March 13, 2013

Arrival of syrup season brings renewal of hope

As published in The Erin Advocate

I recently started a new full-time job, after a year of part-time work, and it actually feels good to be back in the rat race. As usual, the rats are in the lead.

As a graphic designer at a small retail print shop in Brampton, I am keeping customers happy, one small project at a time.

For many people, there is a powerful link between employment and a feeling of well-being. I know that my worth is not determined by the work I do, but I feel more worthwhile when I'm doing it.

My buoyancy of mood has been helped by the imminent arrival of spring. There are the annual rituals, like putting away winter coats, and getting our hopes up about the Blue Jays. Spring is a good time for hope, no matter what the circumstances.

I am glad to give up one hour of sleep every year to get back my extra hour of evening sunshine. It's little wonder that some cultures have revered the sun as a god, considering the uplifting energy it provides.

And of course, there are the maple syrup festivals. Even if you don't go to them, it's encouraging to know that the sap is running. They are being held at Mountsberg Conservation Area (Campbellville), the Kortright Centre (Woodbridge) and in Elmira where it has been going for 49 years and now draws 70,000 people out on a single day (April 6 this year). For details, go to

On a smaller scale, the “Sweet Taste of Spring” will be held at Terra Cotta Conservation Area, March 23-24, 9 am - 3 pm.  There will be pancakes, local maple syrup and educational stations on the tapping of maple trees.

It's also an opportunity to learn about bird migration and spring baby animals, make your own pine cone bird feeder, get expert gardening advice for spring or enjoy a wagon ride and live entertainment. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children (4-12) and seniors. Call 1-800-367-0890 or visit

For part of last year I was employed as a part-time inventory analyst at a large grocery store. It is a super place to work, if you have a taste for organized chaos.

On one occasion, I had to heave a case of 10 bottles of maple syrup into the trash compactor. One of the bottles had broken and leaked, and it was not considered worthwhile to wipe off the other bottles so they could be sold.

The amount of waste in the food industry is obscene, but I don't blame the front-line workers or managers. It's a corporate business model that attempts to move huge volumes, while keeping costs low.

It's a mainly part-time / low-wage workforce, an odd combination of young people hoping for something better and older folks who cannot yet afford to retire. It's a very competitive business, and the focus is quite rightly on satisfying the needs of customers.

The waste in the system, however, is directly related to the customer demand for an incredible variety of foods, always fresh and attractively displayed. And of course, there must always be the perception of low price and good value.

Vast selection and huge waste are luxuries for which we all must pay. They are signs of an affluent society that has grown out of touch with the values that made it prosperous. It is an unsustainable pattern of behaviour, one which will inevitably be corrected.