Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's Growing in the Food Sector?

After receiving plenty of rain, the vegetable plants on my CSA farms will get a dose of sunshine and heat this week, and I can't wait for that first share this Sunday! To help pass the time, here's the event listing for Food Forward's Growing Good Food Jobs Forum taking place on Tuesday night:

Growing Good Food Jobs Forum with City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon
Time: Tuesday, May 31, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Place: 8th floor Party Room, Hugh Garner Co-op, 550 Ontario St, Toronto
Can Toronto's food scene flourish? We thinks so.
Already growing leaps and bounds, the food sector provides one of eight Toronto jobs. Innovative businesses and non-profits are leading community economic development and providing new work to the City, while promoting a local, sustainable food system in which opportunities are more accessible.
Join us for a discussion with key leaders from the area's food sector to look at what's happening, what's being built and what kind of policies and projects could move us even further.
Moderated by Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.
  • Sri Sethuratnam, FarmStart-Up Programs Manager who's worked in agriculture for twenty years, immigrated to Canada in 2004 and now supports newcomers to get a foot in GTA sustainable farming. 
  • Michael Wolfson, Food and Beverage Cluster Specialist with the City of Toronto, with thirty years experience in the food industry, working in natural foods, constulting, government and non-profits. 
  • Voula Halliday, a Cordon Bleu trained chef, recipe developer and food writer, who knows Toronto's food scene and has led the way in innovating a successful and sustainable non-profit school nutrition program.
The forum is open to your questions and comments. Requesting a $5 donation if possible, or we'll throw in a Food Forward membership for just $10. We're being hosted by the Hugh Garner Co-op (nearest Sherbourne Station), adjacent their green roof, come take a look: http://www.hughgarnergreenroof.ca/
We thank Carrot Cache for its support of our forums.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Don't Just Vote, Speak Your Mind

In case you hadn't heard, the City of Toronto is cash-strapped, and the new mayor seems to believe that privatizing municipal services is the answer. Do you have a different opinion? Share it!

A major Service Review is underway to determine residents' feelings about how city services are delivered, who should pay for them, and where inefficiencies need to be dealt with. The online survey asks residents to rank which services are necessary and should be provided by the City, though I'd argue there is some bias in the wording and design of the survey that might cause many items to end up in the "I don't care" category. This is scary because the review is being used to dramatically reduce the services the City offers, including environmental services.

I strongly urge you to complete the survey. It's your right and duty to tell the City which critical services and programs must be retained and how they should be paid for. Please pass this on to anyone you know who cares about these issues or complains that they have no voice in municipal politics!

Photo credit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


It wasn't a Friday, but last weekend I felt really good volunteering with Live Green Toronto at the Community Environment Day that was held in my ward only a few blocks from where I live!

My fellow volunteers and I staffed the Live Green booth to share information about environmental programs in the city. Some of the most popular documents that residents requested included the blue bin and green bin usage guides, cycling route maps, and the complete list of Community Environment Days for 2011. Each city ward hosts one at some point between April and October, and these events are quite popular - some people actually go to more than one a year!

What can residents do at Community Environment Days? For one, they can trade broken curbside green bins or kitchen containers for new ones for free or buy backyard compost bins, rain barrels, and indoor water efficiency kits. The blue truck behind this booth is for donations of arts and crafts materials. There was a second truck devoted exclusively to clothing and household textile donations.

Almost every person comes to a Community Environment Day to drop off household hazardous waste, including paints, propane tanks, batteries, motor oil, CFL bulbs, expired medication, and toxic cleaning supplies. Look how happy these guys are to collect HHW - how could you not want to make their day and give them your poisonous products?

This is one of two containers holding electronic waste. I saw people drop off computers, scanners, TVs, speakers, VCRs, even turntables, all within this four-hour event! On the one hand it's impressive so much e-waste is being diverted from landfills and incinerators, and on the other hand, we generate too much e-waste!

