Thursday, June 28, 2012

Not just Locavore, but Locaholic

We hear much of the local food movement; readers of this column know I’ve written on it often. There’s even a name for local food enthusiasts: locavores. Just as a carnivore eats meat and a herbivore eats plants, a locavore eats foods grown or prepared locally. Ideas like the “hundred mile diet” or “eating the seasons” are growing in popularity from humble kitchen tables to fancy restaurants.
But what about beverages? I’ve written on the folly of bottled water when we already have top-quality drinking water free* at our taps. (The other day I was shocked to see water from Icelandic glaciers on the shelves of a local dairy.)
Yet we don’t just drink water. Simcoe isn’t a juice region, but we do have some wonderful local breweries, wineries, and even distilleries for those who like a tipple.
My own philosophy, when at home or travelling, is to approach the local beers or wines just as I would the local cuisine: part of a region’s character, something to partake of when there. Living in Korea, I drank Korean beers and rice liquor, especially house vintages, rather than the expensive western imports popular among status-seekers. Visiting relatives in Vienna a decade ago, I enjoyed visiting the Heurigen which serve house white wines fresh from that year’s cask.
Bike tours of the Niagara wine region have been a frequent summer activity for my wife and I, and our last visit to BC featured a wonderful day touring the wineries of Kelowna.
Whenever I share drinks in another city, I seek out local flavours on tap. In Toronto, it’s Mill Street Organic or Steam Whistle; in Kitchener, it’s something from the Brick Brewery. (This once backfired on me; after a long day canvassing in London, I asked the bartender for a pint of something made nearby and he pulled me a Labatt Blue! Since then I’ve been more careful how I ask… )
Most of the time I’m in Barrie, but that doesn’t mean I must settle for generic national brands, or beers made from melting BC glaciers, trucked across a continent to sit in a warehouse for weeks. We are lucky to have, right downtown, our own local brews courtesy of Flying Monkeys. For variety, I’ll have something from Creemore or Muskoka.
Recently I discovered a new winery in the Holland Marsh, which I’ll write about soon. I hear there are also some now in the Collingwood area. Collingwood is also site of the distillation of several Canadian whiskies. From beer to wine to spirits, one can now complement a “locavore” diet with “locaholic” drinks!
In future Locaholic columns, I’ll look at each of these regional beverages in more detail.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Locavores, localholics getting more popular"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Although your tap water is metered, the amount you use for drinking is so miniscule (compared to what is used for toilets, showers, cooking, dishes, laundry, washing, lawns, pools, etc.) that it barely registers on your bill. For the average person it amounts to less than one fifth of one cent per day, or under a dollar per year. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cleaner, greener, and somewhat more active e-transportation options

How we get around has huge impact on the environment, and our personal health. A recent study confirms common sense: the physical inactivity of long car commutes impairs your health. On the other hand, a zero commute (I work from home) has the same effect. The answer to both is to be more active when we can, something I’ve resolved to do, adding a lot more miles to my shoes and my bicycle this year. I’m also helping make Barrie a better place for walking & cycling through the Active Transportation Working Group at City Hall.
But as you plod along for miles, or bike up a long hill, you start to wish for a bit of help. And help is out there, in the form of various electrically-assisted active vehicles.
The first I discovered are e-bikes (‘e’ for electric). These come in two flavours. The first look like normal bikes, with electric components you might not spot at first, sometimes even tucked inside a wider-than-standard frame. But since these tend to be based on high-end bike models, they can set you back as much as a couple of grand.
Another style of e-bike becoming popular looks more like a moped or Vespa. For some reason these are cheaper; I’ve seen them new for under a thousand dollars. Pedals are required by law, but I’ve never yet seen anyone pedalling one. It looks more comfortable for a long ride than a bike-style model, but it also seems less likely you’ll get any exercise. Zipping everywhere by battery is easier on the air quality and environment than driving a gas-powered vehicle, but won’t keep you in shape. So if I were to go the e-bike route, I would stick with the bike-based version, not the electric moped.
Last weekend at Barrie’s third Ecofest I got to try something new, what Z├╝ terms an “e-scooterbike”. It has the traditional lines of a kick-scooter, like kids have been riding for over a century and has recently become popular for adults in Europe in the form of “kick-bikes”. But like an e-bike, it has an electric assist motor.

I took one for a test-drive around downtown, uphill and down, and found it a very pleasant ride. Since you’re standing up, you don’t have to worry about the seat comfort issues of bikes. You also have a better view of traffic, and are more visible to cars. It’s not as fast as a bike, but forces a more active ride than an e-bike.
Today you needn’t strap yourself into a car to get around, nor must you use only human power. E-bikes and e-scooterbikes provide an intriguing middle ground of machine-assisted human-based transportation.

