Why A Rural Summit?

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by Deron Johnston

A lot of people have asked me why I’m so passionate about the Rural Summit (www.ruralsummit.ca). As Chair of the Organizing Committee (ngruralsummit@gmail.com), I’m more than happy to explain my motivations at great length. However, before I get into that (which could go on for many pages/hours), I’m going to start out with what exactly the rural Summit is, for those of you who don’t already know.

The Rural Summit began when former municipal councillor, Jim Bertram, proposed a motion (based on language in the current Community Strategic Plan) to create what’s known today as the Rural Summit. The first Summit wasn’t quite what Jim had envisioned, so he decided to take it outside and make it a community-led initiative. He sought out a couple of people who he felt shared his vision for an event centered around rural economic development, and then quickly formed an organizing committee to make it happen.

That shared vision remains firmly in place for this year. Part of the reason that I share that vision is my firm belief that agriculture and local food production are the best opportunity to increase economic development activity and create jobs in our area. More and more people are starting to understand and care about what’s in their food, how it’s grown, how it’s produced, where it’s produced, and who produced it. The more food we produce locally and buy locally, the more money stays in our community and the more secure our food supply is. That means more jobs, local businesses are more profitable, and local government sees more tax revenue to provide the services that we need and want. An argument could also be made that locally produced food is also safer, as it’s easier to track the source of a product produced here than one made in another country.

I also believe that agriculture and local food, unlike many other types of businesses, are sectors that are more inclusive for people who are looking to start a business. To get started, all you really need is a back or front yard, or access to a small parcel of land, some seeds, and some time to work on your project. However, the most important ingredient would be the passion to do it. If you’ve got these, then anything is possible. You can start out feeding your family, at first, then start selling at your local farmers’ market, and then maybe graduate to supplying restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, and other institutions. This type of small-scale sustainable agriculture is perceived as the best way for the world to feed itself, according to a United Nations report on agriculture and food from a few years ago.

The final reason that I’ll discuss with you today about why I’m so passionate about a Rural Summit, is actually the place where it is being held. The Summit will be held on the former Kemptville College Campus, which, to my mind and that of many others, represents enormous potential to this region in terms of economic development activity and job creation. The Summit wants to attract visitors to (and help show off) the Campus, and create a narrative in their minds about what’s truly possible for the stunning property on Heritage Drive.

Before closing, the College provided a significant number of well-paid jobs that allowed people to be able to afford to buy homes, raise families, and drive our local economy. As owners of the Campus, the Municipality of North Grenville (and, eventually, the not-for-profit corporation that will run the Campus) has the opportunity to explore a variety of programming, such as bringing agricultural education, training, research and development back to the Campus. Thankfully, our new Municipal Council appears to be taking a serious look at, and re-thinking the previous vision for, the Campus.

The opportunity to highlight the sheer potential of the Campus and the economic benefit that it could bring to so many people and local businesses, is without a doubt the single most important reason that I’m so passionate about the Rural Summit. I hope you’ll agree and join us to help make that happen on April 12 and 13.

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