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Behavior Change
New Research Shows ‘Urban-Rural Divide’ Bridged by Interest in Sustainable Lifestyles

A recent survey found that 77% of US adults believe the pandemic has driven people in the country apart. But we’ve also seen how people’s behaviors and interests have changed in ways that demonstrate shared cultural values, regardless of where they live.

The so-called “rural-urban divide” in the US has been a key theme in social and political discourse in recent years. For better or worse, this idea of two different Americas has focused attention on how people living in or near cities are different from people living out in the countryside. Yet, there are important similarities in how Americans everywhere are choosing to live today. We’re seeing it firsthand at Tractor Supply Company: A growing number of Americans, both country folk and city dwellers, share interests in responsible land stewardship and sustainable lifestyles.

The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered the day-to-day behaviors of most of us in the US and changed our perspectives on the places we choose to live. In 2021, for instance, one-in-five US adults expressed a preference for living in a city — down from one-in-four in 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The pandemic has reshaped and rewritten customer behavior; and it's why we have seen such a large migration of customers from urban centers to rural and suburban areas, moving into Tractor Supply's neighborhood.

Sadly, the Pew survey also found that 77 percent of US adults believe the pandemic has driven people in the country apart. But we’ve also seen how people’s behaviors and interests have changed in ways that demonstrate shared cultural values, regardless of where they live. In short, more people are going outside and remembering how good it feels to exercise or garden in the fresh air. We’re seeing how important our shared parks and other green spaces are for recreation and community connection; and we’re learning what it means to be more resilient in our homes, our industries, and even our personal well-being.

At Tractor Supply, we saw evidence of this in the increased sales of numerous products. Our 2,000-plus stores are located to serve the rural lifestyle needs of not only rural customers, but also suburban and urban customers who like to work and play outdoors; so we have a unique perspective on overarching trends. For instance, the pandemic was the start of an increased demand for chicks, as more people began raising their own egg-laying flocks — leading to two record years, with many new people raising poultry. Seed sales also went up as customers across geographies began growing more of their own food.

  • Over half of our customers (54 percent) grew a garden of some kind in 2021

  • Nearly all (98 percent) of our customers who planted a garden in 2021 plan to do so again in 2022

  • 1/3 of customers who did not grow a garden in 2021 plan to start growing a garden in 2022

Plus, the sale of rain barrels increased — suggesting more customers are tuning in to the advantages of sustainable water harvesting.

Wanting to learn more about these emerging trends, we commissioned a customer survey earlier this year that revealed numerous behavior changes that bridge the rural-urban divide. For example:

  • Since the pandemic, 2 in 3 people said they have made efforts to live more sustainably;

  • Over 40 percent of respondents began growing their own food through backyard gardening or poultry; and

  • More than 50 percent started their own "sustainable hobbies" in the last two years.

At Tractor Supply, we see this as a positive cultural shift, but recognize there’s still much work to do in helping these trends take root and grow. For instance, 54 percent of respondents said they think it’s expensive to live sustainably — the average person estimates the lifestyle costs $11,000 more per year. Seven in 10 respondents said having a large yard space is mandatory to live sustainably. And the people who didn’t start sustainable hobbies said it was too much work or they didn’t know where to begin.

Our role as a relationship retailer is providing guidance and advice to help our customers overcome these hurdles or misperceptions. We can do this, for instance, by explaining to customers that our line of battery-powered equipment produces no direct emissions and is less expensive to operate than gas-powered tools. We can show people how composting, organic lawn care, rain gardens, bio-diverse habitats, and other sustainable lifestyle choices can be impactful even in the tiniest spaces. Plus, by hiring and training local Team Members, we can speak neighbor-to-neighbor about projects that are simple and easy — such as recycling batteries or taking advantage of free used-oil disposal at their local Tractor Supply store. We can make new equipment for a budding farm more approachable by having more ‘Try Before You Buy’ events, like the one we hosted for our Greenworks Pro 60V platform launch — where customers are able to see the equipment in action and ask practical questions about their applications.

We talk a lot about “Life Out Here” as the ethos behind everything we do at Tractor Supply. Our 2021 sustainability report is titled Stewards of Life Out Here, because we recognize the important role we must play in helping to protect the ecosystems on which we and our customers rely for our sustenance, livelihoods and well-being.

The Pew survey found that about a third of US adults believe it will take more than two years for their lives and communities to return to how they were before the coronavirus pandemic. While there’s much to look forward to in that scenario — including closer connections in communities across the country — we’re working to make sure that the new, more sustainable lifestyle choices that have emerged in these tough times are here to stay.