Spring 2018

Renewable communities produce energy, jobs and hope

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Anishinaabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an “extreme extractive economy” fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a “regenerative economy” based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.

We now go to extremes to access fossil fuels. Hydraulic fracturing shatters bedrock to release previously inaccessible gas, requiring large amounts of water made so toxic through the process that it must be disposed of in deep wells. We extract bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands using techniques that emit more than twice as many greenhouse gases as average North American crudes. The Pembina Institute reports that 1.3 trillion litres of fluid tailings have accumulated in open ponds in Northern Alberta since oilsands operations started in 1967.

Human innovation has made it possible to extract less-accessible fossil fuels, and that’s provided jobs. But environmentally, socially and economically, this extreme behaviour can’t continue. We need new options. We must innovate and create jobs in a regenerative economy.

In her talk, LaDuke said, “The reality is that the next economy requires re-localization of food and energy systems, because it’s more efficient, it’s more responsible, it employs your people and you eat better.”

Re-localization is happening in communities across Canada.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s new, nationwide Charged Up program is collecting stories to help inspire people to take on renewable energy projects in their communities.

In Oxford County, Ontario, local farmers, community members, the Six Nations of the Grand River and Prowind Canada launched Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm in 2016. It produces enough electricity to power almost 7,000 homes.

Miranda Fuller, head of the Oxford Community Energy Co-operative, says the project helps connect people with the power they use and gives them a stake in their energy system. Its revenues are helping stabilize rural farm incomes, which helps protect local food systems and the community’s way of life.

The project created about 200 jobs through development and construction. Some revenue goes to a community vibrancy fund and to student bursaries aimed at giving young people opportunities.

Fuller makes an important observation: Community-led renewable energy projects provide a way for people to become active producers of energy rather than just passive ratepayers or consumers.

Oxford County became the second local government in Canada, after Vancouver, to adopt a commitment to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Gunn’s Hill makes up 15 per cent of Oxford County’s goal.

Indigenous communities are also innovating and leading on renewables.

Chief Patrick Michell of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in B.C. says meeting energy needs in concert with nature resonates with his nation’s values. Nlaka’pamux is working toward food and energy self-sufficiency. The Kanaka Bar Indian Band, one of 17 bands in the nation, has solar projects and has partnered with Innergex Renewable Energy and others on a run-of-river project to generate power and income.

“What you do to the land, you do to yourself,” Michell says, quoting a traditional saying.

He says his people have been food and energy self-sufficient for thousands of years, but recently his community has seen changes in weather patterns, water flows, precipitation, forest fires and ecosystems, often related to climate change.

Kanaka Bar is building more energy-efficient homes and retrofitting existing houses to reduce energy needs. That costs money up front, but Patrick says he’s seen some of his neighbours’ energy bills plummet.

Neighbouring communities are asking about Kanaka Bar’s experience, and Michell is happy to see the work rippling out. For him, these efforts represent a return to the land, to values that will help his community become more self-sufficient, vibrant and resilient.

LaDuke says, “Keep your eye on where you’re going. Operate not out of a place of fear, but a place of hope.” Good advice for us all, as we celebrate the efforts of these communities and look to put the lessons they’ve learned into action across Canada.

Let’s focus on hope. On climate solutions. On renewable energy led by communities like Oxford County, Kanaka Bar and others rising to the challenge to create a regenerative economy for everyone.

Originally Published: June 4, 2018

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David Suzuki with contributions from Community Renewable Energy Program Lead Sherry Yano

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Dr. David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award- winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling and easily understood way. Dr. Suzuki is also recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology. He is now Professor Emeritus at UBC.



Seedy Saturday: Local Seeds and Local Food

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Ever been to a Seedy Saturday (or Seedy Sunday)?

If you have, you know that it is a great "feel-good" event -- all about seeds, and the hope, anticipation and potential contained in seeds -- and the coming of spring!

At a Seedy Saturday, you will find seed swaps, regional seed vendors, workshops and information displays related to seeds and gardening.  With the grower/vendors present at the event, you can ask questions about their production practices and get details about each variety -- for instance, planting dates, season length and recommended uses.  I really enjoy meeting the growers -- the people behind the seed packages -- hearing stories about the seeds and feeling connected to the seed and gardening community.  Just looking at the individuality of the seed packages, including beautiful hand-made ones, is a treat in itself for me.  Yes, it's true -- I love going to Seedy Saturday!

For the seed swaps, bring seeds you have saved (vegetables, flowers, herbs, trees, whatever!) -- and take home seeds from other seed-savers.  (Even if you don't have seeds to trade, you can probably take home seed from the swap table.  Seed savers are notoriously generous people...)

Or you can buy seeds from the regional seed companies that attend Seedy Saturdays -- a great way to obtain regionally-adapted seeds, including heritage varieties, and to support these small companies that are a key part of creating a more resilient local seed system. 

 In eastern Ontario, where I live, there are several regional seed companies that attend Seedy Saturday events.  The people operating these businesses are an important part of the sustainability and resilience of the local food and farm system.  Without them, we are dependent on large, transnational companies that make seed decisions based on global market conditions, not on what grows well in any particular region.

 Based on my experience, go to Seedy Saturday with a list of what you need; otherwise, you will want to buy one of everything!

 Seedy Saturdays (or Seedy Sundays) are locally organized and held across Canada from February to mid-May; you can find details at the events link on Seeds of Diversity website -- www.seeds.ca/Seedy-Saturday Seeds of Diversity is a non-profit organization whose objectives are "to search out, preserve, perpetuate, study, and encourage the cultivation of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops, and to educate the public about the importance of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops and the need for their continued cultivation and preservation." 

In other countries, look for information about seed exchanges or seed swaps.  For instance, in the United States, there is a national seed swap day -- the last Saturday in January.  The Seed Savers Exchange is a good place to learn more about saving and sharing seeds; its mission is "to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants."  www.seedsavers.org

I highly recommend The Seed Underground -- A Growing Revolution to Save Food, by Janisse Ray, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. Janisse Ray is a lifelong seed-saver and a poet; her book is a beautifully written series of stories about seeds, people who save them, and why we should all be saving seeds.

 
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Originally Published: May 7, 2018

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Dianne Dowling, Contributor and President, Local 316, National Farmers’ Union (Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington Counties)

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Dianne Dowling is an organic dairy and beef farmer in the Kingston, Ontario, area and is active in food and farm organizations, including the National Farmers Union, the Food Policy Council for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington and the Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI).