Thursday, May 26, 2011

Green politician witnesses record-setting change

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Diaper event promotes changing our world".

When you enter politics, you never know what will be asked of you. As Green Party candidate, I’ve been invited to all kinds of rallies for worthy causes, like the recent “Bubbles of Love” where my family and I blew bubbles to raise awareness of parental alienation. I also happily accept invitations to help various charitable events, so this will be my 3rd year volunteering alongside other community “celebrities” for Camp Day at a local Timmy’s.

But last month, for Earth Day, I had the strangest request yet – to witness dozens of baby bums get changed! With my own 2 daughters past that age, I thought my diapering era was over. But when organizer Jen Varty explained it was to raise awareness of cloth diapering, I couldn’t say no. A huge amount of landfill is created by disposable plastic diapers, more than 4 million thrown out in Canada every day! And since they take centuries to break down, alternatives (cloth or composting) are important to develop and promote.

Hence “The Great Cloth Diaper Change of 2011” which raised awareness by setting the Guinness World Record for the most cloth diapers changed at once. Rather than trundle babies from far and wide to one massive venue, communities across North America and around the world hosted local events where parents brought their little ones. Barrie’s was at Holly United, and featured 30 young participants. Official numbers are still being compiled, but the total record count is well over 6,000, with almost a thousand of those representing wee Canadian bums.

But as I say, with my own kids past diapering, why was I there? You probably know Guinness officials oversee each record-breaking attempt, whether pogo-stick hops or stuffing a phone booth or whatever. But with a many-location attempt, they recruit local community figures as proxy witnesses, and that task fell to me. My very serious responsibility was to ensure that organizers confirmed all babies were the right size (under 39 inches), all diapers were commercially-available standard cloth models, and all participants were counted and verified with signed documentation.

Some stats: the cost of disposable diapers is around 20 cents each, while cloth diapers (per use) cost only 12 cents. Seemingly a small difference, multiply it by an average of 6000 changes per baby, and you can save almost $500 per kid. And today’s cloth diapers are nothing like what grandma used – Velcro or snaps in place of pokey pins, super-absorbent inserts, (mostly) leak-proof covers, and great designer looks for the fashion-conscious baby! (Watch this column for a future story on some great local options.)

The best part of the event? Not a single person made the old “why are politicians like diapers” joke!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Help Brereton Field Naturalists Club mark milestone

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

Although I’m proud of the two-decade heritage of Environmental Action Barrie: Living Green, on whose board I sit, there is a local ecological organization with an even greater pedigree – the Brereton Field Naturalists’ Club. This month they celebrate their Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of their founding in honour of local naturalist Dr. Ewart Brereton, the renowned ornithologist who passed away in 1950.

Over the ensuing sixty years, in addition to authoring “Birds of Simcoe County”, and helping establish trails & conservation centres, volunteer members of the BFNC have been regularly promoting local conservation and education through field trips and evening speakers. Next week will be a blitz of such events, and I hope you’ll find the time to take part in one or more of them.

The fun starts Tuesday morning (May 24th) with a demonstration of bird-banding at Little Lake, a process where birds are carefully netted and fitted with a tiny numbered band so their migrations can be tracked. At noon is the proclamation and flag-raising by Mayor Lehman at City Hall, along with announcement of the BFNC’s new $20,000 student award fund at Georgian College. Then in the evening you can watch the unique and fascinating at-risk Chimney Swifts as their flocks circle downtown chimneys before roosting inside.

The next morning marks the beginning of the daily (9 to noon) nature hikes, at Little Lake (Wed.), Ferndale Wetland (Thurs.), and Mayer’s Marsh (Minesing, Fri.) followed by longer hikes (7 am – 2 pm) on Saturday and Sunday at Matchedash Bay and Tiny Marsh, respectively. (For those, bring a lunch). Or perhaps you would prefer Wednesday evening at the Gables, or Friday evening’s short, easy walk on the Hunter Russell trail (Midhurst).

All hikes begin and end at the Spirit Catcher (where Maple Avenue meets the waterfront), with carpools arranged from that parking lot. Rain or shine, dress for the weather, wear your hiking shoes/boots and bring sunscreen/hat, bug spray, and water. The hikes are all open to the public at no charge. These are great opportunities to see spring wildflowers and rare plants, birds, insects and other wildlife, with some great views of our area’s stunning natural heritage.

Prefer something a little more formal? Then attend the gala dinner at the Georgian College dining room the evening of Thursday, May 26 with keynote speaker Michael Runtz: award-winning naturalist, biologist, teacher, author, wilderness guide, photographer and all-round outdoorsman. You may know him from his frequent guest spots on natural history TV or radio programs; now you can meet him in person. Tickets are only $45 but must be purchased in advance by calling 705-726-8969.

For more event details, call the number above or visit

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Friday, May 13, 2011

No middle man required for healthy eating

(Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner)

Many people complain that healthy organic food is too expensive. But there is a way to bring the cost down called “community shared agriculture”, or CSA. It’s a program where a group of families partner with a local farm and sign up to buy that year’s produce in advance. They pay in installments, and receive their basket of fresh food each week. Because there is no middle-man, the cost is lower for buyers (usually $20-25 per weekly basket) while the income is higher for farmers. And you get the benefit of local, sustainably-grown food.

Our family has enjoyed various CSAs for many years, and found them both economical and rewarding. Our first was a mixed farm toward Midland named Sage Pastures that we visited every two weeks during the growing season, June through October. We enjoyed two years of vegetables, herbs, and a variety of free-range meats. Then they closed and we moved on to Moondance Organic, west of Barrie, in the optimistically-named Utopia. They had an even wider variety of veggies for us to choose from, but weren’t raising meat. After a couple of satisfied years there, we switched to Heritage Hill Organics, which is just outside Dalston, because their program includes meat raised on their mixed farm. They also feature maple syrup, and for the home beer-maker, fresh hops.

Farm visits are one of the joys of CSA membership, and a great hit with my two young daughters. They love learning where real food comes from, and making friends with a great variety of farm animals – chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, goats, horses, even the odd llama or alpaca. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they get to help gather the eggs from the coop.

A couple of years ago we heard of a new thing – a winter CSA. Starting in fall and running until early summer, it covers the off-season of standard CSAs. We joined the winter program at Edencrest Farms, near Minesing. Instead of having to drive out there in the snow & storms, they deliver our weekly basket of local produce to a central depot in Barrie. It features a combination of standard winter fare – root vegetables, apples, cabbage, and other fall harvests which last all season in their large cold storage. But they also provide bags of young spinach and mesclun salad, grown and picked fresh from their winter greenhouse, which is sustainably heated with corn stalks from the fall harvest.

To quote Edencrest, when you join a CSA, you are not just buying vegetables, you are supporting sustainable farming practices and contributing to a reliable, healthy, local food supply and income for the farmers. All of these (Moondance, Heritage Hill, Edencrest) come highly recommended.

(to be continued…)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.