Every City Councillor places an order for leaf compost for her/his Community Environment Day; some more, some less. Residents are entitled to one cubic metre's worth. In my neighbourhood, many people grow vegetable gardens, so the demand for compost is high. You can tell by the picture above that the pile was reduced to a fraction of its original size. That only took one hour! Shockingly, 20 minutes later only small mounds the size of ant hills remained. Many were disappointed that there was none left before the event was even half over.

Community Environment Days make me happy - hence this Friday Feel Good News post about them. These events allow us to divert waste (in some cases toxic, in other cases reusable), save water indoors and out, add nutrients to the soil we grow our food in, and even have a chat with our City Councillor (Cesar Palacio is pictured above). Parents model good behaviour to their children, new neighbours get to know one another, residents learns a few new things about green living in the city, and everybody wins!

If you don't live in Toronto, does something similar exist in your area?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Tuesday Toxin Talk

I'm currently reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, by Rick Smith (Executive Director of Environmental Defence) and Bruce Lourie (President of the Ivey Foundation). The book examines the toxins that leach out of commonplace items in our homes and workplaces and wind up in our bodies. Smith and Lourie experiment on themselves, purposely exposing themselves to everyday products over a four-day period, and use the results to raise awareness about the dangers that surround us. I'd like to use this space every few Tuesdays to share some of this vital information with you. For more in-depth coverage, please buy the book!


Let's talk about mercury.

Humans have been using mercury for a very long time: the ancient Romans recovered gold and silver by mining with mercury; medieval monks transcribed religious documents with mercury-based inks (and subsequently died of mercury poisoning); Renaissance physicians used the toxin as a cure-all for everything from skin lesions to constipation; and we all know about the mad hatters that breathed in mercury fumes while creating beaver felt hats. These days we don't concern ourselves so much with coming into direct contact with the metal, but our long-term exposure to tiny amounts of mercury in our food is causing neurodevelopmental problems, especially in children. To give you an idea of how nasty this stuff is, exposure to high levels of mercury can cause permanent brain damage, central nervous system disorders, memory loss, heart disease, kidney failure, liver damage, cancer, loss of vision, loss of sensation, and tremors. It is also an endocrine disruptor, damaging the reproductive and hormonal development of fetuses and infants, and may even be linked to multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, and Parkinson's. In other words, mercury will kill you if you breathe it, eat it, or expose yourself to high enough levels - and no level of mercury is safe, ever. Just one gram can contaminate the fish in a 20-acre lake.

Where is all of this mercury coming from, anyway? Apparently a lot of it contaminates our water and fish because we humans use and dispose of everyday consumer products. In other words, we're exposing ourselves to it twice: once from the products we use, and again from the fish we eat that live in the water we pollute. That's not a comforting thought. Naturally-occurring mercury is infrequently released in small amounts by volcanoes, forest fires, and oceans. On the other hand, human-generated mercury is everywhere, all the time: waste incinerators, coal-fired power plants, and everyone's favourite energy-efficient fluorescent lights all contribute to the excessive amounts of mercury in the environment. You can find mercury in your house if you still have old-school silent light switches (the ones that don't click on or off but rather give no resistance or noise when flicked), tilt switches that turn the light on in your chest freezer and the trunk of your car, those classic round thermostats, and old paint. Luckily none of these are sold in Canada anymore, but shockingly, we still put mercury in children's vaccines.

The easiest way to avoid exposure to mercury is to watch what you're eating - and it's widely known that some tuna carry high levels of mercury. Among the many varieties of canned tuna, solid white tuna has the highest levels of mercury. A safer option is flaked or chunk light tuna, which has a lower amount of mercury because the fish used in flaked tuna tend to be smaller, so the effects of biomagnification don't play a big role. If you're unfamiliar with the term, biomagnification refers to higher levels of toxins ending up in larger predators near the top of the food chain because they accumulate the toxins their prey have eaten. Small fish are also safer for us to eat because they are younger and haven't had as much time to bioaccumulate mercury in their diet over decades, unlike the giants that are the most prized for sushi.

