ANNAPOLIS — Enhancing quality of life is a goal that’s at the heart of most policymaking regardless of whether you are working from a community or town, county, state or national perspective.

For most stakeholders identifying the problems is the easy part. Finding solutions, however, is a whole other story often laden with intertwining issues like funding and who can or should manage the process.

When the Rural Maryland Council hosted a summit in Annapolis on Dec. 12, this concept of how to create sustainable change was front and center as leaders from throughout the state provided examples of how they were championing solutions in their communities for complex issues in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry as well as health care, community development and economic development, according to a news release.

The day-long summit “Rural Maryland Rising: Investing in Resiliency, Collaboration and Innovation” and RMC’s annual meeting, which was held the evening before, attracted nearly 300 rural residents, business owners, community leaders and legislators from across the state.

Keynote speaker Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, set the tone for the summit.

“In the face of our rural challenges, to build unity and momentum to get things done, we need to carry relentless optimism,” Costello said. “Let’s stop defining rural as a failure and as a deficit. Let’s define it by its strengths and its critical importance to the future, and let’s work together for a New Ruralism, a renewal and re-engagement with all the creative forces for good in rural communities.”

For RMC Executive Director Charlotte Davis, Costello’s remarks couldn’t have been more on point.

“All too often when we are working in our communities we get too focused on identifying the problems. But when we get together to discuss the challenges, develop proactive solutions, and identify ways to implement those solutions that’s when real, sustainable change happens,” Davis said. “Through events like the Summit we can come together to share doable solutions. This brand of proactive problem-solving has really gotten the attention of our Maryland legislators.”

The summit included breakout sessions, a 2020 session preview with Maryland legislators and a luncheon panel session with state cabinet secretaries and department leadership. The summit also included a welcome by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and AgShowcase19, featuring four agricultural innovators who presented a TED-styled talk about how they are changing the face of agriculture in Maryland and around the country, the release states.

Sponsored by the MidAtlantic Farm Credit, the session featured live, online audience voting and participation to determine award amounts for the presenters based on criteria such as relevance and innovation.

The AgShowcase19 first place winner was Ovipost of Cordova, which automates cricket farming to help insects become an affordable, scalable, sustainable, high-protein ingredient for broad use throughout the agricultural supply chain.

Tied for second place were: MadTech Modern Agronomy of Huntingtown, last year’s AgPitch winner, which uses agricultural drones to give farmers comprehensive and detailed information about their crops; Mercaris of Silver Spring, which provides up-to-date, accurate information on market conditions for organic and non-GMO commodities as well as a trading platform for buyers and sellers; and Terrapulse of College Park, which uses satellite imagery to provide public and private sector clients with real-time data to map and monitor land and how it changes over time.

Comptroller Peter Franchot presented the check to the AgShowcase19 winners and closed out the summit with brief remarks.

The summit capped a year filled with many achievements, the council said.

The RMC helped clear the path for last mile broadband installation by supporting laws that allow electric cooperatives to use rights-of-way for broadband.

It completed a report of agricultural education to address the shortage of skilled agricultural workers by ensuring that students are educated about agricultural career opportunities in much the same way they are presented with vocational and college career opportunities.

The RMC provided $2.055 million in economic development support through the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund to the state’s five regional councils to be used to build capacity to support projects, as well as an additional $3.92 million to fund grant projects focused on entrepreneurship, health care and infrastructure.

It also provided $1.027 million to fund 37 projects through the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund.

“Although we are humbled by the number of benchmarks and successes that RMC and our partners have achieved in 2019, we still have a lot of heady projects to tackle,” Davis said. “We must continue to work on issues like broadband so that our rural communities can equitably compete in a global economy. The balancing act between respecting and honoring our heritage to the land while implementing real change for a sustainable future will continue and we need everyone at the table to do this important work.”

Upcoming RMC events include a welcome breakfast for state legislators on Jan. 17, a legislative luncheon on Jan. 31 and Rural Maryland Day on Feb. 4.

Stay tuned for the new Rural Maryland aspirations video, which will be released in early January.

Founded in 1994, the RMC operates under the direction of a 40-member executive board in a nonpartisan and nondiscriminatory manner. It serves as the state’s federally designated rural development council and functions as a voice for rural Maryland, advocating for and helping rural communities and businesses across the state to flourish and to gain equity to suburban and urban counterparts.For more information, visit rural.maryland.gov, call 410-841-5772 or email rmc.mda@maryland.gov.

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