March 30, 2011

Everdale gives students hands-on farm lessons

As published in The Erin Advocate

The best learning seems to happen when students not only have access to the facts, but a chance to see and hear and touch and smell the objects of their lesson.

That's how things work at Everdale Organic Farm near Hillsburgh, which has a range of farm trip programs designed for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

The Ontario school curriculum requires that students learn about sustainable ecosystems and the impact of human activities on the environment.

"Teachers are scrambling, looking for how to teach about it," said Karen Campbell, one of the founders of Everdale's Environmental Learning Centre. "They are trying to find out how to make activities cross-curricular, involving things like literacy and math."

The programs are designed to support the curriculum, providing a fun experience and showing students how they can take action related to what they have learned. Everdale also alerts young people to a possible career choice – you do not have to grow up on a farm to become a farmer yourself.

Thousands of students have visited in the last ten years, from a radius that includes Guelph and Brampton. The program has a mandate to stay small-scale, hosting only one school at a time and serving about 50 schools per year from early May through late October.

Students up to Grade 6 can interact with livestock, do some farm chores, explore ecosystems, learn about 19th-century farming, study soil ecology and find out where food comes from.

"The livestock gets the most comments," said Campbell. "Sometimes, kids are a bit frightened at first of physically touching the animals. They are out of their comfort zone."

Older students can work alongside the farm's regular workers in the field, study animal rearing and nutrition, or learn about the process of getting products from the field to the marketplace.

Fancy attire is discouraged in their dress code: "You are visiting a farm; you and your group will hopefully get dirty."

During the chillier months of November through April, Everdale goes on the road with its Farmers in the Schools program, with elementary-level workshops that include visiting chickens, a rotten apple party (about composting), a local food lesson that traces all the ingredients of pizza from their sources, and a bread and butter party that features flour grinding, dough kneading and butter making.

There is a popular Grade 3 Intensive Program that has three visits to the classroom by a farmer to interactively discover soils, plants and animals, followed by a final unit at the farm. A comparison of pictures drawn by students at the beginning and end of the program shows substantial increases in understanding, said Campbell.

The cost for farm trips is $7 per student for half days, and $13.50 for full days. In-school workshops are $3 per student. In addition, parents can register children for a farm day camp in July ($190 per week). Co-op placements are possible for high school students, and non-school groups can arrange visits.

There are lots of other things going on at Everdale, including events like Seedy Saturday (April 30), education for adults and the sale of produce to the public through "harvest shares". The farm is at 5812 on the Sixth Line, north of Wellington Road 22, west of Hillsburgh.

For more information, go to or call 519-855-4859.

March 23, 2011

Reel environmental action on a Sunday afternoon

As published in The Erin Advocate

A triple bill of environmental films will be featured at the Centre 2000 theatre on Sunday, April 3, a collaboration between erincinema and the Climate Change Action Group of Erin.

The line-up was to have concluded with Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Story, but that was changed after organizers learned it was to be broadcast on CBC television on March 13 and April 3.

Instead they will show The Clean Bin Project, a documentary film about a couple who compete with each other to see who can swear off consumerism and produce the least landfill garbage in an entire year.

In their quest to live waste-free, they tackle some major pollution issues, interview some experts, and try to make sense of their seemingly small influence in a "throw-away society".

It may seem like a lot to watch three documentaries in a row (total time 165 minutes, plus a 30-minute intermission) but given the high level of local interest in environmental affairs, I would not be surprised to see a good-sized audience. It will certainly be more stimulating than three hours of "Reality TV".

"We're hoping to inspire people to think about taking action," said Viviana Keir, a member of the Town's erincinema committee. They want to make Reel Action an annual event.

The doors open at 12:30 pm and the films start at 1 pm. Admission is free, but donations to help the East Wellington Community Services food bank will be appreciated. As at the Fast Forward film nights, there will be organic popcorn, and information tables on local food, tree planting et cetera.

The free admission is thanks to sponsorship by Powersmiths, a Brampton company that designs and manufactures power distribution systems that help reduce electricity waste.

The first film of the afternoon will be The Green Legacy Documentary, a short film on the largest municipal tree planting program in North America, which is here in Wellington County.

Next up will be Fresh – New thinking about what we're eating, which celebrates passionate people who are re-inventing the food system. It is a movie that has become part of the grassroots movement to make local, organic food a high priority for more people.

"We believe that Fresh can truly help get us to a tipping point, when sustainable food will no longer be just a niche market," said filmmaker Ana Joanes.

It deals with the consequences of industrial-style farming: problems with contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and obesity. It features people who are forging healthier, sustainable alternatives for the future of food. It is also a call to engage in ten suggested "fresh" actions:

1. Buy local products when possible; otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.

2. Shop at a local farmers market.

3. Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.

4. Avoid genetically modified organisms, which are prevalent in the soy, corn, and canola of processed foods.

5. Cook, can, dry and freeze – at home.

6. Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water when you can. Buy a reusable water bottle and invest in a good water filter.

