes. As a resident of Minneapolis, it seemed reasonable that a person should not have to pay taxes to a school district that they would not be using. As a resident of the area, I now have a different understanding of the impact of this law. In Alexandria many homes and properties are owned by people outside our area. All that property is blocked from potential taxable revenue to our school district. Yet in order for our area to provide the services and industries those vacationers and seasonal resident relay upon we need to provide quality schools.

-Laura Knudsen, moved to Alexandria eight years ago

cynthia french.JPGI am moving back to the cities. The decision is partially social and partially financial. I cannot sustain myself financially (the cost of living is not really that much different moving to a rural area. My rent is a lot less, but heat is more (I have a larger residence), and all the other bills stay the same). Rural communities don’t have the same type of salary ranges as cities for nonprofit workers (not just in the arts), so as a single person, I just can’t justify staying here for the job. I am also missing the creative outlets that I had in the city, and want to get back to pursuing my own creative work. I will be returning to the cities in June.

-Cynthia French, moved to Little Falls 16 months ago


I was definitely not missing rural life, but eventually warmed to the idea of moving back when I realized we could afford to buy an acreage, while we couldn’t afford to buy anything in the Twin Cities area. The people are a little more progressive than I remembered them being, but it’s hard to get to know people.

-Amy Hoglin, moved to Lake Wilson 14 years ago

“City life” certainly has its advantages in terms of convenience, but I truly prefer a more laid back lifestyle in the country. Reasons include more space between neighbors, fewer regulations on land use, and as odd as it may sound but perhaps my most important factor- use of a private well/septic sytem. I truly cannot stomach the taste (and contaminants) of city water!

-David White, moved to Sauk Rapids six years ago

junekallestad.JPGI was born and raised in Minneapolis and did not want to move to a small town. I thought people would be small-minded (in some ways I still see that, but there are small-minded people in Minneapolis, too!) and there would be nothing to do. I found out that I LOVE the woods and outdoors. Didn’t know that about myself. And I have a lovely quality of life even though I don’t make a lot of money.

-June Kallestad, moved to Cloquet 19 years ago

aurorajacobsen.JPGThe biggest challenge is recalibrating my expectations to a small town. I still miss the dining choices we had in a larger city as well as other shopping options and most of all my running club! What I like the best is how fantastic all the options are for outdoor activities. I can put a kayak on my car and be out on the water in 10 minutes. I can be hiking in the bluffs in 15. On a nice day in the summer, my neighborhood has no traffic; everyone is out doing something.

-Aurora Jacobsen, Winona

It is more than we expected. We absolutely love living where we do. It is so quiet and peaceful. We love that our kids have the oppurtunity to help raise pigs each summer for our own consumption as well as a vegetable garden. We feel fortunate to have our own little piece of heaven far away from the traffic and congestion of the metro area. The biggest challenge is the commute. Most of the year it is not a problem, but winter traveling can be tricky. One thing that has made rural living much easier in recent years is the ability to shop online.

-Terri Barrett, moved to Murdock six years ago


benanderson.JPGI was burnt out and tired of the city. I wanted to return to the area I grew up and try apply my experience there. I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to or would do. I just knew I wanted to get out of D.C. at that time.

There are big generational issues in rural areas. People in rural areas always say we want our kids to go off to college and then come back and contribute our economy and community in some way. It’s not that simple when parents and grandparents are still working and like things “the way they’ve always been.”

-Ben Anderson, moved to Thief River Falls three years ago

karen tolkkinen.JPGYou know what’s funny, is you visit Minnesota’s north woods or lakes region and you see all these cute little shops and think, oh, what a fun place to live. You don’t realize that those cute little shops are closed September through May. They make all their money off summer tourists. So when you move there, for most of the year you just see dark windows on Main Street.

No question: The biggest challenge is financial. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I lived in the Twin Cities, I looked down a little at poor people. You know, “Get a job.” Well, when you’re 30 miles from the nearest employer, and gas prices are $3.60 a gallon, and the job only pays $10 an hour, you really have to weigh whether that job is worth it.

It’s so easy to feel part of the community. You can move to a rural area and it’s not long before you’re in the grocery store and recognize that lady from church, or that guy from the play you saw last weekend. City life can be pretty anonymous, but in the country, you might actually have gone to school with the EMT who gives you CPR, or be an ex-in-law to the township clerk. This familiarity can be good or bad, but so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

-Karen Tolkkinen, moved to Clitherall two years ago

catschermeister.JPGIt is hard to get some necessities without driving to larger towns. Everything is just a bit more expensive. Worst of all after my company-wide layoff I have found it difficult to find similar work, and the people who live here are underpaid for their skill and education levels.

-Cat Schermeister, moved to Menahga eight years ago

bryanhansel.JPGThe biggest challenge is lack of broadband Internet. In today’s worlds, businesses need broadband. The state really needs to step it up and get broadband to everyone. I think this is one of the biggest failures of Minnesota when it comes to businesses.

-Bryan Hansel, moved to Grand Marais eight years ago

My new community is my old community – I grew up in Park Rapids and am a third-generation resident (my grandfather settled here in the 1930s). So, I knew what to expect: a great community in which to raise the family, surrounded by a fabulous natural environment (the headwaters of the Mississippi lie just 20 miles away from town center). But I also knew to expect limited economic opportunity: upon graduating from high school here many years ago, my friends and I dubbed it a “BYOJ” area – “Bring Your Own Job”.

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge of living in rural areas or small towns is economic: making enough money to survive and thrive. It’s very unlikely a high-paying job will even exist, let alone be handed to you. You have to dial down your financial expectations, while at the same time be ready to do whatever it takes to survive financially. What I like best about small town life is convenience – everything is close by, whether that’s the grocery store or walking paths through the woods. I also love that strong sense of community rarely found elsewhere.

-Dave Konshok, moved to Park Rapids six years ago

Have you moved to (or back to) rural Minnesota? Share your experiences here — or in the comments.