Remember your rural neighbours

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By Nancy Payne

Nancy Payne grew up on a farm near Reaboro and now lives northeast of Lindsay. A magazine editor, a former CBC Radio producer and a freelance writer and editor, she never ceases to be amazed at the fascinating people and places of Kawartha Lakes.

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When summer brings day after day of rain, do you think of your fields, your construction contract, your weekend plans or your lawn? The answer to that question probably depends to a large extent on whether you live in town or in the country.

While we tend to think of all of Kawartha Lakes as rural, if you live in Lindsay, Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, or even some of the smaller villages, you might be surprised to know that many things you can take for granted just aren’t the same for those of us who live in the country. And if you came here from the GTA, no doubt you’re in for an even bigger surprise.

Columnist Nancy Payne.Outside town, we depend on wells. You may remember that the summer of 2017 was especially warm and dry. All over Kawartha Lakes, wells simply ran out of water, meaning rural dwellers had to have huge containers of water trucked in—especially difficult and expensive for farmers with livestock. Poorer hay yields due to the drought left many having to buy feed they would normally have grown. I know that was a hard summer for everyone, but just consider what it was like for people with no water in their homes and barns. To hear people in town talk about how brown their lawns were seemed a bit much in comparison.

Early this summer, of course, the cool, wet weather meant many farmers had to wait much later than usual to get on their land, delaying planting, reducing quality of hay and endangering some crops. Again, juxtapose that with hearing others complain about water levels affecting the dock at the cottage.

The contrast really hit home, though, when the provincial government announced a cash injection to improve rural internet and cell coverage throughout this area and eastern Ontario. I was genuinely surprised at the backlash—many online commenters seemed to feel this was a frivolous expense when compared with the needs of students, children with autism, people in need of medical care and so many others harmed by cuts resulting from the government’s spring budget.

In reality, outside town, reliable cell service and high-speed internet are elusive at best. It’s come a long way, but internet coverage in the country can’t begin to compare with the fast, consistent service available to those with cable. Our coverage is typically more expensive and is almost always capped. Internet and cell access isn’t a frill; it’s a basic requirement for the thousands of local citizens who run businesses from their homes (as my husband and I do), including farmers, contractors and the many other self-employed people who’ve chosen to make their homes in our beautiful area. The same is true for reliable cell service—imagine being in the middle of a crucial conference call and your cell phone just drops out, something that’s commonplace in rural areas.

It’s human nature to generalize from our own circumstances. And of course, we who live in the country need to remember that people who live in town have problems we don’t: homelessness, noise, higher house prices. We’ve all made choices to live where we do, and yes, we know that means living with the consequences.

We rural dwellers understand that our gravel roads may be—should be—lower on the snowploughs’ priority list and that the Wi-Fi will be spotty. What would be really nice, though, is a little more consideration of the effect of weather, government decisions, the economy and more on your rural neighbours’ lives and livelihoods.

At a time when public figures and political leaders seem intent on encouraging citizens to reduce the world to a grim state of “us” versus “them,” we can instead insist on being respectful of people in different circumstances, and recognizing that we all have a lot to learn about how other people live and work. The more we know about and can sympathize with each other, the stronger our community will be.

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