There’s lots that’s attractive in rural communities for young people say those who have grown up rural and either stayed or returned.
The problem is many young people just don’t know what they have.
When Katelyn Moore left for agriculture college, she didn’t expect to be returning home to farm, but now she’s farming full time with her father and brother near Benmiller, in Huron County. She also operates a Pioneer seed dealership.
The sense of community is an important binder of rural people she said during a panel of young entrepreneurs during the Rural Talks to Rural conference recently in Blyth.
“My neighbours where I live would go to bat for me if they had to. I know I can count on my neighbours and community to help me out,” she said.
The five rural entrepreneurs involved in the panel were challenged to envision what a rural community would look like if they had to build one from scratch.
The discussion ended up around the benefits they see, as they age, from staying in or returning to their rural communities.
Grace Vanden Heuvel was raised on a hog farm near Goderich and recently returned to the town after a career in Toronto. She said the stereotypes she saw as a young person — such as that everyone knows your business and is involved in other people’s lives — were a negative at one time, but can also be a positive.
She’s part of a young person’s group — Engage Goderich — that works to connect young people in town and create opportunities for them to socialize and to engage in professional development.
“It’s the feeling of being welcomed somewhere that drew me back to Goderich. I have a business coach who helps me every day.”
Nick Vinnicombe lives in the country outside Walton. He started Lake Effect Media when he was 17. He went away to Loyalist College and has now moved home to continue to run his video and photography business. He has found lots of people willing to help him, but he’s stuck with poor quality internet service — and in a business that moves large data files — that means he’s had to drive to Goderich at midnight to find better internet.
He said he and his friends — the few that returned to or stayed in the rural area — struggle with finding social events. Getting a cab from Goderich to Walton after a night at a bar is prohibitively expensive he said. However, he said there are social events that people his age just haven’t tried out and likely should.
“You need to see a benefit to come back here and many people my age just aren’t seeing that right now.”
Jeremiah Sommer, a building contractor, who lives in the country, and who grew up in the country, said that young people should love where they live for what it is.
“People say there is nothing to do, but I’ve never found that. People should realize that less is more and that is an okay thing to have in a community. It can be nothing sometimes and be great.”
Luke Elliott said he has had several jobs in his young career, something he said is common for young people, although the rest of the panel had generally stuck to one career and a couple of jobs. He’s now working for a cannabis producer in Tiverton, so has a commute from his home in Goderich, where he served as a young town councillor. He learned from his time on town council that people have different ways of communicating and not all liked to just communicate through a phone, as people of his generation often do.
When asked what he’d like to see in a new rural community, he suggested a place where citizens were unplugged from constant tethering to their phones and communication would be valuable.
There was little consensus from the panel, each of whom had their own reason to find their way back to rural Huron County, on what they’d like to see in a rural community.
However, Sommer said that scale is important. When services and businesses and networks are smaller, people can be more connected to their rural communities.
“Things can be smaller and more scaled properly to the community and that means people can be more connected to it.”