CORVALLIS, Ore. - A conference at Oregon State University on June 24-25 will examine how to strengthen the economic and social vibrancy of rural communities.

The Regards to Rural conference will also offer participants an opportunity to network with service providers, business and civic leaders, educators, researchers, volunteers, policymakers and funders.

Ben Hewitt, the author of "The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food," and Tom Stearns, the founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds, will be the opening keynote presenters. John Allen, who was raised on a ranch in Baker County and is the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Utah State University, will give a closing keynote speech about people making a difference in their rural communities.

The conference will be at the LaSells Stewart Center and the CH2M HILL Alumni Center on the OSU campus. The cost is $279 for both days, or $175 for June 24 and $150 for June 25. More information on the conference, speakers and registration is at

Several OSU faculty members will speak at the event. OSU economist Bruce Weber and Beth Emshoff, the director of OSU's rural educational outreach initiative called Oregon Open Campus, will examine how to strengthen links between the state's rural and urban areas. Economist Bruce Sorte will discuss how mid-sized businesses can drive Oregon's rural economies in what's known as "economic gardening."

OSU social demographer Lena Etuk and OSU economist Mallory Rahe will present scenarios to illustrate how communities can be socially and economically affected by certain decisions they make to attract a renewable energy plant or develop a local foods industry. They'll demonstrate how communities can perform this same type of analysis on their own by using data from the Oregon Rural Communities Explorer and the Oregon Regional Economic Analysis Project, two websites that OSU created and that are at

OSU experts will also offer a simulation to help participants understand the causes of hunger, empathize with people who experience it, gain knowledge of social services, and learn about the difficulties single parents might encounter as they navigate through food stamps, unemployment and childcare.

Other workshops will teach participants how to involve Hispanics in communities; form a cooperative business; start endowments; and keep small towns alive through farmers markets, community gardens and food pantries.

The Eugene-based nonprofit Rural Development Initiatives is organizing the event in partnership with OSU's Rural Studies Program and the OSU Extension Service.

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Bruce Weber, 541-737-1432