7. Grow a garden, visit a farm, volunteer in your community garden, teach a child how to garden.

8. Volunteer and/or financially support an organization dedicated to promoting a sustainable food system. Stay informed by joining the mailing list of the advocacy groups you trust.

9. Get involved in your community. Influence issues surrounding food choices by communicating with elected officials at various levels: School Board, Town, County, Provincial and Federal.

10. Share your passion – talk to friends and family about why food choice matters.

More information is available at:;;; and

March 16, 2011

Service mall would have high profile benefits

As published in The Erin Advocate

In a recent letter to the editor, John Sutherland pitched the idea of a Visitor Information Centre next to the new Tim Horton's. There has not been much enthusiasm for the concept so far, but I think it could be expanded into a facility that meets a wide range of needs.

Communities often require a building that houses a variety of publicly oriented services, for groups that would never be able to build a structure of their own, but could afford to lease some space. It would be quite different from Centre 2000, a multi-use facility with an arena, high school, rental hall, library and theatre.

For now, let's call it the Multi-Use Facility #2. If it ever becomes a reality, a more interesting name could be found – "Mini Mall 2013" has a nice ring to it.

The building should be in a highly visible location for it achieve its purpose. Being next to Tim Horton's would guarantee a high profile, but other locations are possible. It all depends on developing a business plan to ensure the venture is profitable for whoever builds it.

I picture it as a relatively small indoor office mall, with a central foyer surrounded by various services, and hallways leading to others.

Tenants could include government functions, public agencies, non-profit groups and private businesses. Organizations might see an advantage to being located in the same building as others with something in common. For example, a real estate business might like to be close to an Information Centre that promoted Erin as a great place to live.

I do not know if developer Shane Baghai is interested in such a project, or who might ultimately lease space, but I will suggest some possibilities. I urge people to keep an open mind and consider the long-term benefits.

There could be a municipal component, like a satellite to the main Town of Erin offices. It would welcome and inform people about Erin (the whole Town), and aggressively market the Town, with a business development officer. There is always lots of talk about attracting light industry and boosting local employment, but not much action. Investment in such an effort could produce a financial advantage for the Town.

The Hills of Headwaters, or whatever tourism group we end up with, could find a natural home at the facility. The tourism shack at McMillan Park is pretty lame, with low traffic and a less than professional appearance.

There are various non-profit groups (business associations, service clubs, charities) that might have a need to rent or share space for offices, storage or meetings. Perhaps a certain percentage of the building could be reserved for the non-profit sector, instead of automatically filling it up with commercial customers.

The non-profit function that first comes to my mind does not exist yet, and that is a Senior Citizens' Centre. The room at Centre 2000, now being used by East Wellington Community Services for the Seniors Day Program and other activities for older adults, is not adequate for the range of services that should be available in this community.

If Erin seniors want such a facility, they are going to have to work hard to make it happen. It just seems to be more feasible as part of larger project.

I have a sneaking suspicion that a mini-mall facility for public services may be too complicated a project for short term development. It could take a while to get all the players together.

And let's face it, if the Town really cared about aggressively promoting itself, it would already be doing so. It is not a legal requirement.

It would be much simpler to build a store next to Tim Horton's. But it would be better to build something more innovative and valuable to the community. The Town may not be able to lead such a project, but it could certainly participate in a private sector initiative.

March 09, 2011

Recycled vegetable oil powers biodiesel revolution

As published in The Erin Advocate

Could the availability of a fuel made with used vegetable oil from restaurants persuade you to buy a used diesel vehicle? I'm not quite ready to take that plunge myself, the idea being too new to have penetrated the automotive lobe of my brain, but the possibility is intriguing.

The question arose while watching Fuel, a documentary about our addiction to fossil fuels. It was the second in the Fast Forward Film Festival series, presented monthly at the Legion by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

The film follows the quest of Josh Tickell to promote sustainable energy alternatives, including a transcontinental trek in a "Veggie Van", powered by frying oil from fast food restaurants. Drop in to

The presentation was sponsored by Erin's own Everpure Biodiesel Cooperative, which produces a sustainable fuel for diesel cars, trucks, generators, farm equipment and home heating furnaces.

Biodiesel can be made from crops like soy and corn, but environmentalists have turned thumbs down on this method, since it diverts food into fuel, driving up the price of food. There is also research into biodiesel from algae, which can be grown using waste water.

Everpure's model is a food-fuel recycling loop, selling canola oil to some 40 local restaurants like Saucy Soup, Bistro Rivière, David's, Churrasco 77, Busholme Inn and Duke of Hillsburgh. Everpure gets the waste fryer oil back for free and puts it through a chemical-catalytic process to produce 100 per cent biodiesel.

It can power diesel engines just as well or better than the fossil diesel sold by petroleum companies, with no engine modifications. Everpure sells it to their 70 co-op members for five cents per litre less than the going price at the gas station.

The restaurants get to call themselves "green", while users get a fuel that produces no additional greenhouse gases, emits 95 per cent less particulate matter and 75 per cent less carbon monoxide than fossil diesel, has no sulfur and is non-toxic / non-flammable.

