Because deadlines need to be so early in order to get this magazine assembled and printed – not to mention distributed with pandemic-inspired on-line shopping making every week like the week before Christmas for Canada Post – I totally forgot that last month’s June issue marked the 45th anniversary of the first edition of The Rural Voice.
Looking back, it was a scrawny little creature that would have been called premature if it had been human. It was an 8-page, black and white tabloid, undermanned on both the editorial and advertising sides in an organization run by an overly-ambitious young publisher who was also editor of a local newspaper and another magazine. As if that weren’t enough, our son was born in June 1975. I was also up to my neck playing midwife in the birth of the Blyth Festival.
The real credit for rescuing this underfed publication goes to the Gunby family and Beverley Brown, and, indirectly, to A.Y. and Susan McLean. As I got more and more wrapped up in the theatre world, I sold The Rural Voice in 1978 to McLean Brothers Publishing, publishers for more than a century of The Huron Expositor newspaper in Seaforth. To ensure they were on top of farm issues, the McLeans recruited an advisory board from the farm community, including Sheila Gunby and Beverley Brown.
In 1982, when the McLeans left publishing, they turned over The Rural Voice to Gunby and Brown, who published it from the Gunbys’ farm home near Dungannon. Later, when Brown left, Sheila’s husband Merle took over the magazine’s sales, and daughter Lise Gunby became editor. It was this team that really built up the magazine.
After a few years ownership by Signal-Star Publishing of Goderich, North Huron Publishing adopted a now healthy adolescent in June, 1991, and it has grown into healthy middle-age in the years since.
Even when I wasn’t publisher of the magazine, I continued to write a monthly column so I’ve been associated with The Rural Voice for all of its 45 years of ups and downs.
A recent note from a farm leader I worked with back in the 1990s, and the obituary in last month’s issue for John Gaunt, the “naked lady” grower, reminded me of the privilege the magazine has provided me. I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of remarkable people. There were the men and women who led different farm organizations, all dedicated supporting the farming industry even if they disagreed with the particulars of how to do it.
I’ve been introduced to so many fascinating, creative entrepreneurs who realized their dreams to grow something new, or find a new way of processing and selling the products of their farms or gardens.
There have been the constant experimenters, intrigued by finding improvements in the way farming is done. Many of these ideas have changed the way you farm – no-till planting, cover crops to keep the soil green all season long, new drainage methods to preserve top soil.
Then there are the specialists and advisers, often the children of farmers themselves, who want to help improve farmers’ crops or livestock, and through that, farmers’ lives.
How different all this could have been if my life had taken a different turn when I graduated from journalism school. Imagine the people I’d have met if I’d worked as a crime reporter for a daily newspaper. Even a glamorous job reporting on Parliament Hill or Queen’s Park would have meant battling through bafflegab to find the truth, rather than dealing with plain-talking farmers.
Recently I reread The Real James Herriot, Jim Wight’s biography of his father Alf Wight, the English veterinarian/author of several best-selling book. Alf Wight always thought he was blessed to work with farmers. I think I have been, too.◊