For technologically oriented generations, rural communities may seem disconnected from the big city, but they are crucial to sustaining the rapid growth of urban expanses globally. For example, the food produced on farms and in greenhouses nourishes millions of people that would otherwise have no resource to rely on. The skill and expertise of those in the agricultural sectors rely on hard work and many generations of knowledge in accordance with the land they use. It should go without saying that these towns deserve the support and appreciation of the larger cities that depend on their stability.
In recent years, however, rural places have been on the decline, as their populations and economic growth have taken a plunge. The youth demographic has been especially affected, as the younger generations increasingly trend towards migrating to urban settlements where there is typically more opportunity for them.
An abundance of exported goods and a fossil fuel culture leaves less room for a need to pass down traditional skills once used out of necessity. Therefore the modern reliance on convenience and cheap products has damaged the skill sets of individuals. At the same time, the abundance of rapid production negatively affects the environment. Furthermore, it siphons money away from regional merchants, resulting in the suffering of small economies.
This is where the significance of the contemporary term re-skilling becomes clear. The term is used to describe the attempted shift to focus again on hands-on skills and self-reliance in smaller communities. With the objective of rejuvenating rural towns and allowing local businesses to thrive, Transition Towns are attractive places to young adults and visitors.
Transition Towns are rural locations actively using use re-skilling to empower their citizens again, encouraging a new appreciation for regional consumerism. Skill-sharing is cooperative and interactive. Older generations are often more than willing to share their expertise with the youth, containing knowledge that is regularly being lost due to lack of interest in the modern world. The youth are then capable of translating what they learn into practical work, which can, then, be used as means of livelihood. The re-introduction to the importance of traditional skills also encourages other members in the community to support tradespeople locally, thus relying more on their own resourcefulness.
Having grown up in a larger city, I’ve got the impression that academic learning and urban agendas have become the only lessons considered important in order for young people to become successful. Never have I sat through a class addressing permaculture methods, gardening or agriculture. In fact, the only things I remember being taught about plants were science-based, coming out of picture books and not from physical walks outside in nature.
Genuine practical skills are only briefly spoken about in a Western curriculum, not actually explained or introduced as integral livelihoods which also allow cities to survive. In the last three decades I have noticed a profound decrease in taught skills such as cooking, building, sewing or wild foraging based on what I have been taught compared to generations before and after my own education (none of which were available during my years of schooling between 1994-2012). The decrease appears to be worsening, while cuts are made to practical knowledge. A lot of these skills are now classified as “hobbies”, found on DIY websites or in popular books instead of through first-hand workshops and lessons.
While study from textbooks holds its own importance, translating lessons into real-life situations is also a skill that is improved through consistent practice and experience. When practical skills are lost in cultures, community can suffer dramatically. This is because a strong understanding of useful skills creates independence and resilience in communities, with members counting more on neighbours and family rather than external sources that are often expensive and disconnected.
As I became an adult I realized that learning new practical skills was both satisfying and purposeful. Seeking out to discover traditional methods, I often found boundaries of time and access to such knowledge discouraging. Interestingly though, many teachers outside of the standard education system exist and are available to lend an ear, with supplies and experiences when asked. If I had known that these opportunities were available at a young age, I would probably be much more skilful in baking, or repairing things on my own.
New organizations have begun to grow out of Transition Town and re-skilling strategies. In the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, Canada for example, The Deanery Project hosts many workshops that offer skill-sharing opportunities. With larger festival events featuring over 20 topics annually, participants of Rural Roots can learn about skills from tool sharpening to rocket stove building or food preservation and fermentation.
In Guelph, Ontario in Canada, Minga offers public workshops by partnering with local organizations and coordinated events that advocate local sustainability. As a skill-sharing hub, Minga supports townspeople in learning techniques such as soap making or collecting and using natural dyes. Tradespeople can become instructors, educating their neighbours and connecting with the community.
Although large cities can be enticing and are often considered better places for profit and modernity, rural spaces are quickly becoming beacons of innovation and abundance. With the recent strategies of dedicated community leaders, growth and sustainability appear to be inevitable outcomes of future projects – leading to strong, healthy societies.