The two-day Minnesota Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening got underway today bringing together citizens from rural communities in the state. Over the past two years, Rural Climate Dialogues held throughout Minnesota in Stevens, Itasca and Winona Counties brought together groups of rural citizens to learn and deliberate about the effects of climate change and extreme weather in their communities, and create plans for how their communities should act to sustain and improve resilience. Over the course of two days, rural citizens from each of the three communities are convening to recall and share their community plans, form statewide rural climate priorities and present them to state agency staff to connect them with existing financial and technical assistance programs.
The day kicked off with introductions. People shared what they do for work—the group included sustainability and healthcare professionals, timber mill and railroad employees, and farmers—but everyone focused primarily on the pride they have for their communities. People talked about the beauty of rivers, bluffs and forests and their towns’ engaged residents. Everyone agreed that their communities had countless assets worth preserving, and that many of those assets are at risk from extreme weather and climate change impacts.
To prepare the rural citizens for presenting their priorities on the second, the Center for Rural Strategies—a co-host of the event—provided a public narrative training that allowed people to share what makes them care about these topics and why these critical areas for investment. Participants volunteered their stories of growing up and living in rural communities. One person from Itasca County spent his childhood in the forests surrounding his community, and noticed over the years that the trees were being harvested younger and younger, and not growing back as fast. He shared how much he questioned these seemingly unsustainable practices. Another person from Stevens County shared a story of a local swimming area that was a community-gathering place, but through the years, the water quality declined to the point of the swimming area being filled in. Several people lost friends and loved ones in floods. Stories like these demonstrate how wide-ranging climate impacts truly are; no matter the community, no matter your background, climate change is happening in rural Minnesota and must be addressed.
The afternoon was spent reviewing and sharing the three community plans to work create a set of statewide climate priorities. These priorities include promoting more sustainable agricultural practices to increase food security, improve water quality, strengthen local economies, and promote healthy soils; working closely with schools to educate students and include them in conversations on weather, climate, resilience, and renewables; and investing and testing new technologies for road infrastructure to focus on longevity and reduce maintenance needs. The full list of priorities will be included in the final report following the event.
The stories and priorities created today will be presented the second day to connect existing financial and technical assistance with the rural communities that are too often left out of climate policy and conversations. The first day’s connections and conversations reinforced the fact that rural communities have an important role to play in addressing climate change and plenty of ideas on how to address the challenges in a way that boosts community resilience.