Shaking Hands With Rural System

I stirred my coffee to calm my nerves as he glanced over my resume. I had read through his website, but felt utterly unsure of where I would fit into the complicated web that is Rural System. Dr. Giles smiled and asked me about my experience as a woodworker.

“It’s thanks to my supervisor, really, who heard me saying how much I would like to learn to build a violin,” I told him. “The construction crew funded the wood and tools and I taught myself everything else from a book.” I couldn’t yet see how my woodworking experience would help a land management system like Rural System get off the ground. 

Dr. Giles, however, seemed to have it all mapped out in his mind already. “I think you could be a part of the Sculptor’s Group. There are about 50 different groups or companies in Rural System, operating on or from the properties we manage.” He spoke as if I could start working on building the woodworking business the next day. Such is the clarity, the brightness of his vision.

I’ve learned since that Rural System has a long way to go before it is in full operation, but the strength and integrity of that vision is what will carry it through to reality.

Rural System is designed to be the saving grace for landowners who don’t have the time or energy to manage their land on their own. Referred to as “absentee” landowners, these individuals might prefer to live in a nearby town or city, but still need to make money off their land. Rural System is the first cooperative and capitalistic private land management system, and the only system to address unmanaged private property.

Let’s take a brief look at how it plans to work.

The properties under contracted management with Rural System are dubbed “enterprise environments.” Enterprise environments in an area are organized into clusters so that they can share equipment and supplies with each other to cut back on costs. In this way, a new farm or forestry endeavor has help getting started and can begin turning a profit on the land that much quicker. The logistics of this arrangement are all handled systematically in a program called “VNodal.”

Chalkboard diagram of Rural System

VNodal is prescriptive software, which is designed to recommend optimal management actions based on a set of data. Enterprise Environments are monitored continuously, providing VNodal with data on the quality of the soil and water, the species present, the slope and aspect of the land, etc. VNodal’s prescriptions are made with the goal of increasing profits for each enterprise environment and sustaining them within reasonable bounds over a planning horizon of 150 years, rolling forward into the future.

The trick with Rural System is not to get lost. As Dr. Giles himself has written, entering a system is like walking into a room full of doors. In order to get anywhere you have to just pick a door and walk through. Not until you have walked through every door and connected the hallways beyond will you understand the system entirely. But fortunately, with Rural System you have a guide. Walk with me, and we can explore together Rural System’s Groups, Clusters, Enterprise Environments, and the brains behind it all: VNodal. Perhaps you, too, may discover how you can be involved with Rural System.

Some links in this post lead to Guide to Rural System, a site featuring in-depth, comprehensive coverage of Rural System concepts, actively updated by Rural System founder Robert H. Giles, Jr. since the mid-1990s.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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