October 28, 2009

Signs praise farmers' environmental efforts

As published in The Erin Advocate

Ontario farmers are reaching out to trail users with a series of educational signs, highlighting their efforts to make farms more environment-friendly.

The first of 60 signs throughout the Greenbelt was unveiled in Erin early this month, where the Elora-Cataract Trail crosses Dundas Street, to mark the launch of a public relations campaign called "Agriculture Hits the Trails". It is a project of AGCare, a coalition of crop-related farm groups, and the Ontario Farm Animal Council.

"Farmers are doing a great job of protecting and enhancing the environment," said Jackie Fraser, AGCare Executive Director. “The colourful and informative signs showcase a range of advancements.”

Erin's sign is mainly about Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plans, through which farmers get grants to defray the cost of improvements like buffer zones near streams to reduce erosion and fertilizer run-off, fencing to keep farm animals away from streams and better management of pesticides and manure. Wellington County and the City of Guelph fund similar measures through the Wellington Rural Water Quality program.

Farmers have invested about $600 million on such improvements, and reduced tilling has lowered greenhouse gas emissions more than 600 kilotonnes.

"The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation (FGF) has granted millions of dollars over the past three years to support the many Greenbelt farmers who are taking on environmental projects," said FGF Program Manager Shelley Petrie.

The sign project is supported by trail organizations and conservation authorities, but funded primarily by the FGF. The Foundation provided $180,000, over three years, to produce six different 24" x 18" laminated wood signs on steel posts. A total of 60 are spread across the 1.8 million acres of the Greenbelt, from the Niagara River to Cobourg, including the Escarpment.

The grant does not cover staff time at any of the agencies, but does cover things like design, physical production, installation and professional PR help.

The signs are attractive and well-written, an example of your provincial tax dollars at work. The FGF is independent of the government, but received a one-time $25 million provincial grant in 2005 to help cover start-up and on-going costs.

Grant applications are assessed for relevancy and value. The signs are clearly within the FGF criteria, but at $3,000 each, they are quite expensive.

This year the Town of Erin, through its Trails Subcommittee, and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) completed a similar project on a smaller scale, with five different educational signs for the Woollen Mills Trail, near downtown Erin village.

The town paid $1,200 each for these colourful, all-metal signs which are 37" x 25".

The project was spearheaded by Amy Doole through WeCARE (West Credit Appreciation, Rehabilitation & Enhancement), with support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. It benefited from substantial staff time at CVC for research, design, writing and installation, while historical research was provided free by Steve Revell. An additional version of the mill history sign was unveiled last week at the 109 Main Street park.

Other FGF grants in the Erin area include $100,000 for the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association, to "foster cooperation among tourism operators, to enhance their 'natural' marketing brand, while increasing visitors to the area and lengthening their stay."

The Caledon Countryside Alliance got $30,000 for a community map project, Conservation Halton got $75,000 to build "awareness of the Greenbelt" through signs and other communications materials, while Credit Valley Conservation Foundation got $12,000 for 15 signs promoting the Credit's "clean water and healthy watersheds".

You can get more information at www.greenbelt.ca, www.caringfortheland.com, www.agcare.org and www.ofac.org.