BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- If you haven't already heard the term "New Ruralism," you will soon. It's the growing trend of migration toward rural areas, and it is changing the face of the country's real estate and economy. Recognizing this movement, The Progressive Farmer magazine names the best places to live in rural America in its February issue.

The farm and country living publication researched and identified the most desirable rural communities based on cost of living, crime rates, air quality, access to health care, education, and leisure activities. The magazine singled out the top 10 areas overall, as well as the 20 best areas by region: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West/Southwest. Now in its second year, the list is the only one of its kind to name areas by county instead of city.



"Each month, The Progressive Farmer takes an in-depth look at rural America - its homes, farms, and its lifestyle in general," said Editor-in-Chief Jack Odle. "And over the years, we've seen a vast change in the face of rural America. Now we see all kinds of people - executives, celebrities, and average Americans yearning for more simplicity in their lives - purchasing a second home in the country, or making it a primary residence for their families."



1. Ontario County, New York, was named the best place to live overall. A short 45-minute drive from Rochester, this county, with a population of 103,127, has a growing tourism business based largely on the county's agricultural heritage. The county still boasts roadside vegetable stands, and the city of Naples interestingly holds the title of Grape Pie Capital of the World. The region also has a growing wine industry. Local farmers take an active role in the government, and the county is known for "democracy the way it was supposed to work," according to one resident.



Rounding out the list of the top 10 counties:



2. Union County, South Dakota



Running between Sioux Falls, S.D., and Sioux City, Iowa, Interstate 29 is the major artery that brings people and commerce into Union County. While there are light industry and planned communities in the south, the rest of the county is rural, the kind of place with pastoral churches and an old-fashioned soda fountain. The Progressive Farmer describes Union as a prosperous county with good schools, neat towns, and friendly people.



3. Oconee County, Georgia



One of two counties to make the list two years in a row, Oconee is close to Athens and a short drive from Atlanta. Family farms, horse barns, and plenty of nature trails are staples here, as are thriving businesses and historic buildings that contribute to a small-town flavor. The peaceful area is close to the University of Georgia, offering the chance at rural life for its employees. The county also boasts some of the state's best schools.



4. Grafton County, New Hampshire



The scenic White Mountain National Forest draws many visitors to this large New England county. Making our list for the second year, the quaint area boasts towns such as Bristol, Plymouth, Littleton, and Hanover, the home of Ivy League's Dartmouth College. Reminiscent of fictional Mayberry, this is the kind of town where residents come to the local barbershop just to watch hair getting cut.



5. Kendall County, Texas



The features of Kendall County range from thousands of acres of cattle, sheep, and goat ranches to new communities with million-dollar-plus farmettes and huge family ranches. Located in the Texas Hill Country, the county demonstrates the merging of German culture and the American Southwest.



6. Grundy County, Illinois



Sixty minutes from downtown Chicago, this county's close proximity to an urban area exemplifies the New Ruralism trend, with some residents commuting into work. Grundy boasts parks, hiking trails, hunting preserves, and fishing areas, and its farmers enjoy some of the richest farmland in the world.



7. Lancaster County, Virginia.



In 1608 Captain John Smith described this area as "a place where heaven and earth never agreed better to frame man's habitation." Residents agree. Beautiful scenery, along with a fishing industry, low crime, quiet living, modern healthcare, and good education, makes Lancaster a great place to live, even with its high land prices.



8. Boone County, Indiana



Close to Indianapolis, Boone County maintains a small-town feel. We describe it as "everything you expect from rural America." The county's Zionsville is an idyllic town with a brick-paved Main Street lined with antique stores, art galleries, and restaurants. Available land is somewhat scarce, thanks to agricultural commerce and the appeal of top-notch school systems.



9. Blaine County, Idaho



Wealth meets wilderness in Blaine County. The Rocky Mountains offer indescribable views, and U.S. Park Service roads and hiking trails outnumber county roads. The profitable tourism business from skiing in Sun Valley is the economic engine that drives Blaine's prosperity.



10. Hood River County, Oregon



With snow-capped Mount Hood to the south, stately Mount Adam to the north, and the picturesque Columbia River gorge in between, the scenery alone could make Hood River a great place to live. Prosperous fruit orchard and timber industries and the proximity to Portland don't hurt either.



In addition, the magazine ranked the top 200 counties overall on www.progressivefarmer.com/bestplaces. Also on the Web site, readers can develop a list of their own best places to live by inputting which region of the country they prefer and then ranking criteria such as good schools, low crime and clean air.



The Progressive Farmer is available by subscription only, which can be ordered via the Web site.



A trusted voice throughout rural America since 1886, The Progressive Farmer offers information and advice for rural life, celebrating farm and country living at its best. The magazine is published by Birmingham-based Southern Progress Corporation, a Time Inc. subsidiary.



SOURCE: The Progressive Farmer via PR Newswire.