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Life Off-the-Grid

Our “AgriCultural” Small Town

By Cam Mather

Places have energy. I’ve noticed this whenever I travel – each community has a certain vibe. The village that is closest to my home, Tamworth, has a lot of energy right now. There are probably many different reasons for this energy, but a lot of it comes down to the people.

One of the sparks of energy in Tamworth is Carolyn Butts who owns a studio in town and creates items from reused materials. She makes mirrors and furniture and works of art from tires. Years ago Carolyn arranged a meeting for people to get together and share their vision for Tamworth, and lots of people came. A group called “The Boosters” was created from that meeting, which, unlike many downtown revitalization groups, was interested in  “boosting” the whole community, not just the businesses. If there was a need for a new swing set at the school or landscaping at the cenotaph park, then that’s what The Boosters focused on.

One of the Boosters’ first major undertakings was the organization of an event called “Hay Day.” Carolyn calls Hay Day an “Agri-Cultural” event. This is a day to celebrate the biggest locally grown crop – hay. As the years went by this became one of “the” events to attend for people from outside the area. Lots of locals made sure that if friends were coming up to visit they scheduled their visit for that weekend.

The energy from The Boosters inspired someone (sorry, I can’t remember who) to pursue an Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs (OMFRA) Rural Economic Development (RED) Grant which provided some funding to ramp up its activities. A group called the Tamworth Erinsville Community Development Committee (TECDC) was created and various committees were formed and more and more people started coming out to meetings. Soon there was a Green Committee, an Economic Development Committee, a Physical Improvement Committee and various others. Things started happening. Signs were erected. Trees were planted. Welcome baskets were put together to welcome newcomers.

Carolyn Butts and Hans Honegger designed this fantastic sign which encapsulates the essence of our village of Tamworth. We’re in “Stone Mills Township” and stones are one of the crops that we grow very well around here. The fields are full of them.

Our off-grid Tamworth sign at night powered by the solar panels beside it.

One of the early tasks that the group undertook was to survey area residents to determine what stores or services were missing and were needed. Many respondents to the survey mentioned the need for a pharmacy. Like many rural towns our population is aging and this is a priority. A few years passed and we now have a pharmacy. We have a hardware store, a grocery store, some restaurants and a bakery, a gift shop, a Tea Room, a video store, a bank, the LCBO and many, many other stores and services. We even have a restaurant that is open in the evenings. I know this sounds crazy but small towns can be very quiet at night. When Jerry opened “The Penalty Box” Michelle and I finally had a local place to go and get a pizza for dinner, then head over to the video store and take home a movie.

It’s great when local people organize events like when Jerry organized a charity hockey game with NHL Old-timers where basically 14,000 people came to Tamworth (alright I think the arena holds 700, but it seemed like more). Jerry also had the prostate cancer “Ride for a Cure” stop in Tamworth and hundreds of riders stopped in town that day.

I think we humans respond to the energy of events like these. When we moved here the old grocery store had closed. It wasn’t a good thing. Then Jim Biggs opened the hardware store in the empty space. Then Kuhlwant bought the hardware store, moved it to one half of the building and leased out the other half for the Pharmacy.  Doug opened a new grocery store and so on and so forth. Once people feel the energy of a town, it tends to snow ball….

Newspapers in the area started covering the various events in Tamworth and promoting it as a worthwhile destination. I organized several Green Energy Fairs, which brought people to town. I made sure to structure the day so that there was good stuff in the morning and afternoon and I encouraged everyone to have their lunch at one of the local eateries.

We also have a really active cultural calendar now with everyone from Celtic bands to comedians making a stop in town. Valdy was here in the fall. Mark Oliver, the chair of TECDC is into music and has been instrumental in bringing great bands to town.

On a recent Saturday night Michelle and I went to hear “The Good Lovelies.” They are a trio of amazingly talented young women who play mandolins and ukuleles and guitars and sing harmony like angels. I love the Wailin’ Jennys and the Indigo Girls and yes I have a strong feminist bias in my old age. I listen to old dead white guys (classical music) a lot of the time but I think there is nothing like the sound of female voices singing together. And they sing divinely. Plus their on-stage banter is hilarious. They’ve toured all over North America and tell us that we have the best sign anywhere!  (They also talk about our pickled eggs!)

Good Lovelies in concert in Tamworth, photo courtesy of Barry Lovegrove

I feel very fortunate that I can head into Tamworth and enjoy wonderful live music with 150 of my neighbors. Events like this and Hay Day, the Santa Claus Parade, Canada Day Parade and the schools and churches, the shops, the restaurants, the fire station, the hockey arena and the Legion all help to create a real sense of community in my town. John Cougar Mellencamp understood this and while I wasn’t born in this small town, this is where I want to be.

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1 Comment

  1. bruce mather [Sr.]

    Hell, I’m moving!

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