She was a go-getter growing up in her small town.
A straight-A student, Madeline Moore was involved in her community and school programs. She enjoyed her rural lifestyle and the strength naturally provided by that environment on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington.
But the support that helped her thrive did not include much encouragement to stick around.
It’s a common theme in rural communities. Many reflect fondly on the benefits of growing up in a small enclave where caring family and neighbors cheered them on, yet those benefits often lack a viable option to return. Such was the case with Moore, who felt an expectation to move away and do something great somewhere else and really never come back, except to visit her parents.
“There was always a pretty hard line drawn within the community that if you were going to be successful and if you were going to make money and have a career and have a stable home and all of those things that you really couldn’t do that here,” Moore said.
She attended college at the University of Oregon and graduated in 2011 with a degree in journalism and cinema. It was during her college years she realized how important rural life was to her. Moore found herself getting away most weekends to visit little communities for her photojournalism stories.
“I started to realize that rural was important, and part of my identity that I hadn’t been aware of.”
She fell in love and married during school and, after graduation, worked on organic farms in Ireland for three months with her husband, Jacob, as they considered next steps. Moore had always joked about starting a bakery in her hometown, someday. As she looked at the job market, during the period when the U.S. was slowly pulling itself out of the Great Recession, that promise of finding career success in the big city looked hollow. She considered her hometown and thought maybe it was time to return much sooner than expected. Just starting out, there isn’t a whole lot to lose, so why not give it a shot?
The couple moved to Chinook, Wash., near her hometown, and Moore opened Pink Poppie Bakery in January 2012. She once again found herself benefiting from a strong support network. A friend who owned a restaurant gave her free kitchen space, and she set sail selling baked goods wholesale at farmers markets and doing special orders for weddings and other events.
Starting the business required little money. She spent $2,000 to start Pink Poppie, half of which was for a mixer (she named it Helga) that a community member sold her for a great deal.
For Moore, success wasn’t about making millions. It was about doing something she enjoyed, as well as something that she felt was investing in her community, along with making enough to pay the basic bills.
“I think I barely paid my bills that first year, but it definitely grew over time,” Moore said. She later added, “I never started the bakery with this idea that I would be doing that until the day that I died.”
She ran the business for six years, which was longer than she initially planned. The business did well, as Moore created 50 or more wedding cakes per year, lots of special orders and supplied a few coffee shops. She tried retail for a while, “hated every minute,” and went back to her original business model. Pink Poppie Bakery was a business of one, plus a lot of dishwashing help from Moore’s husband and parents.
In 2017, the couple had their first child, a daughter, and Moore pressed pause on the bakery to be a mom. She began a new job as a private chef, with a flexible schedule.
Her story is part of a changing narrative in the small town-business landscape. Some of the rural business malaise which resonates from the post-industry boom may be wearing off. Many small towns exist because of large-scale industries – mining, manufacturing and in the case of the Washington coast, fishing. With the ebbs and flows of such industries, the traditional entry points for family-wage jobs became much harder to get into. Thus, a generation of young people felt encouragement to go somewhere else to find work.
Moore believes that was somewhat changed by the recession.
“Before that, at least out here in the Pacific Northwest, it was like graduate high school, go to college, get a tech job in Seattle and your life will be set from then on, and I think the recession kind of squashed that for a lot of people,” she said.
There are young people out there trying their hand at a career in a rural setting. With that effort, there is a sense of purpose going beyond the 9-to-5 ladder-climbing culture. There is a pride in the contributions being made to the community. Moore’s contributions include becoming more involved in local politics. She was elected to the hospital board and is part of other volunteer groups. She also connects with other young people in her region.
And now she is connecting with rural millennials throughout the U.S.
In the fall of 2016, she met with rural advocates Denise Pranger and Malloree Weinheimer in Port Townsend, Wash. As they talked about different projects, Moore asked the question, “What if we could get a couple hundred rural millennials from across the country together in one room and just start talking about what the next generation of rural looks like?”
The trio went to work on the idea and secured a grant through Wells Fargo. The effort, dubbed Rethinking Rural, held a symposium in March 2018 in Port Townsend, which brought in 50 millennials. The goal was to dialogue about rural life and how to effect change. Moore said it was nice to talk to others going through similar experiences and identify possible improvements within communities on a national scale.
“We kind of joked that the first symposium was a therapy session,” she added. “It was really helpful to see that there are other young people who cared about rural and the next generation.”
The symposium included a variety of millennials, many who were newly elected officials in their communities. There was a large percentage of women as well as tribal representatives.
The Rethinking Rural team now has a four-year plan, based on phone interviews with participants. Three more place-based symposiums over the next three years are planned, all supported and led by participants from the first symposium. Days after the 2020 election there will be a symposium in Nauvoo, Alabama. In 2021 there will be one focused on the indigenous populations, based in the Pacific Northwest. A third is still to be determined and will be based on what comes out of the previous two.
A crowdfunding campaign was recently completed for the effort, and Moore is enjoying making these connections with rural communities throughout the country. The Rethinking Rural team is organizing a workshop for the Rural Women’s Summit in South Carolina scheduled for the end of October. Moore is giving one of the “Firestarter” speeches at the end of the summit. In November, the team is headed to Alabama to scout the area for the 2020 symposium.
She is still that go-getter type, already giving back to her small town, and many others throughout the country.