So the steps are clear: choose flaked or chunk light tuna in cans (let's ignore the BPA in the cans until we get to chapter 8!) and avoid tuna when you go out for sushi. There are great online resources when it comes to eating fish and staying healthy. I carry around a pocket guide from Toronto Public Health that explains how often you can eat different types of fish depending on which risk category you fall into. What I love about this guide is that it also highlights which fish are high in omega-3s, and which are farmed/caught in ways that harm the environment. The only drawback is that it was created for Toronto residents: in other parts of the country and abroad, the same types of fish come from different places.

But don't stop there! Make sure you're properly disposing of fluorescent lights, batteries, electronics (and if you renovate, drywall with mercury paint) at a hazardous waste depot. Let's not allow any of these products to end up in a waste incinerator! And as always, reduce your electricity use to lower how much mercury is released into the atmosphere from coal-burning power plants. Most importantly: tell this to everyone you know!

Have I covered it all? Do you know of any other sources of mercury that we should avoid?

Photo credits: mercury droplets; mercury thermometer; tuna market.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


I have to admit, writing a Friday Feel Good News post about Detroit isn't an obvious choice. With a ghost-town feel and numerous semi-deserted neighbourhoods after businesses disappeared and people moved away, Detroit doesn't seem like a place where anybody feels good. Not until you look a little closer and notice that city residents have overcome their feelings of powerlessness to take back control of their food system and rebuild their communities. After all, what brings people together better than food?

The city is home to a farm (D-Town Farm) that is about to double in size from two to four acres, a two-year-old Food Policy Council that is holding its first conference this week, and a farmers' market (Eastern Market) that features "Grown in Detroit" vegetables. In areas where abandoned houses have burned down or fallen apart, the city has removed the wreckage and allowed members of the public to adopt these vacant lots for free. What's being done with them? They're being turned into community gardens and orchards that not only produce food, but train the public - especially youth - in farming skills.

Less traditional forms of urban agriculture are popping up, too: there are plans for an indoor tilapia and shrimp farm... though I guess that makes it urban aquaculture, I guess? A new fruit and vegetable store (Peaches and Greens) is located in a neighbourhood with 23 liquor stores! Additionally, the people who run the store sell produce to local residents from a truck that covers a two-mile radius every day. It's like an ice cream truck that you would encourage your kids to shop at as often as possible!

Every time I hear about people growing food in the heart of Detroit, I get excited. Granted, I'm upset that so much good had to come from so much bad, but it's amazing to see how resilient people can be when they get together around food, the one thing we all have in common regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and country of origin. Food unites, empowers, and nourishes us, and there is no better proof of that than in Detroit.

For more details on what's growing in Detroit, read Mark Bittman's opinion piece. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eric Schlosser explains why being a foodie isn't "elitist"

I'm out of town for part of this week, so instead of writing I thought I might share a great article from the Washington Post with you. It's long compared to my usual posts but well worth the read. It touches on so many issues within our broken food system that have caused me to put food and agricultural issues at the top of my list of environmental concerns.

Why being a foodie isn't 'elitist'


By Eric Schlosser, Friday, April 29, 3:59 PM

At the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting this year, Bob Stallman, the group's president, lashed out at "self-appointed food elitists" who are "hell-bent on misleading consumers." His target was the growing movement that calls for sustainable farming practices and questions the basic tenets of large-scale industrial agriculture in America.

The "elitist" epithet is a familiar line of attack. In the decade since my book "Fast Food Nation" was published, I've been called not only an elitist, but also a socialist, a communist and un-American. In 2009, the documentary "Food, Inc.," directed by Robby Kenner, was described as "elitist foodie propaganda" by a prominent corporate lobbyist. Nutritionist Marion Nestle has been called a "food fascist," while an attempt was recently made to cancel a university appearance by Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," who was accused of being an "anti-agricultural" elitist by a wealthy donor.

