Monday, February 14, 2011

Need a Garden? Borrow a Garden! Building Community and Resilience

There are many people in Newmarket who have access to a yard perfectly suitable for food production yet don’t bother gardening for a number of reasons. They may be elderly or too infirm to do the amount or kind of labour required, some may work long hours and don’t have the time, they may not have the skills required and some might even believe that food is too cheap and available to bother with gardening.

At the same time there are many people who are having a hard time feeding their families a healthy diet, people who have chemical sensitivities and need organic produce, and people who don’t believe that food will always be as cheap and available as it is today. This last point is a very poignant one if you look at the number of stories in the media recently about food inflation, crop failures caused by droughts, floods, wild fires and plant diseases. Reported food shortages and escalating energy costs makes it obvious that the cost of eating and overall food security will be major concerns in the near future.

One way to deal with this imbalance is a Yard Share program which encourages people with usable yards to partner up with those who have desire to garden but no access to land. As the program connects people it creates new community contacts, friendships and support mechanisms for those involved. It’s a great way to engage people who might be house bound or unable to do yard work who in return would receive a little companionship or a share of the fresh produce grown. For some it might just encourage them to come outside and attempt to putter around behind their gardener and help. These garden hosts may have a wealth of gardening, canning or cooking skills to share with their urban farmers even if they can’t do the physical work themselves.

Yard sharing is a great tool to increase local food security and to help alleviate poverty. Best of all its coming to Newmarket thanks to Vanessa Long who has started a Yard Share page for Newmarket on the Hyperlocavore site. If you are interested in offering land, becoming a gardener, teaching gardening skills or even donating tools/seeds/plants/labour for others who are trying to build gardens just join here.

There are no forced gardening partnerships in a Yard Share program, people join the site and state their interest to garden or their offer of land and people get together on their own and work out how they wish to manage a garden partnership. People can trade garden access for other yard work, companionship, food or just plain good karma.

Some people barely utilize their yards at all, no kids playing, no dogs running, and nobody lounging their weekends away or enjoying the cool of a summer night. A yard share garden is a great way of turning an uninviting sea of browning grass into a productive living part of a community. I think it’s a great idea.

I hope we see other Transition York Region members open Yard Share pages for their towns as well.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yolk Region News

I just have to let you all know about this York Region News satire site I saw on twitter today called Yolk Region News There's not a lot of content on it yet but it looks like it will be a fun site to read.

Here is a description of the project from their About page


Welcome to Yolk Region News! Yolk Region News is produced by a volunteer team of 905 journalists and erstwhile scribblers who have lived in and around this region for decades. Yolk Region is undergoing rapid growth and change — growth that is far outpacing that of every other developed region in North America. Despite global calls for reductions in energy use and greenhouse gases, despite rapid loss of animal habit and a steep decline in bird populations, fish stocks and pollinators such as bees and wasps, Yolk Region continues to exist in a special reality that has little or nothing to do with the facts.

As the region borrows record amounts of money to build infrastructure to support the construction of thousands of new energy sapping monster homes, it continues to preach sustainability and environmental stewardship to residents. We do not believe that these sorts of facts are sustainable without help.

Although some residents have already noticed that the editorial content of this publication in not — in the strictest sense — “factual”, we find that Yolk region now faces a reality in which the facts have become a stranger to truth. Further, due to the aforementioned rapid expansion, we find that traditional media are simply unable to keep up with the growth of facts in our region. In order to make up for this shortfall, has no choice but to make stuff up.

Despite all, we love our community and we mean no harm.

The staff.

I hope they keep it up, we certainly get very little of value from the real media in York Region.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Transitioning York Region

We are a society wholly reliant on the world’s finite and rapidly declining oil supplies. Our daily activities like heating our homes, eating, shopping, and driving all use vast amounts of oil. To make matters worse we've purposely designed leisure activities around burning even more oil as if it was a contest to see who can consume the most. The danger this irrational energy addiction poses should have been obvious to all of us but for the most part we’ve chosen to ignore the issue figuring the energy will always be there, well guess what? We were wrong!

