| Sep 04, 2008

Sept 4, 2008 - Rural Life: Part 3

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Feature Article - September 4, 2008 What is Rural Life? Part 3

This is the second article in our summer series about the idea of “rural” as it applies to our region.

Evolution on Craig Road IIBy Inie Platenius

Looking out the window on a February afternoon in the early ‘70s, I saw an exhilarating scene. A young couple – she with hair to her waist, his to his shoulders – were walking hand in hand along our slushy road toward the village. Rumour had it that the farm next door had changed hands once again (The doctor from Toronto who had bought it for a summer home lasted less than two months. His wife could not abide insects.) I raced to the door, leapt from the porch, and with what must have seemed to the young couple an alarmingly manic glee, shrieked, “Are you the new neighbours in the Babcock farm?”

That was the beginning of a wave on Craig Road. Within a few years half a dozen young couples and families had bought farms and small acreages from the aging locals and were happily embarking on their back-to-the-land adventures – not just on Craig Road, but throughout the rocky Shield country, where land was cheap. Because farming was then still viable in the better soil of the southern Frontenacs, it saw hardly any of that influx. Mostly we came from cities – some from the States, where the Viet Nam war was forcing young men to make heart rending choices. Some had rural roots, but most had no farm experiences at all. Not that it stopped us from diving into every aspect of what we saw as the romance of sustaining ourselves with our own resources. In no time we had picked up tractors, disc plows, rakes, a broken down combine, cattle, pigs, chickens, and other assorted livestock, subscribed to Organic Gardening, and read Ruth Stout on composting. We dug up pasture for impossibly large vegetable gardens; we shared equipment, lost calves, drowned sheep, worked communally to hay each other’s fields, fought quack grass and burdock in the beans and carrots and generally set about to learn for ourselves just how hard a life our neighbours had lived. What a puzzlement we must have been to the bemused local population.

Like our rural neighbours, we were a mixed lot. Some of us began by farming full time, but like the locals around us, the economics defeated that dream and eventually at least one of every couple worked off the farm. Some of us integrated further as we joined churches, schools, and Women’s Institutes, and some of us carried our local involvement into new directions - planting seeds of new community adventures.

Today, scanning the Shield, I realize that it was often the newcomers who spearheaded the development of many community initiatives. North Frontenac Community Theatre, Blue Skies Music Festival, The Triangle newspaper (for many years the voice of Verona to Battersea) all began with a coming together of the dreams of relative newcomers combined with the goodwill and hard work of like-minded locals. Craig Road even provided the first gardening editor of Harrowsmith - the Canadian magazine publishing phenomenon, and later its editor, the very fellow I’d leapt out to greet on that February day. When you cross two varieties of crop, the offspring show “hybrid vigour” – an ability to thrive and grow that surpasses that of either parent. Hybrid vigour is what happened in the joining of the new wave of rural with the established inhabitants.

But in the early seventies, we newcomers were still outlanders. A couple of common factors, though, brought us together with our neighbours: we may have been nae and ignorant about farming, but we worked hard and that went some way to easing the gulf between us and the folks who’d been farming here for generations – and the businesspeople who sold us our supplies. We got advice and counsel from all directions. All we had to do was ask. In asking, we found common ground for conversation, and to possibly everyone’s surprise, that led to discovering even more things that we had in common.

We newcomers had a deep independence with a strong mistrust of big government and the rules that interfered with our desire to provide for ourselves in our own way. It turned out that this way of being in the world was exactly a rural mindset, and it still is. In the next installment, we’ll have a look at how rules for rural living have changed in the last 40 years.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

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