This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies. And it gets the elitism charge precisely backward. America's current system of food production - overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels - is profoundly undemocratic. It is one more sign of how the few now rule the many. And it's inflicting tremendous harm on American farmers, workers and consumers.

During the past 40 years, our food system has changed more than in the previous 40,000 years. Genetically modified corn and soybeans, cloned animals, McNuggets - none of these technological marvels existed in 1970. The concentrated economic power now prevalent in U.S. agriculture didn't exist, either. For example, in 1970 the four largest meatpacking companies slaughtered about 21 percent of America's cattle; today the four largest companies slaughter about 85 percent. The beef industry is more concentrated now than it was in 1906, when Upton Sinclair published "The Jungle" and criticized the unchecked power of the "Beef Trust." The markets for pork, poultry, grain, farm chemicals and seeds have also become highly concentrated.

America's ranchers and farmers are suffering from this lack of competition for their goods. In 1970, farmers received about 32 cents for every consumer dollar spent on food; today they get about 16 cents. The average farm household now earns about 87 percent of its income from non-farm sources.

While small farmers and their families have been forced to take second jobs just to stay on their land, wealthy farmers have received substantial help from the federal government. Between 1995 and 2009, about $250 billion in federal subsidies was given directly to American farmers - and about three-quarters of that money was given to the wealthiest 10 percent. Those are the farmers whom the Farm Bureau represents, the ones attacking "big government" and calling the sustainability movement elitist.

Food industry workers are also bearing the brunt of the system's recent changes. During the 1970s, meatpackers were among America's highest-paid industrial workers; today they are among the lowest paid. Thanks to the growth of fast-food chains, the wages of restaurant workers have fallen, too. The restaurant industry has long been the largest employer of minimum-wage workers. Since 1968, thanks in part to the industry's lobbying efforts, the real value of the minimum wage has dropped by 29 percent.

Migrant farmworkers have been hit especially hard. They pick the fresh fruits and vegetables considered the foundation of a healthy diet, but they are hardly well-rewarded for their back-breaking labor. The wages of some migrants, adjusted for inflation, have dropped by more than 50 percent since the late 1970s. Many grape-pickers in California now earn less than their counterparts did a generation ago, when misery in the fields inspired Cesar Chavez to start the United Farm Workers Union.

While workers are earning less, consumers are paying for this industrial food system with their health. Young children, the poor and people of color are being harmed the most. During the past 40 years, the obesity rate among American preschoolers has doubled. Among children ages 6 to 11, it has tripled. Obesity has been linked to asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes, among other ailments. Two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight, and economists from Cornell and Lehigh universities have estimated that obesity is now responsible for 17 percent of the nation's annual medical costs, or roughly $168 billion.

African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites, and more likely to be poor. As upper-middle-class consumers increasingly seek out healthier foods, fast-food chains are targeting low-income minority communities - much like tobacco companies did when wealthy and well-educated people began to quit smoking.

Some aspects of today's food movement do smack of elitism, and if left unchecked they could sideline the movement or make it irrelevant. Consider the expensive meals and obscure ingredients favored by a number of celebrity chefs, the snobbery that often oozes from restaurant connoisseurs, and the obsessive interest in exotic cooking techniques among a certain type of gourmand.

Those things may be irritating. But they generally don't sicken or kill people. And our current industrial food system does.

Just last month, a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that nearly half of the beef, chicken, pork and turkey at supermarkets nationwide may be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. About 80 percent of the antibiotics in the United States are currently given to livestock, simply to make the animals grow faster or to prevent them from becoming sick amid the terribly overcrowded conditions at factory farms. In addition to antibiotic-resistant germs, a wide variety of other pathogens are being spread by this centralized and industrialized system for producing meat.

