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Stories about Ontario’s rural rebound will be a page turner

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything, except resolve.

Even though we’ve entered our third month of physical distancing and various measures of isolation, for the most past, we haven’t given up.

In some cases, we can’t. What alternatives are there for parents working at home and trying to educate their children at the same time? Or people hanging onto businesses that they’ve put heart and soul into for years and years? Or farmers whose crop-and-livestock production depends on a tightly prescribed schedule?

They’re all showing resolve. And they’ll all have stories to tell when we start to rebound from the pandemic.

Rural Ontario’s rebound will be particularly fascinating to document. It was already isolated and service-deprived when the pandemic hit; people had to find even more new ways to cope. While most of the rest of the world was connecting through the Internet and trying to bolster its collective pandemic-dampened spirits, rural Ontario continued to be saddled with the same unbelievable underservicing it’s suffered from since Day One.

And on and on. Nice weather makes the situation more tolerable, but the extended state of emergency declaration reminds us we’re far from being out of the woods.

Documenting rural communities’ efforts to get through it all is part of a new initiative from the Ariss-based Rural Ontario Institute, called Rural Rebound. It’s meant to add momentum to recovery, to help communities learn from each other and be stronger as we rebound from the pandemic.

On the institute’s website, it invites rural Ontarians to “share a story of creative solutions amidst the challenges of these unsettling times.”

It says it’s interested in all types of stories, whether they are driven by agencies and local government, rural businesses (agri-food and otherwise) or community organizations.

And it expects collaboration to be a common theme.

For example, a sample of some of the stories you’ll find there now include how grain farmers rallied to provide cash and products to food banks, how a high-quality delivery service is connecting local farmers with discerning home cooks, and how paramedics are launching community outreach programs.

Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, Ernie Hardeman, focused on rural resilience in his annual local food report, released Wednesday as part of Local Food Week in the province.

He referred to the “local agri-food heroes” who have kept food on store shelves and kitchen tables during the pandemic, and cited specific efforts.

For example, craft breweries and distilleries adapted their production facilities to produce hand sanitizer and address the supply shortage.

Local public health units and agencies, along with industry and community food organizations, collaborated to offer weekly meal packages to families, in place of school food programs that aren’t currently operating.

And food banks, industry partners and local communities worked together to create and distribute emergency food boxes to those in need.

“Over the last two months we have heard stories of hard-working and dedicated people who have adapted to these challenging times and gone above and beyond to ensure access to local Ontario food,” he said. “The commitment shown by our farmers, food processors, grocery store workers, truck drivers, restaurateurs and everyone across the agri-food sector during the COVID-19 outbreak is inspiring.”

Agri-food is a major driver in Ontario, contributing more than $47 billion to the provincial GDP. With that kind of profile, the stories will keep on coming. You’ll read about some of them here, in the Observer. And you’ll find a round up at Rural Rebound. 

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