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Turning challenge into innovative opportunity

Sophiasburgh school

by PEC Mayor Robert Quaiff

Political decision-making carries with it a constant challenge to balance reacting to today’s pressing issues while considering what is best in the medium and longer term.

So complex and rapidly changing is the current scope of municipal government that local Councils can often struggle to be proactive in grasping opportunities for a better future, before they pass by.

But from time-to-time, we get it right, usually with the conviction of a community’s visionary champions, building strong community support and with buy-in from County staff and council. When it works, it shows how local government can partner with other agencies and the community, rallying around a cause; being truly innovative.

This brings me to the County Food Hub at Sophiasburgh Public School. What started as one community’s reaction to the proposed closure of a rural elementary school, has morphed into an innovative opportunity for rural education and community development with the potential to impact the lives of not only County residents but of rural communities across the province.

The 2017 Accommodation Review of our public schools was a difficult one for all concerned. That our community and the board were able to recognize the opportunities presented at Sophiasburgh Public School was telling – as are my recent conversations with board representatives and the support and interest they’ve expressed in the County Food Hub.

While these are just the first steps toward an increasingly positive working relationship, we are hopeful for a great outcome that will enable the community’s economic and social development. This potential community benefit presents a compelling and strong case for the school board and the County to embrace this opportunity, while showcasing to the province, the County’s penchant for successful innovation.

Even more telling and innovative is the way that traditionally divergent groups are coming together in support of this project.

The County has faced many challenges as its popularity has grown and its economy shifted. Change can be good, and even necessary, but it is not always easy. That is why the County Food Hub at Sophiasburgh is so intriguing. At its heart, this project is about youth and families, about education and enrichment, about agriculture, food, small businesses and community. Its mandate touches on values that are important to our oldest, newest and youngest residents; it represents what we aspire toward while celebrating our past and it embodies the innovative approach the County has always taken to addressing our unique challenges.

If the unifying ability of this project is still lost on anyone, they need only look to the County Food Hub’s dynamic duo of Todd Foster and Mike Farrell – champions from different backgrounds who’ve come together with a common interest – along with a remarkably diverse number of contributing partners.

Our business community is also taking a keen interest in the County Food Hub as a new model for agri-business incubation. Support from these entrepreneurs and innovators is further indication of the potential of this project and the cross-cutting themes it represents. Fundraising activity is ramping up, bolstered by a recent financial commitment of $75,000 from County Council.

Council has further supported the initiative by:
• Officially declaring the County Food Hub a Project of Community Interest.
• Offering Official Prince Edward County tax receipts to donors.
• Authorizing municipal staff and resources to assist the volunteer steering committee in its work both through the development and roll out stages of this project.
• Advocating to upper levels of government through Ministerial deputations at conferences, via formal letters to appropriate federal and provincial ministries and by pressing networks of elected officials and senior upper level government administrators about the potential for this project to benefit both our community, the school board and the broader education system as a model for rural school hub development in Ontario.

In the face of so much community support and the provincial interest we have received, it is my sincere hope that staff and trustees at the board and interested donors continue to be willing partners. I will certainly do all that is possible to make this opportunity a reality including working with the volunteers on the Hub steering committee and the school board representatives to actively help overcome any remaining hurdles that might impede bringing this project to fruition. It has too much potential to fail.

A strong and compelling vision and broad and creative support is always an antidote to overcoming obstacles small and large. As we say, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The growing public sentiment in this community about the County Food Hub project is strong, represented by excellent and growing local financial commitment from all over the County and a groundswell of volunteer interest. I encourage all residents to advocate for and support this important project; in partnership with the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, County council and our community champions, we can once again show how the County and this region can be ahead of the curve and proactive in turning a challenge into an innovative opportunity.

Filed Under: Letters and OpinionNews from Everywhere Else

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