Children under age 4 are the most vulnerable to food-borne pathogens and to pesticide residues in food. According to a report by Georgetown University and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion. That figure does not include the cost of the roughly 20,000 annual deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

One of the goals of the Farm Bureau Federation is to influence public opinion. In addition to denying the threat of global warming and attacking the legitimacy of federal environmental laws, the Farm Bureau recently created an entity called the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance to "enhance public trust in our food supply." Backed by a long list of powerful trade groups, the alliance also plans to "serve as a resource to food companies" seeking to defend current agricultural practices.

But despite their talk of openness and trust, the giants of the food industry rarely engage in public debate with their critics. Instead they rely on well-paid surrogates - or they file lawsuits. In 1990, McDonald's sued a small group called London Greenpeace for criticizing the chain's food, starting a legal battle that lasted 15 years. In 1996, Texas cattlemen sued Oprah Winfrey for her assertion that mad cow disease might have come to the United States, and kept her in court for six years. Thirteen states passed "veggie libel laws" during the 1990s to facilitate similar lawsuits. Although the laws are unconstitutional, they remain on the books and serve their real purpose: to intimidate critics of industrial food.

In the same spirit of limiting public awareness, companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical have blocked the labeling of genetically modified foods, while the meatpacking industry has prevented the labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals. If genetic modification and cloning are such wonderful things, why aren't companies eager to advertise the use of these revolutionary techniques?

The answer is that they don't want people to think about what they're eating. The survival of the current food system depends upon widespread ignorance of how it really operates. A Florida state senator recently introduced a bill making it a first-degree felony to take a photograph of any farm or processing plant - even from a public road - without the owner's permission. Similar bills have been introduced in Minnesota and Iowa, with support from Monsanto.

The cheapness of today's industrial food is an illusion, and the real cost is too high to pay. While the Farm Bureau Federation clings to an outdated mind-set, companies such as Wal-Mart, Danone, Kellogg's, General Mills and Compass have invested in organic, sustainable production. Insurance companies such as Kaiser Permanente are opening farmers markets in low-income communities. Whole Foods is demanding fair labor practices, while Chipotle promotes the humane treatment of farm animals. Urban farms are being planted by visionaries such as Milwaukee's Will Allen; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is defending the rights of poor migrants; Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is fighting to improve the lives of food-service workers; and Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver and first lady Michelle Obama are pushing for healthier food in schools.

Calling these efforts elitist renders the word meaningless. The wealthy will always eat well. It is the poor and working people who need a new, sustainable food system more than anyone else. They live in the most polluted neighborhoods. They are exposed to the worst toxic chemicals on the job. They are sold the unhealthiest foods and can least afford the medical problems that result.

A food system based on poverty and exploitation will never be sustainable.

Eric Schlosser is the author of "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" and a co-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Food, Inc."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company


Thoughts? Reactions? Do you feel passionate or apathetic about this?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

King Corn: growing trash for 28 dollars' worth of government subsidies per acre

On Thursday I attended a free screening of King Corn, hosted by Young Urban Farmers CSA as part of their 2011 workshop and event series. Released in 2007, this film - at times quite funny and overall much more lighthearted than other documentaries, like Food Inc - follows the adventures of college buddies Ian and Curt as they move from the East Coast of the US to rural Iowa to the small town where as luck would have it, both of their great-grandfathers grew up. Their goal: to grow an acre of corn and follow it from field to end product.

Although King Corn didn't teach me much I didn't already know about the food system and corn's role in it, I experienced my fair share of moments of shock and disbelief. The funny thing is, if I hadn't spent a lot of time this spring helping Young Urban Farmers CSA (YUF CSA) turn back yard lawns into vegetable gardens, I may have had very different reactions. Take for instance the fertilizer Ian and Curt buy for their corn: anhydrous ammonia, or pure ammonia gas, which is highly toxic and very dangerous if not handled correctly. A specialized machine injects it into the ground where it will wait to be sucked up by the corn. What does YUF CSA do? We keep the soil healthy, which in turn keeps the veggies healthy, by adding compost and other organic matter. We feed the soil rather than forcing chemicals to sit in it.

