Sometimes I feel as if I write about certain subjects in blog posts as much to clarify some thoughts in my own head as anything else. This is one such, Economic Opportunity in a rural area.
This subject comes from a sentence in our Holistic Context document. A document that we have developed that affirms who we are, where we are going and the purpose of River Valley.
The sentence is – “River Valley will contribute towards a dynamic local community through developing economic opportunity.”
What does developing economic opportunity really mean, and how may we contribute?
Rural Communities in the Western World Are Dying
Throughout the western world rural communities are experiencing shrinking populations, the loss of services, shrinking rolls and the closure of schools. Small rural towns are often shadows of what they once were. Shops are closed, there is often little employment, and what there is, is of a casual or seasonal nature.
Why is it then that many people wish to live in these rural areas, but presently do not? (Note to me: Subject for another post?)
In contrast to this drop in population is the somewhat surprising increase in output of plant and animal produce from these very same areas. This increase is achieved with the replacement of humans by technology and massive non human labour inputs of fossil fuels, big machinery, artificial fertiliser and chemicals.
To me a totally unsustainable, and certainly not a regenerative system.
A Multi Generational Community
Our local school, Pukeokahu, has seven, yes you read that right, seven pupils. My wife Nicola’s father was a pupil there, Nicola and all her siblings were pupils there, our own children were pupils there, while now our grand children are pupils there.
A functioning school is only one part of a healthy community of people. A healthy community needs a mix of young and old. It thrives and grows on diversity. But most of all a healthy resilient community needs people with “skin in the game.”
The Thing of “Skin in the Game” Is This
You cannot have a healthy, diverse and resilient community unless the members of that community can make a financially viable living. Anything else is wishful thinking at best.
The current River Valley is essentially a tourism business. While we do operate all year round, summer is a great deal busier than winter. This shows up in staff numbers, falling from 28 in summer to 14 in winter. These figures include the family.
These 14 may be viewed as permanent residents of the area and have “skin in the game.” Just about all of them live in rental accommodation as there are few options in our area for buying small parcels of land on which to build a home.
To grow this number of people, and get more opportunities to have “skin in the game” requires two prerequisites.
The first one mentioned above, is either a long term secure rental accommodation option or the opportunity to purchase your own house.
The Second Prerequisite is “Economic Opportunity”
Economic Opportunity is about being able to a generate a financial income that is sufficient to meet your needs and go towards your aspirations.
River Valley meets those needs for the people it employs. This is a number of people that is unlikely to grow to any further degree and will always be skewed towards a large number of seasonal employees. However we see other opportunities.
For instance, each year our organic vegetable gardens not only grow more produce, they also cover a greater area of land. The Lodge kitchens are the main market for what is grown. However we are now fielding enquiries from other locals to purchase some of that produce. Potentially these gardens could become an economic opportunity for someone who wishes to be a resident and develop these gardens as their own business.
To have “skin in the game.”
Looking to the future, I am sure that some economic opportunities will morph out of what we presently do and will do in the future, while others will be based on ideas that to now we have not even thought about.
Why Does It Matter?
Initiating Economic Opportunity matters because we believe it is part of our purpose as a company. That purpose is to be a regenerative business that benefits the land, nature, family and staff, our local community, and our customers.
At the start of this post I said that sometimes the simple act of writing what is on my mind can lead to some clarity. While what I have written above is certainly on my mind, I must admit to still being a little hazy about the best way forward.
However, the simple act of writing this post means some ideas have come to the fore and we will see where they lead.
If you have any thoughts on creating economic opportunity for new residents in a rural area, please drop me an email – [email protected]