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Challenges, opportunities focus of north Wellington joint economic development meeting

Farm family - Dirk Dekker of Country Bait, Moorefield was one of the guest speakers at the northern Wellington joint economic development meeting hosted by Mapleton Township on Nov. 1. Representatives from Minto, Wellington North, Wellington County and Mapleton attended the event. Dekker spoke on breaking into the international market. From left: Teresa, Dirk, Ryan and Amber Dekker.  Photo by Caroline Sealey

Challenges, opportunities focus of north Wellington joint economic development meeting

by Caroline Sealey

DRAYTON - Mapleton Township hosted a joint economic development meeting on Nov. 1, with representatives from Minto, Wellington North, Wellington County and Mapleton attending.

Exploring changes, challenges and opportunities for rural economic development and the agribusiness sector through the lens of Doug Griffith’s book 13 Ways to Kill Your Community was the focus of each of the four speakers’ presentations.

Guest speaker Dirk Dekker of Country Bait, located in Moorefield, spoke on the topic of immigrants and newcomers from the perspective of local agribusiness  and breaking into the international market.

Dekker, one of eight children, was raised on a dairy farm in Holland. Forty years ago he took advantage of an opportunity to live and work on a dairy farm in Canada.

“Canada had a good reputation as a land of opportunity and for the role it played in the Liberation of Holland during World War two,” Dekker said.

“I fell in love with Canada and with a girl, went back to Holland to start the immigration process and then came back to Maryborough Township. The Canadian government gave me $40 to get started.”

One year later, Dekker married the girl and the house the couple was to live in was deemed uninhabitable. With help from volunteers in the area and an eight per cent interest loan, the couple soon moved into the home and began a hog farming operation.

“The community spirit that I saw when last year’s Syrian refugees were welcomed as newcomers to Canada is the same spirit that I saw when I immigrated to Canada,” Dekker said. “It’s good to see that the same spirit is still alive today.”

When interest rates soared into the high 20s and income from hot farming was unstable, the Dekker’s looked at other options.

Dekker and his wife Teresa picked dew worms off their front lawn and sold them to an elderly gentleman in Arthur. Looking to retire, the gentleman and Dekker worked out a schedule of free labour between the two with Dekker eventually purchasing the worm business.

Gleaning support from established business contacts in the United States, Dekker moved the business to his farm.

Six Vietnamese worm pickers from Kitchener were hired. Over 100 pickers from Toronto, Hamilton and London pick worms for the company. The company’s growth included the purchase of a worm and bait business.

The Dekkers’ son Ryan and his wife Amber have joined the business, along with salesman Jeremy Culling.

Worms are delivered to clients across Canada by UPS and aircraft. Online sales are increasing, with purchasers from Europe, Holland, Germany and the United States.

The company is continually developing methods to improve food and bedding using combinations of peat moss and cardboard. Soils are irrigated and Roundup is applied. Competition from the red worm market, climate change and supply and demand are all factors influencing the success of the company. Red worms are suited to being raised in captivity whereas dew worms are not, thus limiting the Dekker’s options. Universities worldwide continue to invest in worm research.

“The next generation may have to reinvent themselves,” Dekker said.

“It still takes one person to pick one worm at a time. Dairy farming used to be one to one but with robotics that has changed. If you compare worm farming to dairy farming, worm farmers are still in the milking cows by hand stage.”

Talent attraction

Tom Lusis, who works on Wellington County’s economic development talent attraction initiative, gave a presentation on workforce diversity, entrepreneurial drive and investment readiness.

Traditionally immigrants came to Canada from Asia, Europe, the United States and South America. In north Wellington, immigrants tend to come from Europe, Asia and the United States.  Those immigrants primarily work in manufacturing and agriculture. Lusis explained the short-term benefit is workers can obtain employment in hard-to-fill positions in the labour market. Long-term effects include the untapped potential of workers, connections to new markets and investments in communities.

Lusis briefly discussed new labour pool dynamics, settlement sector partners, newcomer career and settlement fairs, the municipal immigration pilot project and the County of Wellington Settlement Workers organization.

Community needs

Dale Franklin, owner of Blooming Dales in Drayton, spoke on assessing community needs and assets and the Mapleton Chamber of Commerce.

Fifteen years ago Franklin’s employment ceased with a financial services company. She assessed the needs in the community and opened a flower shop. The previous flower shop had closed three years earlier. Blooming Dales celebrated its 15th anniversary in the community in November.

“Most people who move to an area look at the schools, hospitals, health care, taxes and housing costs before making a move,” Franklin said. “After they move in they look around for places to shop. The shops must have the support of the community in order to survive.”

The chamber of commerce has the reputation of serving downtown businesses. As Mapleton is a rural community, it is vital to have the agricultural community involved.

The Mapleton Chamber of Commerce  is hosting a rejuvenation meeting on Nov. 29 at 7pm at the Drayton Festival Theatre. Membership in the Chamber is set at $50 for the first year. The new executive will be working with the former executive.

Keynote speaker

Keynote speaker for the evening was Ryan Gibson, Libro professor of regional economic development for the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph. The school joins major academic fields focused on the creation of strong communities, in Canada and around the world. It aims to build communities where planners, leaders, communicators, landscape architects, citizens and politicians play important roles in community strength.

Born and raised on a farm in Holmfield, Manitoba, a community of 14 people located near the Canada/U.S. border, Gibson said he has an understanding and respect for rural communities, rural people and the events that shape their futures. His focus is on research projects and community development processes involving new forms of governance, regional collaboration, cooperatives, rural philanthropy, rural revitalization, immigration and migration.

The Libro Professorship was created by Libro Credit Union and farm families with the focus placed on regional development. The $1-million 10-year endowment includes 260 students performing thesis research in a rural environment.

“In 2015, after 148 years, a report on the state of rural Canada was published,” Gibson said. “The rural data division of Statistics Canada has closed. These are the realities facing a rural population.”

 Urban population growth far exceeds rural growth, though some rural centers are booming, Gibson explained. The rural economy is generally seasonal and more intensive. Creative destruction is technology’s consumption of jobs.

“The government should not be a saviour to the rural community,” Gibson said. “The understanding of local/regional assets, the re-examination of local wealth and how to keep it and innovative thinking are all key to the success of rural communities. Farmers have been innovative thinkers from day one, making them trendy before innovation was trendy.”

In Brandon, Manitoba the cold pressing of flax seeds by Shape Foods has changed the flax seed industry that has been present in the area for over 100 years. A product rich in Omega 3 is making its mark in the economy of the area.

In Ireland, tourists hiking over farm lands damaged crops and left gates open allowing farm animals to escape. To resolve the issue, Rural Walks was created with 287 landowners participating in the program. Gravity gates were installed and signs, constructed by local high school students, were placed strategically along the trails. Pubs, cafes and bed and breakfasts also became part of the Rural Walks. Rural communities made use of their natural backyard to create a three-season industry.

Gibson encourages rural communities to explore platforms to re-embed wealth across Canada, including processes that prevent loss from inter-generational transfers. Trusts have been set up in 89 towns across Canada that contain millions of dollars to be used for community improvement.

“Rural does matter. Rural communities contain wealth, economic stability and have potential for growth,” stated Gibson. “They are centers of innovation and are resilient as hell. Urban needs rural. Re-envision your assets, convince urban that we matter, find new mechanisms for collaborations. The difficulty lies in what we’ve always done. Take risks and try new things.”



November 10, 2017


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