Another real kicker was watching Ian and Curt plant their acre of corn. It took all of 18 minutes, and they didn't get their hands dirty. In fact, the only indication they may have done work in the field is visible in grease stains from operating yet another industrial farming machine. The only oil-dependent equipment YUF CSA uses is a rototiller, once per yard when it is first turned from sod to veggie. Elaine, our Head of Operations, shows us how it's done:

The variety of corn Ian and Curt planted has been genetically modified to generate a huge yield, tolerate growing in very dense rows, and resist the pesticide that is used with it. In other words, this corn tastes like chalk. Because most of it is used to make animal feed and high fructose corn syrup, the flavour has literally been bred out to make room for more starch (more calories). It's a raw material and definitely not destined for the grill in cob format. Again, the contrast to YUF CSA's approach is startling: we choose plant varieties that grow well in our climate and taste good... and that's it!

There's much more I could say... about how little Ian and Curt actually did in terms of farming; about how creepy a field of corn looks at ground level because absolutely nothing else is growing there; about how wrong it is to force cows to eat so much corn that they develop ulcers and would actually die of illness if we didn't take them to slaughter as early as we do. But what I really want to highlight is the irony of modern farming: people who grow corn can't feed themselves. Farmers can't feed themselves. As one farmer put it, "[we're] growing trash, the best trash in the world, because the government pays us for it". Ian and Curt received $28 in federal subsidies for that one acre they grew. Never mind the surplus corn sitting in giant piles outside of the already full grain elevator. Never mind the obesity and diabetes caused by everything we turn corn into. Never mind the toxins we put into the ground that eventually end up in our drinking water. It's a sad picture, one that farmers from as recently as two generations ago couldn't have imagined. I for one am happy to support an alternative food system that allows me to eat food straight out of the ground, grown 2 km from my home with no chemical inputs. There's nothing healthier than that.

Have any of you seen this documentary? How did you feel when you watched it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Airing Dirty Laundry for All to See

This morning I had the pleasure of helping Environmental Defence and their Come Clean project. With the federal election behind us, the focus in Ontario is now on the provincial election coming up in October. There's no time like the present to get both our newly elected federal officials and the provincial candidates to Come Clean and provide straight answers on where they stand on environmental issues. How do we get their attention? Air their dirty laundry on the front lawn at Queen's Park (home to Ontario's provincial parliament).

The dirty bed sheet reads, "Bed bugs, bed bugs, everywhere! ... Why, you might ask? Well that's because a year ago our Nanny Premier Dalton McGuinty banned pesticide use across the province." - Conservative MPP Randy Hillier. For those of you who didn't hear, Toronto had a bed bug outbreak in the winter, and Premier McGuinty banned pesticides in 2009. Mr. Hillier thinks the latter is to blame for the former, ignoring three facts: (1) the ban makes exceptions when public health and safety are in jeopardy; (2) several pesticide products are still approved for use; and (3) businesses may only use these products once licensed. Most importantly, our rivers and lakes are being kept clean of cancer-causing toxins. We should thank Premier McGuinty for being a good nanny! As for Mr. Hillier, he's got some laundry to do.

Top: "The information we have acquired will help us and wind developers make better-informed decisions on offshore wind power projects." - then Minister of Natural Resources Donna Cansfield. In 2008, Minister Cansfield announced that the Ontario Liberals were lifting a moratorium on offshore wind farms that was put in place in 2006. Notably, the government was going to establish a partnership with various organizations that strive to protect migratory birds. But then (bottom), Environment Minister John Wilkinson said that "[offshore wind] requires a cautious approach until the science of environmental impact is clear." We heard this earlier this year, when the Liberals reversed the 2008 decision and will again put a halt to wind power development for another two years. They claim that this is about seeking more scientific evidence, but I think we all know what they're really seeking is votes this October!