PS. I see from the comments on the Barrie Examiner website that there is some confusion about the rules around e-bikes. You can find them here.
Published in the Barrie Examiner as my Root Issues column under the title "Delving deeper into electrically assisted vehicles"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let sunlight fill your heart and wallet

How would you like to own a piece of the sun? It’s our constant and reliable source of life on earth – our food, our climate, and most of our energy, whether solar, wind, hydro, or fossil fuels (which are essentially stored sunlight). Without it we’d starve in the cold dark.
But for some, there’s also a more direct financial connection. The hot water in my house has been warmed by a high-efficiency vacuum-tube solar heating system since 2006, so our gas bill is a trifle. And just this past winter, we added an array of solar electric panels that have already put thousands of kilowatt-hours of clean electricity into the grid for use in our neighbourhood.
Mine is just one of many sunny rooftops in Barrie that could be part of this green energy pipeline. As I travel around town I see new panels, but many more places they still should be. And although the feed-in tariff (FIT) contract price has gone down, that just reflects the rapid drop in costs to buy and install solar panels.
Still, the price of solarizing your home can exceed $50,000, and you must consider what happens if you move during the 20-year contract period. But there’s another way you can be a part of the solar wave, and draw the sun’s power into Barrie and into your wallet – a solar co-op.
This community project hopes to work out a partnership/rental arrangement with the school board to utilize some of the roof space at Bear Creek Secondary, already the site of several smaller scale solar installations. It would be a huge 300-400 kilowatt FIT project, as big as 30-40 home-sized installations, utilizing all the free roof space. What is needed are 40 people to each own a share in the project. The cost of a share is only $10,000, with a regular return of 8 - 10% per year for each shareholder. That’s far beyond what any bond, GIC, or similar investment offers; low-risk with high return that equities can never promise, that also benefits our community.
As a co-op, this project gets priority placement in the queue for grid connection. The installation may take a year to complete, but can start immediately, as soon as potential shareholders step forward.
And even if $10,000 is too much for you to invest, you can put together your own group to hold a share jointly. You and 4 friends or relatives could each invest $2000, and each pull in around $200 annually for two decades.
Intrigued? To find out more, you can attend a meeting at Bear Creek, 100 Red Oak Dr, on Tuesday June 19th at 6 PM. For more information, call Marty at (705) 220-5410.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Solar panels help curb energy expenses"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Omnibus bill obliterates role of elected MPs

Did you enjoy Celebrate Barrie this past Saturday? I certainly did. But if you passed by Barrie MP Patrick Brown’s office on your way there around mid-day, you would have seen me with dozens of other local citizens standing outside with signs about Bill C-38. Similar actions took place at 73 other MP offices across Canada. What was that all about?
A short answer might almost be, what was it not about? Because Bill C-38 is puts the term “omnibus” to shame. At over 420 pages, it introduces, amends, or repeals nearly 70 different federal laws. In the history of Canada, the only other bills this long or longer have been similar omnibus bills from the Harper government.
You may have heard the many ways C-38 undermines Canada’s environment, by essentially doing away with federal environmental assessments and weakening the Fisheries, Navigable Waters Protection, Species at Risk, and Parks Canada Agency Acts with looser regulations or funding cuts. It entirely repeals and replaces the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In seems to be doing away with any regulation that might even slightly delay a pipeline or other resource extraction project.
While it weakens environmental regulations in the name of expediting growth, it also weakens and defunds many scientific agencies that monitor air or water quality or help clean up spills. It’s as if they believe that if we can’t measure pollution, it doesn’t exist.
Of course, C-38 also makes it harder to claim Employment Insurance, delays Old Age Security and outright repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, so it’s not all about the environment by any means.
Here’s a big one: C-38 lets American police pursue and enforce their laws across our border. It’s ironic that on the bicentennial of winning the War of 1812, the Harper government has decided to retroactively surrender.
But with all that crammed in, there are still some things missing. Many Conservative MPs have assured us that there are increased environmental safety measures in this bill, such as more frequent pipeline inspections or increased navigation and surveillance for tankers. Yet those aren’t actually anywhere in the text! Apparently, in the hurry to erase every conceivable safety-related delay to oil extraction, these countervailing safety measures were overlooked.
All told, there are hundreds of measures in this bill that deserve debate and votes, but debate is being kept short (compared to the length of the act) and it all comes down to a single yes-or-no vote next week. The role of our 308 elected MPs, to represent each of their ridings for each new law, has been obliterated.
The strangest thing is that, with his majority, Stephen Harper could introduce and pass each of these measures on their own. So why are they all mashed together? Why not let our MPs do the job we elected them for?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.