Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eating in Season is Simply the Best

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Eating 'in season' foods helps to benefit all"

Throughout human history, our food grew and ripened around us. We ate seasonally: fiddleheads and asparagus in the spring, then rhubarb and strawberries bringing us into summer, with fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob leading into the bounty of tree fruit and tomatoes in the fall. We’d pickle or can foods picked at their peak to preserve their flavours and nutrients for later in the year.

But in recent decades, we’ve been spoiled by fresh food flown or trucked in from distant climes. First strawberries throughout the year, now we also see raspberries and blueberries on the grocer’s shelf in the winter or spring, courtesy of China, California, or Chile.

It’s gotten so bad that people often don’t even know what’s local, or what’s in season. A recent letter-writer expressed surprise that organic apples from the Barrie Farmers Market grew in Chile rather than Simcoe County. What surprised me was that someone expected local apples in May or June! Apples season here starts in late summer, with cold-stored local apples available through the winter in gradually diminishing quality and quantity, growing scarce by April. May or June? I wish!

Moving toward sustainability, our family has been filling our plate and pantry as much as possible with local food, which means eating produce as it’s harvested. Sometimes a challenge, it’s also fun. Pick-your-own at Barrie Hill Farms is a cherished family outing; self-picked berries top our morning cereal for months. We also love freezing them for later, and making all kinds of jams and jellies, combining hand-picked local berries with in-season Niagara-region stone fruits. Spread on home-made bread, it’s heaven for your mouth!

Whether from a CSA, farmers market, or your own garden, eating locally in season means winter menu staples are late-harvest vegetables that keep well in cold storage. Luckily, my wife has found numerous tasty ways to prepare carrots, parsnip, turnip, beets, and cabbage, especially some truly gourmet soups. Of course, one great resource is the Internet. But while a web search can give you a recipe for just about anything, often it involves sourcing exotic or out-of-season ingredients to supplement your main item, which sort of defeats the purpose.

That’s where our second secret weapon comes in: the wonderful book Simply in Season. This handy reference is organized along the agricultural calendar to provide great instruction on how to use each food as it comes into season, and more importantly, how to combine the foods that are in season together. Colour-coded with handy tabs showing which in-season foods are in each recipe, it is our most well-worn cookbook, a veritable bible for Barrie’s bountiful local foods.

Eating simply and in season helps re-attune our lives to the natural rhythms, rooting us in Nature’s wonders, courtesy of our local farmers. And with a great resource like this book, eating local in season needn’t be a chore. Instead, you can enjoy the superior taste and nutrition of the full variety of fresh foods, while supporting our local economy and ecology and your health, too.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Go Green at Staples on Saturday

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; a version of this was published under the title "Staples hosts first 'Go Green' ecofair event"

Transition Barrie has been working for a few years now to help plan a low-energy, sustainable future for our community. One thing is very clear – nobody can do this for us, we all have to learn and do our part. Events earlier this year like the E3 Summit and Ecofest have shown how stakeholders in Barrie are going green. What’s nice to see now is that business is helping to lead the way. This Saturday, local green services will be showcased as Staples Business Depot hosts their first Go Green event, so other businesses and families who want to green themselves can learn how.

In partnership with Transition, the 561 Bayfield St. (at Hanmer) Staples location is putting on an event for the whole community. To start, eco-friendly businesses will be showing off their products and services. You can see everything from environmental house-cleaning to rain barrels to local solar providers. Major retailers Rona and Staples will demonstrate how they can help you sustainably source your home and office needs. Earth Electric can help you save power, and Nifty Thrifty will demonstrate the re-fashioning of old clothing into new items.

Planning a move to new digs? Let Green Box Rental show you how to save time, money, and the environment when you do. And talk to the Green Realtor Karen Fox about how she can help you market or find a more ecological home. Let the Green Team of Back to Basics show you how they can provide for your landscaping needs with Barrie’s only totally emission-free service.

Recycling will be the order of the day, a chance for you to clear out those hard-to-dispose-of items. You can bring in your e-waste, your paint, batteries, and compact fluorescent bulbs, your older cell phones, your used ink & toner cartridges, even your old tires and they’ll be collected by GEEP, Rona, Cellcycle, Staples, and Emterra, respectively. Don’t let these hazards lie around, or escape into the waste stream.