It may have been 2 years ago or it may still be a couple of years away but we are on the cusp of Peak Oil, that point where we can no longer increase world oil production as shown on this graph with production in billions of barrels and the year.

In the early part of the 20th century oil was easy to find and world oil reserves and production grew quickly. This cheap energy spurred on growth, innovation, massive industrialization and conspicuous consumption. This worked out great for about ½ a century but eventually new oil discoveries began to fall behind and for every one barrel added to identified reserves several were used up. At this point we had ample time to change our ways but we didn’t bother, in fact most people inside and outside the oil industry ignored the trend altogether.

Fast forward to the present and we are at the point where all of the easiest, cleanest and cheapest oil has been discovered and a great deal of it burned. Today’s new oil is generaly deeper, dirtier, more expensive to extract, requires more energy to extract and is generally found in smaller pockets, the boom times are certainly over. From this point on oil production will stagnate at best and will most likely begin to drop in the coming years. Demand however is not expected to decline as several billion Chinese and Indian peasants rush towards industrialization and consumerism.

The end game is we are heading towards much higher energy prices and if we don’t adapt to use less energy very soon we will probably face shortages and major disruptions in our way of life.

Enter Transition Towns

Transition Towns is a grass roots movement out of the UK which provides the frame work and development tools allowing communities to form their own local Transition Town organizations. Once in place Transition Town can educate communities to the issues of climate change, peak oil and economic contraction. At the same time by engaging the community, Transition Town taps the local skills, creativity and energy generating home grown innitatives to ease adaptation from our current state to a post carbon society.

From Transition Towns main page.

A Transition Initiative (which could be a town, village, university or island etc) is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction. There are thousands of initiatives around the world starting their journey to answer this crucial question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly rebuild resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil and economic contraction) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

There are already 321 communities largely in Western Europe and North America recognized as official Transition Initiatives by the Transition Newwork. Hundreds of additional towns, regions, and island are in the initial stages of organization. Each of these groups has different people, different skills, different climates and different visions which will eventually result in hundreds of distinct energy descent plans designed for their needs.

Under the umbrella of each local initiative various working groups develop to focus on issue of food, economy, energy, health, spirituality, transportation, reskilling, culture and others. People who get involved can work on the larger picture or simply find a project they like under one of the many working groups and run with it. Me, I'm all about food security issues and promoting those lost skills and trades needed to make people and communites more self sufficient and resilient.

Transition Upper York Region

I think every town needs a transtion movement as I've stated before, so I'm very pleased to announce that we now have our very own embryonic organization called Transition (Upper) York Region which held its very fist open meeting last night at the Regional building in Newmarket. The attendies, (somewhere between a dozen and a score) recieved a brief primer on peak oil and the organization/methodology of the transition movement after which we broke up into smaller working groups to discuss key topics like food, health and energy. The discussions were vigourous and passionate and I'm sure most of these people will attend the next meeting dragging family or friends along with them.

I do think that Upper York Region is a tad too big and includes too many separate municipalities to be manageable but I suspect as the group grows it will become an umbrella organization with separate working groups for some of the towns. This is probably a good strucure to start with but it will surely evolve into something different.

This group intends on being very active and it should quickly build up the kind of numbers needed to represent the needs and concerns of the residents as well as actually getting things done.

In the coming weeks Transition(Upper)York Region will be hosting a screening of the movie In Transition 1.0 Aug 10th
holding another transition talk event Aug 19th
and a pub night for general discussion. Sept 15th in Richmond Hill

The Locations for these events are not yet finalized but I will edit this post once I get that information. You can find Transition (Upper)York Region on facebook here.

If you are curious about peak oil and how we are going to cope this is the organization for you. I've been waiting for Transition Towns to arrive in Newmarket for a couple of years and I'm most excited about the possibilities, I think we are going to do some good work.

Have a look at the Carousel on the side bar for additional books on peak oil and adaptation

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who does our council serve?

I was at an interesting presentation last week by the Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada, Larry Gordon, put on by the good people at CEDNA (Citizens Engaging Democracy Newmarket-Aurora)

In case you are unaware of the Fair Vote Canada I’ve included this excerpt from their Statement of Purpose.

