Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research and Policy
CBC’s “The Current” this week shared the stories of those dealing with the B.C. wildfires, including firefighters on the front lines, those who lost their homes and neighbourhoods, and a local mayor, who are all grappling with the impact of these fires. Listening to their stories, I was struck by the powerful expressions of community ties, not just to each place, but between the people who live there. The forest fires raging in British Columbia this summer have pushed many communities to find out how deep those community ties really go.
In an interview Jonah Anstett, a fire fighter from Ashcroft, said, “The emotion is just so much more because they’re not just addresses. These are people that we know and we’ve known for years. A lot of the people that lost their homes were school friends…It’s hard. It’s hard to watch the people you love lose it all.”
Writer Wendell Berry asks the question, “Does community have a value?” Community is usually seen as something intangible, often even nostalgic, and it is not considered “valuable” since it cannot be bought or sold. But the true value of community becomes plainly evident when times are tough. Then we see how far people will go to help their neighbours and how they come together to support each other in the face of tragedy and devastating loss.
But these bonds of community are formed not just in the tough times, but also in the good times, in ordinary activities and conversations, in celebrations and fun. Our children are so often the centre of gravity which draws our communities together. We form our sense of belonging as children with our playmates and their families through school, church activities, sports teams, and community events. As adults, we connect with our neighbours through these same activities. This is why the local church and local school are important points of shared community identity, and of keeping communities vital and growing with new young families.
Communities are not closed or fixed; they need to grow and change, welcome newcomers and say farewell to long-standing pillars who have made the community strong. The relationship we have with our neighbours is affected by the economy and technology, including things like how much we depend on each other for daily tasks, how far we can drive on a tank of gas, and how easy it is to communicate with those we hold dear when they are far away. Farming communities are feeling the impact of changing farming methods and farm sizes.
Still the stories of the forest fires remind us that despite our cell phones, self-driving tractors and Netflix, we still need strong communities. Community may not be something we can buy and sell, but it has incredible value.