Finding the Nutburgers

Des Moines French for The Moines graphic from RAYGUN clothing in Iowa (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Dry Midwestern humor from RAYGUN clothing in Des Moines, Iowa (photo of graphic by Sheila Scarborough)

My friend Patsy Terrell introduced me to the concept of “nutburgers,” which is a much more fun way than “creative class” to describe artsy, interesting, creative people who don’t quite fit the mold, but who turn out to be a town’s all-important engine for growth, development and escape from irrelevance.

I’m pleased to report that it’s getting much easier to find the nutburgers when I travel, even in the most unexpected places. I enjoy seeing such sparks of excitement in communities, and it’s striking how much they have in common.

Where you find nutburgers, you will find decent coffee, usually served by someone with a lot of tattoos and body piercings. The only guy or gal in town with dreadlocks will be at the coffee shop.

The farm to fork/farm to table/slow food movements are a perfect fit for them; the nutburgers are helping to make farmers markets everywhere THE place to be on Saturday mornings.

They often support a vibrant live music scene.

Nutburgers don’t have an inferiority complex about how they want to live their lives, and so they have the confidence to poke fun at themselves like the graphic above from RAYGUN clothing in Des Moines, Iowa (where I spent almost 30 minutes going from shirt to shirt laughing at how they nail living in U.S. “Flyover Country.”)

They cluster in the parts of town where the buildings are old (ahem, “have architectural character”) and the rents are cheap, usually downtown. Invariably there is a battle in a few years because once they make a place cool, they get priced out of the market there.

They introduce the terms “pop-up store” and “co-working space” to even the smallest communities.

They use technology, web access and social media as a lever to overcome one of the biggest objections to living in smaller towns or more rural areas – the sense of isolation and being cut off from the vibrancy of clusters of diverse people in larger cities. Small Biz Survival calls it “living anywhere, anywhen” thanks to digital literacy.

Bonus for travelers: they don’t look at you strangely when you ask for WiFi.

I’m seeing this nutburger phenomenon everywhere lately, from tiny Kilgore and Winnsboro, Texas to bigger places like Des Moines, Oklahoma City and Kansas City. As a traveler, it’s getting harder and harder to find a bleak, boring, Last Picture Show sort of town, and I think that’s a marvelous thing.

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