It's not just the Liberals and Conservatives making no sense, though. Above, NDP MPP Peter Kormos is quoted as saying, "Wind turbines could end up being the biggest financial and corporate scam the province has witnessed since eHealth." Mr. Kormos has also publicly backed complaints from anti-wind groups! Strange, I thought the NDP's official stance was to advocate for an aggressive transition to renewable energy?

And then there was the leader of the Ontario Conservatives, Tim Hudak. Oh, Mr. Hudak. Hoping to be elected Premier this fall, just yesterday he promised that "an Ontario PC government will end the sweetheart Samsung deal ... [and] will end the FIT program." Mr. Hudak wants to kill a deal with Samsung that is set to create tens of thousands of jobs in the wind and solar energy industries. Would that initially save money? Yes. Would that help save struggling economies in places like Windsor that have been devastated by the auto industry crash? No. Mr. Hudak also wants to kill the feed-in-tariff (FIT) program which provides stable prices within long-term contracts to developers of clean energy, effectively stimulating the renewable energy industry while helping Ontario phase out its coal-fired power plants. Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Hudak has stated that "it's not a Greenbelt; it's a 'greenbotch'." He's referring to one of the world's largest areas to be permanently protected from urban development and sprawl: the ecologically sensitive Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario. Why anyone would oppose the preservation of such beautiful green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, and watersheds is beyond me. Are we not already taking up enough space? Please Ontario, don't elect this man in October.

To learn more about Come Clean project, check out the project website. Meanwhile, what do you think? Please share your reactions!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Best Mother's Day Gift

This Mother's Day, as I have many times before, I chose not to buy a bouquet of flowers for my mom. Although I've always loved colourful blossoms, I've never understood humanity's fascination with chopping them off and taking them inside to wither and die within a week. It's also horribly wasteful to grow exotic flowers in foreign countries and ship them over here, again, only to last a week. For my mom this makes especially little sense, as she lives in a house with a gorgeous flower garden. At this time of year, every colour of the rainbow is represented right outside her door, and with a long list of gardening tasks, she's hardly indoors long enough to appreciate a bouquet if I got her one! My recommended alternative? A stroll through Toronto's High Park along the west hill by Grenadier Pond, where the cherry trees were in peak bloom this weekend. Beautiful flowers for beautiful mothers to enjoy, at no cost to us or the environment.

Your turn: did you do anything green for Mother's Day? Do you have tips for eco-friendly alternatives to the standard traditions?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


In the aftermath of the election, I found it a little harder for me to come up with something to feel good about this week. Then I realized that it's all a matter of perspective. Instead of being pessimistic and focusing on the fact that the Conservative Party has formed the new majority government, why not be optimistic and applaud the NDP for the huge gains it made to become the new opposition! For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, check out CBC's Canada Votes 2011 site.

D'Arcy Island, part of BC's Saanich-Gulf Islands riding that Elizabeth May won.

Most importantly, I want to feel good because Elizabeth May won her riding in BC. Although the Green Party received far fewer votes nationwide compared to 2008, they now have a voice in Parliament for the first time in history. Let's not ignore how huge this is just because we're busy worrying about what our robotic prime minister will do next!

This is democracy in action, folks, and it's a sign that a growing number of Canadians don't feel that the big boys in red and blue can act with the people's best interests at heart. Nevertheless, we're stuck with a Conservative government, and the next few years will be a little unsettling for those of us with a green mindset, that's for sure. So for encouragement, I leave you with one of my favourite Chinese proverbs: the man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. When Elizabeth May won her seat in a riding that has been held by the Right for most of the last 58 years, she carried away one of those stones. Let's help carry away the rest!

Photo credit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BIXI Is Here!

