Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sharing the early fruits starts now

Mary-Jane surprised to learn sour cherries are actually a bit sour.
Nothing beats ripe fruit freshly picked. It blows away the taste of fruit harvested hundreds or thousands of miles away then shipped, trucked, or flown to your local store.
One great source of fresh fruit is “u-pick” operations, several of which surround Barrie. But since such farms are generally located in rural areas where transit does not reach, you need a car to get there & back.
That’s where my high-school friend “Peaceman” Jim Kogelheide comes in, by organizing a free bus trip from London to a local strawberry field, so city residents without car access can take advantage of the flavour, health, and budget benefits of picking their own fruit. Way to go, Jim!
But back here in Barrie, we have other local food initiatives on the go. Last year I helped found FruitShare, a program where we send teams of volunteers to the properties of urban fruit-tree owners to pick all the ripe fruit from their tree. The harvest is split between the owner, the volunteer pickers, and the Barrie Food Bank.
Last year we rescued over 3,000 lbs of fresh, ripe, local, organic fruit from local trees and about 20,000 lbs of other produce was donated, much of it inspired by the enthusiastic media coverage FruitShare received. So of course this year we’re going to do it again, bigger and better!
When we launched last July, we only envisioned the apples and pears that ripen in the fall. The very next day we discovered that sour cherries thrive in Barrie, and several trees were ripe, so picking began immediately! But we also heard of other crops, like currants, gooseberries, and mulberries, we had just missed. So if you have or know of a good set of bushes or canes producing any of those berries, please contact us and perhaps we can pick them this year.
Anyone wishing to register a fruit tree (apple, pear, or plum but also grape vines, nuts, the berries mentioned above, or elderberries ripening in late August) can visit and choose the TreeRegistration form in the “Get Involved” menu. Or you can sign up to pick fruit, fun and healthy for the whole family!
We are also looking for equipment donations, having already received specialized pickers from Bradford Greenhouses Garden Gallery, and baskets, tarps & gloves from Mapleview Canadian Tire. Our top needs right now are collapsible stepladders and materials to build a sturdy off-season storage shed by the Coulter Street community garden, where the City of Barrie will soon be planting the first trees of our community fruit forest.
Remember, we can find the pickers, and we can get the fruit to the people who need it, but you must tell us where that fruit is! If you have a neighbour, friend, relative, or co-worker with fruit we could pick, please show them this article or contact us directly and our coordinator Jenna will follow up. You can email or call 705-715-2255. Whether it’s to pick fruit, register a tree, or provide other assistance, we’d love to hear from you.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie & Innisfil Examiners as "FruitShare sharing the wealth".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, June 20, 2014

Decline to decline your role in politics.

Your mandatory vote for me is muchly appreciated.

Last week was a provincial election, and perhaps the most surprising fact was that voter turnout bucked recent trends and rose a wee bit. Yet it was still just barely above half, which means almost half Ontario’s potential voters didn’t show up at the polls, which means their views will not be reflected at Queen’s Park.
The most ridiculous development around not-voting in this past election was the “decline your ballot” social media movement, built on the fantasy that if enough people showed up to vote but declined their ballots, the media or the parties would sit up and take notice and somehow change their ways. Well, I have news for you: no such luck. As a long-time party insider, even from a party particularly obsessed with democratic engagement, I can tell you that declined ballots go into the same big conceptual pile as spoiled ballots, blank ballots, and voters who don’t show up. All non-voters are at the bottom of the list for party engagement efforts.
In a decade of partisan political activity, people have told me many reasons for not voting, although a lot of them stem from a basic perception that voting doesn’t change anything, or the bizarre paradoxical complaint that “voting only encourages them”.
I certainly share the frustration of casting a ballot that doesn’t elect anyone, having done that almost every time I’ve voted. But I also know that every vote, even for a party that doesn’t win, has some effect on the political process, while not voting has none, except for letting the governing parties get away with more.
Many ridings are swing ridings – two or more parties have a strong chance of winning. And Barrie has proven to be a swing riding, first federally, and more recently, provincially, as we’ve gone PC-Liberal-PC-Liberal in 4 successive Ontario elections. In swing ridings, candidates and parties know the difference between victory and defeat can be just a few hundred votes, while third and fourth parties often pull in thousands of votes each. That means the contending candidates will try to seduce a segment of those votes, or at least try not to bleed any more away. So, for instance, in regions with strong Green Party vote results like the +10% in all 4 ridings bordering Lake Simcoe in 2008, environmental issues get more attention, and we even saw a characteristically enviro-hostile Harper government commit a surprising (but welcome) $30 million to improving our lake.
But if you feel your vote is ineffective, the answer isn’t to spurn it. We have a fairly open political system in Canada: you can join any political party and take part in choosing that party’s local candidate, leader, and (sometimes) policy direction. And since only 1% of us ever do that, you will have a disproportionate effect, especially if you recruit some like-minded friends alongside you. Join the party that sits closest to your values, or even start your own, and you’ll find you can actually influence the voting options to the point that you will always see a ballot choice deserving of your support, and will never again feel your vote won’t count.
You will never get more responsive government by backing away; by engaging, you will be able to exert a real (if small) influence.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Declined ballots go into the scrap pile".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation