Few among us ever achieve a glimpse into the heart of rural America as broad and comprehensive as the one Nathan Winters experienced in the summer of 2009. Weary dairy farmers in Wisconsin, big cattle ranchers in Montana, corn growers in you-name-the-state.
From left-leaning young farmers in Vermont to right-leaning ranchers out West, every type of American farmer was among those Winters came face to face with on his 4,300-mile cross-country bike trip that summer.
What did he find? Rural America boasts a community of quality people concerned with our food production. And despite our individual beliefs and circumstances, we all might have more in common than we like to admit.
During a conversation with a Montana cattle rancher, Winters remembers the rancher mentioning that it’s fairly easy to get a hat from China, but not a steak from down the road, and how that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“I think everyone across the country (thinks) we don’t need to be importing and exporting all this food. We’ve got plenty of it here in our own country, and we need to slow things down and get back to the basics. I think that was something everyone across the board was onboard with,” says Winters.
He also encountered that same local-centric emphasis throughout the northern states of the country.
Prior to embarking on the ride that undoubtedly exposed him to new perspectives, Winters worked as a software developer in Southern California. The recession of 2008 left him without a job, and, discussing it today, he calls it the best thing that ever happened to him.
After a trip to Thailand and backpacking in Southeast Asia and living in Southern California, Winters – who grew up in a small town – realized that throughout his travels, he had missed out on a portion of rural American culture and locations similar to where he was from in the Northeast United States.
Setting up his trip so he would navigate some of the regions he’d never visited, Winters decided on a route from Belfast, Maine, westward through Vermont, the Midwest, Northern Plains and then on west over the Cascade and Rocky mountains, ending in Bellingham, Washington.
From May 9 to October 5, it was Winters with his bike and camping gear, and plenty of characters who make up the fabric of rural America Going viral
Using a keen aptitude for social media – Twitter (@follownathan) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/follownathan), as well as YouTube – Winters shared his journey.
On This website, you can see video interviews with people like Art Thelen, proprietor of Wild Rose Dairy in La Farge, Wisconsin, and a dairy farmer with 1,000 dairy cows to milk daily around the clock, who encourages whoever will listen to come to his farm and look at his operation. As transparent as his insistence on the quality of his dairy, Thelen is equally transparent in his reverence for his predecessors in keeping the family farm alive rather than pursuing other vocations that would result in higher income.