Fair Vote Canada seeks broad multi-partisan support to embody in new legislation the basic principle of democratic representative government and ultimate safeguard of a free society: the right of each citizen to equal treatment under election laws and equal representation in legislatures.

We campaign for equal effective votes and fair representation at every level of government and throughout civil society by various means including lobbying legislators for electoral law reform, litigation, public education, citizens’ assemblies, and referenda.

To create an equal voice for every citizen and give democratic legitimacy to our laws we must reform our electoral institutions, political parties, public political funding mechanisms and governing processes to achieve these interdependent goals:

If you have any feeling that our current election system is flawed I'd recommend you investigate the work Fair Vote is doing. Even if you're satisfied its worth knowing why others feel the system is neither fair nor fully democratic.

Most of the evening dealt with voting systems and the right of all voters to be treated fairly under our electoral system. It was an engaging presentation and I think the participants came away with a new understanding of our system and the need to improve it.

There is however another campaign being run by Fair Vote which I thought was very relevant in this municipal election year calling for the banning of union and corporate funding in municipal elections.

The heart of the issue is simple;

Should businesses and unions be funding municipal campaigns?

Is there a real or perceived expectation of favouritism when a business funds a politician?

Does this funding give the incumbents who have better access to this corporate money an inordinate advantage in subsequent elections?

As a voter I feel the power of businesses and lobby groups over politicians is already too strong and believe it wrong for town vendors, contractors and developers who have an inherent financial stake in who runs council to fund municipal campaigns.

If you believe as I do that this is an important issue in municipal politics I’d ask you to contact you local representatives and ask them to complete and submit the survey which Fair Vote Canada has sent to 474 Ontario mayors and city councillors in the 42 largest cities and towns.

The survey is short, sweet and too the point and I believe most people would agree that voters have the right to know which campaigns are taking money from who so that we may better judge their actions when it comes to council votes.

1. Do you support banning corporate and union campaign contributions in all Ontario municipal elections?

2. If so, which option do you prefer? That the Government of Ontario: a) implement the ban that would be applied to all municipal elections in the province,
or b) that the government of Ontario empower individual municipalities to adopt such a ban?

3. If you support the ban, would you add your name to a public list of councillors who support it?

4. If you support the ban, would you add your name to a public list of councillors who pledge not to solicit or accept any corporate or union donations in the next municipal election?

Here is the contact information for Newmarket council; please let them know that ethical and transparent election financing is an issue to you and make sure you mention the Fair Vote Canada campaign

Don't just ask the incumbents either, each and every candidate should be disclosing if they take corporate money or if they will pledge not to.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Urban Chicken controversy comes to York Region

As I discussed in my article Things I want to see for Newmarket,

"I also want moves towards the legalization of small urban livestock, hens, rabbits, dwarf goats as part of a greater Right to Farm legislation.
Many urban municipalities in the U.K. and U.S. are once again allowing the ownership of small numbers of well tended food animals. These towns realize that peak oil will eventually impact food production and shipping costs making local food relevant again."

Now I understand that most people don’t want to see animals being slaughtered in the neighbour’s back yard but there is no rational reason that a person should not be allowed to raise a few chickens in a clean, rooster free environment for the production of fresh eggs. A ½ dozen chickens is quieter than a 100 lb dog, produce less waste, are less likely to hurt anyone and are great waste diversion/composting machines. Why should the municipality pay (and the people be taxed) to process green bin contents that can be converted to healthy food in peoples very own yards. The added value to the urban farmer is a supply of quality fertilizer for their gardens.

This brings you to the question “why are you going on about this topic yet again?”

Read this story “Coop ruffles town’s feathers” about East Gwillimbury’s move against a small, clean, urban chicken flock and you'll see why I'm up on my podium again.

While this story does not fit the Newmarket focus of this blog I would be doing the same thing as Mr Froats if I had a bit more time and room, I support the efforts of anyone who promotes urban farming and healthy food and besides I’ve met Jason and his family and they are good people.

If you support Jason’s struggle join the York Region chapter of CLUCK, (CANADIAN LIBERATED URBAN CHICKEN CLUB. For those who are residents of East Gwillimbury please contact your mayor and councillors and ask them to modify or repeal this law.