And it will be fun for the whole family. Earth Day Canada is sponsoring a children’s area with seed plantings, crafts, games, and a gift bag where the kids can have supervised fun while parents browse the other booths. Sophie’s Place will host a charity BBQ to benefit the Special Olympics, and Dominos on Bell Farm Rd. will provide lunch for volunteers and participants.

So come out and Go Green – learn about savings and rebates, and enter the free draw for a $500 eco-prize pack. The event is free to attend, starts at 10 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., so no matter what you have planned Saturday, you should be able to find time to swing by. You will be glad you did!

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The federal budget IS debatable

When the latest federal budget was released, coverage of it in our local daily was somewhat one-sided. Apparently that's because in the narrow window between the budget release and the story deadline, there was only time enough to interview our Conservative MP for his (predictably supportive) comments. However, the Examiner was kind enough to publish my reactions from the Green Party perspective as a letter to the editor, reprinted below.

Federal budget doesn't receive a passing grade [presumably the title refers to my education career]

In her outgoing address, Auditor General Sheila Fraser noted three key areas of persistent failure: the plight of First Nations communities, the threat from crumbling infrastructure and the crisis posed by a rapidly changing climate. These three areas were core elements of the 2011 Green Party platform. Sadly, none were addressed in the June 6 regurgitated federal budget, beyond token measures.

Surprisingly, climate impacts threatening economic recovery are mentioned several times, but without connection to climate change. On page 37, food prices are linked to 'weather-driven supply constraints'. Costs to Canadian infrastructure and compensation due to extreme weather (driven by climate change) include $72 million to repair storm surge damage to small craft harbours (page 105), melting permafrost compromising arctic ice roads requiring $150 million for the Inuvik -- Tuktoyaktuk highway (page 102), and $470 million to farmers after extraordinary spring floods. These amounts are the tip of a very large iceberg, as Ms. Fraser warned.

On the fiscal front, extending corporate tax cuts helps only already-profitable corporations, while increasing employment insurance (EI) premiums $8 billion over the next five years squeezes the bottom line for all employers. If the goal is boosting jobs, this makes no economic sense. Neither do the billion-dollar annual handouts to the fossil fuel industry, or the extra $100 million in nuclear subsidies.

One bright light for local business was the restoration of ecoEnergy retrofits [as I have called for in previous columns].

Overall, not much good news, and not a great omen for the next four years.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins
National Revenue critic
Green Party of Canada

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It takes a Village to market these Meats

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Village Meats a reliable mainstay at market"

With all the bad news around the closure of small food processors, the exit of aging family farmers from our fields in the face of industrial agri-business consolidations, and mega-stores pushing out local family business, one might believe all the news about food is bad. But now and then we see a good news story on the food front, and here’s one to celebrate.

My family has always enjoyed Barrie’s weekly Farmers Market at City Hall Saturday mornings. In addition to the field vegetables and hand crafts, a mainstay has been the deli counter. Frequent long lines demonstrate the popularity of Frank’s products, including salamis, cheeses, and a great variety of sausages. And for the kids, there is always a free pepperette, which rarely lasts past the ride home.

Their products have become mainstays of our favourite home recipes for local produce, such as cabbage & potato stew featuring double-smoked sausage. The one hitch is that, some weekends, we have other commitments Saturday morning. Luckily, that won’t be a problem for us – or anyone – anymore, because Village Meats opened a full-time location on May 1st. In addition to the sausage and cheese offerings, they now feature a full European-style butchery with a variety of fresh meat cuts, a bakery aisle with specialty breads & pastries, and all sorts of jams or other prepared goods from Poland.

Frank’s Polish roots are fully expressed in this store, in all the aisles, from cheese to jam to soup mix to cakes to candy and sweets. If you’re of Polish extraction, you can now rediscover your roots at Village Meats and hook into a whole network of ethnic and specialty providers. It’s a wonderful expression of the diversity which makes Canada so wonderful.

Located at the corner of Yonge St & Little Ave, the deli brings a much-needed diversity to that part of Barrie, where food-shopping options used to be limited to convenience stores or mega-grocery chains. And don’t worry, they haven’t abandoned the Farmer’s Market – they remain an anchor vendor each Saturday morning.

