I recently viewed a TVO Agenda segment on Rural Ontario which among other things discussed “What is rural Ontario”, something which I and many others have tried to define unsuccessfully. The guests included freelance writer, farmer and former editor of our local paper Jim Merriam whose articles about rural issues I always enjoy when I occasionally see a Sun Times paper with his column in it. Also present was Rob Hannam, Chair of the Rural Ontario Institute and two other guests. As always with Steve Pakin hosting an interesting discussion ensued which I will not try and outline here except to say that despite being unable to define 'rural' there was consensus on a couple of issues several of which I have written about on these pages time and time again.
Those being Infrastructure, Internet and Communications and the benefits that rural communities bring to our urban counterparts, not the least of which is the agricultural input to our food basket. One guest pointed out that rural is as much a state of mind as a place, it is as perhaps indicated in the term used to describe what farmers do “cultural”, this I feel is very much a good description and perhaps why we out here in the country have such difficulty getting our point of view across to urban residents and politicians and why we likewise have difficulty with understanding the city folks point of view. There is a considerable cultural difference.
As the guests all agreed the answer is in communications, communications, communications – but how we as rural communities enable that dialogue is the difficulty, once again our guests agreed .... they had no suggestions as to how to improve the conversation between the two solitudes. As regular readers will know I have previously suggested that for rural areas where considerable travel is often necessary for face to face gathering to discuss such issues the internet could be a great tool, unfortunately it seems that rural folks have yet to realize the power of this tool. Whether that is due to no having a suitable forum in which to participate, the general feeling of 'I cannot make a difference' that currently infects our society,a lack of a decent internet connection in many rural areas or some other roadblock is hard to tell. I did note that Jim at least did have a high speed connection that enabled him to participate by skype, I can but dream of such and whether it would even be affordable or have very limited volume limits if it was available is also debatable, I cannot even review the ½ hr TVO program without hogging much of my monthly allocation and even then not as a streaming video due to speed limitations.
As Steve pointed out there is a perception out there that say rural folks are such a small (and ever declining) percentage of our population that the political machine and the urban majority may not need to bother with those 'whining farmers and country bumpkins”. It is difficult for those whom I have previously identified as “The Forgotten Minority” to counter these perceptions when that old country adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is so true and there are so many wheels falling off across Ontario. That the panel were all optimistic as the the future of our rural and farm communities was good to hear, I just wish I could agree with them.
Before I wind up this post I must give the Rural Ontario Institute a bit of a plug for their efforts to provide links to rural and agricultural information on their web site. They have so many links that it is almost overwhelming but the Rural Ontario Reader and their links page will give a good starting point for those researching or seeking more information on rural issues. I just wish that the efforts to create an interactive forum for rural issues started by the FWIO and supported by the ROI or something similar was a better and more widely used method of allowing rebuttal and dialogue on rural issues.
Thanks for this panel discussion Steve and TVO, lets see some more programs on rural issues in the future.