"If there's ever a spill of biodiesel, the biggest danger is slipping," said organic farmer Jay Mowat, a founder of Everpure, answering questions after the film. The project began at Everdale Farm five years ago when they could not find a biodiesel supplier. Now the co-op collects about 500 L / week, and is ready to expand to more than 2,000 L / week. Find out more at

Production is done in Acton at Zuraw Technologies, in partnership with chemical engineer and entrepreneur Michael Zuraw. In July, they hosted an Open House event, supported by Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong.

It is a simple, radical project that is making a difference. In a society that depends so heavily on oil, however, the annual sale of 25,000 litres is just a drip in a very large bucket. All the arable farmland in North America could only produce enough biofuel to replace 20 per cent of fossil fuel use.

"Biofuels are not a silver bullet, they are not an answer," said Mowat. "In certain instances, like Everpure, it can be one of the solutions, one of the alternatives. I personally believe the only way to get off the fossil fuel train is reducing our use – starting to learn how to conserve. We are a very wasteful society in terms of fossil fuel production.

"We have no desire to become the Imperial Oil of biodiesel. We want to take local waste oil, produce biodiesel locally, then sell it to local farmers and drivers.
"Very few people know about it. Most of the work the co-op does is education. If we brought the message out a bit better, people would start to use it, if it was available."

Before you rush out and buy a diesel vehicle, be aware that there are limitations. Diesel passenger vehicles made in 2007 and later have emission systems that only accept a blend of up to five per cent biodiesel. New farm tractors and big rigs can take Everpure's 100 per cent biodiesel, said Mowat. Check the warranty as well, to see if it limits the proportion of biodiesel.

Also, biodiesel turns to a non-flowing gel at about -5° C, effectively shutting down sales for the winter – though they do sell containers to mixing enthusiasts. A non-gelling additive would cost an extra 20 cents per litre.

"We are barely financially sustainable now," said Mowat. "If we had to add 20 cents a litre, I don't think we would find very many customers."

The Everpure pumps in Erin, Orangeville, Acton and Guelph are the only places in Ontario where you can get 100 per cent (B100) biodiesel. Naturally, their pumps run off batteries charged by solar panels. Members pre-buy $500 worth of fuel, or get bulk delivery to their farms.

Everpure has been doing research, in partnership with the University of Guelph, into biodiesel home heating, with the help of a $5,000 grant that Mowat won in a competition at the Ontario Co-Operative Association conference last October.

"We should be able to supply, with some luck, biodiesel for home heating fuel, with slight modifications to your furnace (nothing that would void a warranty) next winter, on a limited basis," he said.

March 02, 2011

Palliative care extends to bereavement support

As published in The Erin Advocate

In a health system that attempts to meet both the physical and social health needs of its clients, palliative care naturally progresses to bereavement support.

With our aging population, it is an ambitious goal, trying to give seniors the support they need to live, and die, with as much independence as possible.

The Hospice Palliative Care Teams are part of a growing effort to enhance the work of palliative care physicians by meeting the changing needs of people outside of hospitals.

"We've been taking baby steps in introducing the service," said Andrea Martin, Director of the Waterloo Wellington Hospice Palliative Care Network. Funding from the Aging at Home Strategy has been extended to next year. The Wellington-Southgate Team is in the process of hiring an additional nurse practitioner – they cover a huge territory from Mount Forest to Erin.

"The team has had wonderful success in improving hospice palliative care to its clients and families," said Martin. "The specialists are aware of it, the case managers for CCAC, the community nursing services, our family health teams are quite aware, but from a public perspective, it is probably not well-known."

She said that having a spiritual care worker on the team has been "extremely beneficial", because many families have become disconnected from the faith communities they grew up with, and need a neutral person to offer support.

"It actually helps them link back to their faith community," she said.

The team also has a social worker, who can provide "help with emotional issues, and relationship-building among family members." The social worker can also assist with the sometimes overwhelming details of dealing with costs, government forms, various agencies and funeral arrangements.

To find out more about the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), and their mission of a "seamless experience through the health system", go to

The Hospice Wellington organization, with volunteer visitors and residential care for patients, also assists family members, helping them deal with grief both before and after the death of their loved one. Anyone who has experienced the death of someone important to them, whether sudden or expected, can call Hospice Wellington, at 519-836-3921. The programs provide support and compassion, and are not seen as therapy.

Staff or volunteers are available for one-to-one support on an as-needed basis, or a more regular schedule. Three to six months after the death, individuals may be ready to join a Grief Support Group of up to 10 people – a structured, safe place to explore emotions with others. Specific programs are available for adults, teens, children and those bereaved by suicide.

Each Spring and Fall, Hospice Wellington offers a 13 week volunteer training course, which is open to the public, entitled Insights into Terminal Illness, Grief and Bereavement.

Counselling is also available to families with doctors at the East Wellington Family Health Team. Issues of grief and loss can be disabling, so it is appropriate to seek out help in developing new coping skills.

Other services include Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington, a not-for-profit, community-based agency, that helps more than 5,000 people annually with a wide range of issues. No one is turned away due to income or inability to make payment. Check them out at