One of the most exciting (for me) products will be delicious smoked Great Lakes fish, prepared in their own smoker. Supporting our freshwater fisheries demonstrates the importance of keeping our watersheds clean and productive.

Village Meats is just one example of the kind of positive job-growth this area desperately needs. Economics tells us that small business is a major job-creator, and the easiest way to grow our local economy isn’t bending over backwards to attract new business, but helping our existing businesses expand. So drop in to Village Meats, fill your basket from their array of fresh and unique products, and be a part of this Barrie success story.

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

With biodiesel, Barrie drivers can save money and the earth

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Biodiesel a better solution than dino-diesel".

Barrie's near-miss with hosting Canada's largest ethanol refinery left us with a deep skepticism of biofuels, oil or gasoline substitutes made from non-fossil sources. Yet they are still pushed as sustainable alternatives, despite accusations of green-washing.

Certainly growing corn through standard industrial agriculture, involving heavy fertilization (from petrochemicals), energy-intensive irrigation and pesticides (yet more petrochemicals), then shipping it great distances only to use still more energy and water to distill it, is no model of sustainability.

But industrial corn-ethanol is just one example of biofuels, at the worst end of the spectrum.

There are exciting discoveries using enzymes to create ethanol from non-food sources, like grass or wood, including leading Canadian company, Iogen.

Plus, there are other, more sustainable biofuels, and we can access one of them right here in Barrie: biodiesel, made from food oils. Biodiesel is made from non-fossil sources -- used deepfryer oil from restaurants, expired margarine or vegetable oil, even rendered animal fat or farm waste.

Last year, my friend Andrew Miller, of Back to Basics Social Developments, brought a biodiesel co-op to Dalston. The supply company produced and supplied oil for restaurant kitchens, then reclaimed the used oil to be processed into biodiesel, which was put back into gas tanks in the community.

Biodiesel can be used in most diesel engines (check with your manufacturer to be sure), or home heating oil furnaces. It's far safer than 'dino-diesel' (made from petroleum), as it is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades in the environment faster than sugar, if it happens to spill.

It is cleaner-burning and even less flammable than regular diesel, which itself is less hazardous than gasoline. It even stores better than regular diesel, and you can blend them together at any ratio, depending on what suits your engine.

There are technologies under development to produce biodiesel from algae, using either waste in sewage ponds or even carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of existing industry, so it could clean up our air or water and provide fuel at the same time.

Andrew has brought his biodiesel co-op to Barrie this year, and I'm thrilled to be a member. Although there is a nominal sign-up fee, it's made up by the fact that you get the biodiesel at five cents below the going rate at the pump.

How often can you do something which is better for the environment at a lower cost, instead of paying a premium?

If you drive a diesel vehicle and are interested in keeping your summer driving prices down while reducing toxins and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, you should contact Andrew about joining his co-op.

Just call 705-716-4006, or e-mail and he'll set you up.

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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feast your intellect with the Root of the Idea

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published as "Ecofest an all-encompassing experience"

Ecofest is back – bigger and better than before. This 2-day event goes beyond vendors, entertainment and food with a feast for the intellect at The Root of the Idea Exchange, an interactive, free-ranging panel discussion featuring a wide variety of interesting guests. Moderated by A News anchor Tony Grace and co-hosted by local teen enviro-blogger Bailey Thompson, panelists will address some fascinating current topics you won’t want to miss.

First up, the question of how best to protect and preserve Lake Simcoe, on whose shores Ecofest takes place. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux of the Chippewas of Georgina Island, who actually live within the Lake, will bring perspective on the long-term impacts to health & sustainability of the tremendous historic developments (past, present, and proposed) the watershed has seen. With expert feedback will be Gayle Wood, who has served on the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority for the past 15 years, years that have seen a lot of rapid growth but more recently, the introduction of the Integrated Watershed Management Plan and the provincial Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Her top interest is effective partnerships between business, the community, and governments at all levels.

And government will be well-represented on the panel, including our federal Member of Parliament Patrick Brown, and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman to bring the municipal perspective. I know Jeff has a lot of exciting visionary ideas, while Patrick hopes to extend the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund with new money, and they will both be taking questions about future plans & developments for Barrie. Speaking from the provincial policy level will be Andrew Miller, Barrie’s Green candidate for Ontario’s fall election.

