Rural summit 2.0

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by Deron Johnston

Since the Rural Summit took place this past April 7, there have been many people asking when the next one will be. If not for the recent municipal election, the answer to those inquiries might have already been answered by now; but some of the original organisers’ time was consumed running (unsuccessfully) for political office. They may now have freed up the time they need to build on their success from April. If it happens, this year’s event may have to follow the template from last year, whereby the work of organising will have to be done in a very short time frame.

For those of you scratching your heads about what exactly the Rural Summit was, it was a day-long conference style event that came about by a motion brought forward by former North Grenville Municipal Councillor Jim Bertram. Despite opposition, the motion squeaked through a vote at a council meeting and the idea for the event was born.

The first edition was organised by municipal staff and did not reflect the original intention of Jim’s idea. It became a kind of “open house”, with municipal Department Directors sharing information about their various departments, what they do, and their responsibilities. It was a good opportunity for the Directors to interact directly with residents and respond to any questions they had. It was well-received, but not really what Jim had in mind.

The second edition (April 2018’s version) came about through Jim’s desire to take over creative control of the event and have an ad-hoc committee organise it, rather than municipal staff. Jim recruited three others to form the committee and the group set about organizing the event closer to his original vision.

To the committee, it was clear that agriculture has been a large part of life of the North Grenville area in the past. The committee believed that agriculture could also be an important component of our future as well. As North Grenville has grown in population, the amount of agricultural land, and the number of farms and agriculture-based businesses, has seemingly decreased.

The committee felt that the Summit could be used to showcase some of the thriving local agriculture-based businesses, highlight some of the tools that were available to help these types of businesses, encourage entrepreneurship in agriculture, and to start the conversation about what was possible in terms of economic development through agriculture in the North Grenville area. It was no coincidence that the venue used was the Kemptville Campus, which was an ideal setting in more ways than one. As a matter of fact, the final panel discussion to close the day was on the Campus itself.

Though called in quite late in the game, local event planner, ITM Events, helped create a welcoming affair that exceeded the committee’s expectations, with almost double the anticipated paid attendance for the event. The MPP and MP attended, as well as representatives from a number of agricultural organizations from across Eastern Ontario. The feedback on the surveys filled out by attendees was overwhelmingly positive, with many people, including trade show vendors, sponsors and presenters, expressing their interest in returning.

Though the committee has yet to formally meet, there have been a number of ideas batted about, including expanding to a two-day conference, expanding the trade show to include local vendors in a larger venue, and possibly adding optional tours of local interest to the agenda. With a couple of hurdles yet to clear, it may indeed be possible that Rural Summit 2.0 comes to fruition.

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