I'm so excited to announce that I took my first BIXI bike on a test run today! The new public bike sharing system launched in Toronto on Tuesday (if this is the first you're hearing of it, read up on it here and here).

Last night I was going to attend a volunteer training session downtown at 6:30 pm. Before I left work, I checked the BIXI Toronto website to see where the closest bike station was to my destination. Apparently it had four bikes available. By the time I got there, all were gone! But, as a testament to how brilliantly this system was designed, the sun-powered bike station console showed that the next nearest station was just up the road! That's the one pictured above.

My friend Hwan, proud owner of a full-year membership, swiped his BIXI key (like a security pass to an office building, only much smaller) at the docking point holding one of the bikes, waited for the light to turn green, then pulled out this black cruiser. Hwan easily and quickly adjusted the seat for his height, and off he went so I could snap some action shots! And yes, that stylish hat is actually a bike helmet, though the law does not require cyclists to wear them, so BIXI doesn't provide any.

I took a spin, too, though I was quite unprepared in my heels and dress! Then again, the step-through frame design made that no issue. The bike - a cruiser as I mentioned above - was a little heavy but offered a smooth ride nonetheless. The extra weight is attributable to the additional metal on the frame that hides the gears and brake cables to reduce weathering; a pretty obvious feature when you remember that these bikes will be sitting outside all year round!

I'm so happy this bike share came to Toronto. Not only that, but I'm also very proud of my fellow Montrealers for developing their own system and doing such a great job that they can now bring it to other cities around the world. Mayor Ford, if you're reading: this is what helps make Toronto a world-class city (not getting an NFL team).

Your turn: if this system was in place where you live, would you use it? If you like it, what's appealing about it? If you don't, what's not working for you?

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers... and Food!

May is upon us, and everywhere I looked today I saw Daffodils, Forsythias, and Magnolias in bloom. All of that rain in April is paying off. Now it's time for spring veggies! While we wait for the edibles (and if you're reading this on Monday night, election results), let's check out two great foodie events.

This week Food Forward is hosting its monthly networking and social event around the good food movement: Foodie Drinks. As usual, the guests will include one business and one non-profit working to better the food system. This month, we will be hearing from Ayal Dinner, coordinator of the Sorauren Farmers' Market, which is run by the West End Food Co-op. Also speaking will be Erica Lemieux, founder of City Seed Farms, a backyard farming business that has started growing veggies in the High Park neighbourhood and sells this produce at the Sorauren Market! Read up on Ayal and Erica in this recent newspaper article.

Date: Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Time: 7:00 - 10:00 pm

Location: Stella - 1261 Bloor St W at Lansdowne. This cafe/bar will have light snacks from neighbourhood stores for purchase along with Steamwhistle on tap and other local brews by the bottle.

Cover: This month we're asking for a $5 donation cover; we also have memberships available for $10. As always, snazzy Food Forward buttons will be available.

For more information, visit Food Forward's website, and you can RSVP on the Facebook event page.


Not to be missed next Monday is the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council's community meeting. This month's theme is farmland preservation. Did you know that the cities and towns of Southern Ontario have been developed on top of some of Canada's best soil? That's right, we're losing Class 1 Farmland that can grow anything the climate will allow, and more of it is disappearing every year. The meeting will include a panel discussion featuring youth experts on agricultural zoning policies, the Markham Food Belt, and creating careers in sustainable agriculture. Stick around for brainstorming opportunities, the outcomes of which will help the TYFPC develop its position to be presented to the Toronto Food Policy Council in June.

Date: Monday, May 9th, 2011

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Location: Metro Hall, Room 308 - 55 John Street.

For more information, visit the TYFPC website, and you can RSVP on the Facebook event page.


You know what's funny about elections? I have no issue going to bed early and hearing/reading about the results in the morning. I'm also not one to tent out in front of a store to be the first to get my hands on a new tech gadget... if you couldn't already guess that about me! Both the election results and the piece of electronics will be there in the morning!

Photo credit.