I am sure Andrew will also share his thoughts on rural economies and the debates around market farms and energy farms, since his Back to Basics projects deal with both food and biodiesel, a form of vegetable-based alternative energy.

From the environmental volunteer sector comes local businessman Mike Fox, active member of Transition Barrie, Living Green, and the Chamber of Commerce BASE3 committee.

It all takes place next Sunday afternoon, June 12th, on the main stage sponsored by Living Green. At 1 pm, before the main panel, see special guest Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, who comes from farming roots and has a deep background in healthy & local food distribution. He’ll describe initiatives to connect farmers wanting to be more sustainable with institutions wanting to offer healthier food in their cafeterias – and how to link local Simcoe farmers with partners like Georgian College, Royal Victoria Hospital, or the school boards. Right after Mike will be artisanal chocolatier Michael Sacco, whose bike-powered ChocoSol operation is both tasty and sustainable. Sweet! See you there!

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

UPDATE: This column generated a response letter from our MPP Aileen Carroll, copied below:

(Re: 'Ecofest an all-encompassing experience' in the June 2 edition of the Examiner)

I take issue with Erich Jacoby- Hawkins' column about Ecofest in which he advises that the Mayor Jeff Lehman will represent the municipal government, the MP Patrick Brown the federal government and Andrew Miller, the Green Party candidate for the provincial election in October will be "speaking from the provincial policy level."

This clearly implies that the Green Party candidate has the authority to represent the third governmental component; that is the Ontario provincial level of government. He most certainly does not.

He may hope to someday, but for now he is one candidate. The Liberal government of Ontario has passed and is implementing the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which is the most comprehensive watershed-based legislated plan in Canada.

I am joined by several environmental groups in this community in my pride in this accomplishment. Further, my government has committed $20 million to protect the health of Lake Simcoe, improve water quality and restore a coldwater fish community. By working together, we have managed to reduce phosphorous levels from 100 tonnes to 72.

While political intentions are worthy, actions, as ever, speak louder than words.

Aileen Carroll Liberal MPP Barrie

Sorry if you feel slighted, Ms. Carroll, but despite your attempt to change my meaning through paraphrasing, my column accurately described the people who would be on the panel and what each of them would be contributing to the discussion. Andrew Miller does not represent the provincial government, nor did I say or imply that he does - quite the contrary, I clearly & explicitly labeled him as a candidate. However, as a duly nominated respresentative of a registered provincial party, it is certainly within his purview to discuss provincial policy. You don't hold a monopoly on that.

I did not create this panel, I merely wrote about it to generate interest. If you feel that your own government needs to be represented, then it falls to you to ensure that you take part in events like this. Then perhaps your actions could speak louder than your words in a letter to the editor. Certainly no-one can deny that Andrew Miller is a man of action.

Here is another response to Ms. Carroll, carried in the June 21 print edition of the Barrie Examiner:

The future is at stake

On June 12, I watched a fantastic panel discussion, the Root of the Idea Exchange, put together by the organizers of Ecofest Barrie. Citizens brought forward important concerns and provincial Green Party candidate Andrew Miller joined other panelists, including Mayor Jeff Lehman and Patrick Brown, Barrie's MP, in exploring areas of possible action. In doing so, Miller drew upon his experience with launching local initiatives and non-profits, as well as his growing understanding of how provincial policy impacts our food, water, health and economy.
Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll has written that he was misrepresented in Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' recent column as speaking for her provincial government. Having re-read it carefully, it is clear that Miller was accurately described as the Green Party candidate, not a government official.

Perhaps Ms. Carroll believes no one but her should speak about provincial policy. The last I checked, we live in a free democracy, and the Ontario legislature has risen in advance of the next general election.

I am happy our current MPP can point to some prior environmental efforts, but now is the time for all of us to look forward and explore different ideas, as we decide the path of the next four years. Past accomplishments are well and good, but it is our future which is now at stake. I hope she will remember that, ultimately, it is the citizens who must guide our elected officials, and this coming fall, elect them.

Kelly Weedon, Barrie