The CLUCK organization has been speading quicly with a number of local chapters forming around the country in recent months to educate the public and fight poorly designed animal laws. Recently Vancouver has voted to allow chickens and Calgary has backed off an outright ban in favour of a trial program to see if their urban chicken people can opperate without pissing off their neighbours.

In the meantime I hope this story encourages foodies, greens, or civil libertarians in Newmarket/Aurora to follow Jason’s lead in challenging irrational bylaws.

I bet Jamie Oliver would approve!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Newmarket’s While Elephant

Last night there was a Newmarket council meeting and vote regarding the possibility of a $3 million cost overrun on the renovations to Newmarket’s Old Town Hall. As this recent Era Banner article states the town set the original cost before an architect even fully assessed the job.
“The original $5.9-million figure was submitted with grant applications before an architect was called to see what needed to be done with the building to prepare it for the transformation.”

I pretty sure that most of these councillors would not call a contractor to gut their home based on their own estimates and then hire a professional to work out the real price after the fact, so why are they so willing to do so with our money? It’s not as if this is a small cost overrun either. The article mentions an additional $2.4 million would be needed but spectators at last nights council meeting are talking numbers over $3 million and of course we won’t know for sure unless the town spends another $150k to get a more accurate estimate. The way this is going we could be 50% or more over budget, good governance? Good planning? Good councillors? You decide!

Personally I think this is totally irrational; this job should have been fully assessed at the very beginning and compared to the cost of a new building. Old does not make a building valuable, it might make it historically significant but it’s not valuable unless it maintains utility and affordability. This building is quaint but is that enough? Why not just tear it down and build a new one from scratch using the same styling queues but with modern techniques, or just incorporate the north fa├žade into a new building, at least cost out such an options for comparison. As it is I don’t thing this project is a good value and before this is over we will be hitting $9-10 million, what else could we have gotten for $10 million?

Last night’s vote was to supply the additional $150,000 needed to fully cost the job but a tied vote failed to solve the issue. Next Monday’s Council of the Whole (April 12) will address this issue again so I think its important that tax payers use this extra week to contact their councillors and express their concerns over what appears to be gross mismanagement in costing this job and let them know your opinion on whether we should spend the money for the full renovation, a scaled back version or cancel the whole thing. Even if you don’t agree with my viewpoint, be heard! Too few of us make the effort.

Oh by the way here is the newest take on the story and a list of who voted how
The vote:
Mayor Tony Van Bynen,
Ward 1 Councillor Tom Vegh,
Ward 3 Councillor Victor Woodhouse
Ward 5 Councillor Joe Sponga

Regional Councillor John Taylor,
Ward 2 Councillor Dave Kerwin,
Ward 6 Councillor Dennis Ramsarran and
Ward 7 Councillor Chris Emmanuel

Absent: Ward 4 Councillor Larry Blight

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Farmer's Market opening May 8th

Opening day for the 2010 Newmarket Farmers's market has been set for May 8th. It's important to note that because of construction, this year's market is not downtown but at the town offices at 395 Mulock.

There are also rumours of a second market this year. I don't know if it's going to be an additional Saturday location or a mid week market like they tried a couple of years ago, keep watch for an annoucement.

The Mulock location doesn't have as much parking and I don't think it's as walkable as downtown so this may be a poor year for the vendors. In my case if I have to use my car to go to market I'm just as likely to go to Aurora where the near by Wells Park is a great distraction for the kids while we take turns shopping.

For those who don't have the ability to get to the new location or want to directly support local food production there are still opportunities to join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)where you can pre purchase a crop share entitling you to weekly deliveries(or pick up) of seasonal produce, eggs and even meat.

We've joined Cooper's CSA in Zephyr, I'll let you know how it works out.

Macwilliam Farms in Queensville also runs a CSA program as well as a pick your own opperation.

I'll add more CSA links along the sidebar as I discover them, feel free to me send links I don't have or reviews of the various CSAs. If you run a CSA I'll even give you an ad or a write up provided a basket of berries or bushel of potatoes/apples/etc is involved;)
I want to do more canning this year