Monday, July 18, 2016

FruitShare program only scratching the surface

“The most natural food is fruit” – Anonymous.
You may not realize it, but our city is full of farmers, and you may be one of them! The number one urban crop is fruit, particularly apples, and you’d be amazed by the amount of apples that grow in our backyards. FruitShare has managed to pick as many as 5,000 pounds in a single season, and we’re just scratching the surface.
The ever-growing FruitShare team
is on the job!
The whole FruitShare team is so excited to be working with our amazing volunteers and tree owners this summer; we know from experience everyone will find it a rewarding experience. Though we are not picking a lot of fruit right now, we are working to get ready for what we anticipate will be a busy season. We want to keep you updated on our planning and preparation activities.
We need more fruit tree owners.
Several tree owners from last year have reported that their trees did not fare well this spring: very few blossoms if any and bleak possibilities of fruit on those trees. But every back yard is its own micro-climate and local ecology; in past years, while some trees did poorly, others thrived. Please consider whether you have friends, family, or neighbors with fruit trees that just need to know about our program so that they can get involved. The Barrie community has hundreds of trees that yet could be a valuable source of fresh, local, healthy food for those who need it. Registration for tree owners is simple and straight forward at our website You can easily sell them on the benefits: we clean up all the fallen fruit, clear as much of the ripe fruit from the tree as we can reach, and have a special deal with a professional arborist who will provide free advice and discounted help improving their trees.
This harvest season, we are going to have 'designated pick days'. Our hope is that this will help to make our planning more efficient, and allow both tree owners and volunteer pickers the ability to anticipate when their efforts might be needed. For this summer/fall we are going to make Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays our pick days, and will plan tree harvests on these days. We always work to give as much notice as possible before the pick date for everyone’s convenience.
Volunteers can also register at and communicate what days they would prefer to pick on. From there, we will plan to have 'teams' of volunteers designated to these specific days.
If you like face-to-face contact, we invite you come meet us at the Barrie Farmers’ Market, this Saturday, July 16th! We are bringing a table display and bushel-baskets full of energy, and will be sharing information about the Barrie FruitShare program to the patrons there.
We wish to thank the community for all the support and work to make this program great. We could not do it without you! And with your help, we can “rescue” even more fruit this year. Our goal is to see not a single tree go unpicked, not a bushel of food wasted, and you can help us meet that goal.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Northern Protocol makes a big bang on the local scene

These days news about the economy often seems pretty dreary. With companies offshoring many jobs to places with lower wages or standards, and those that remain being “rightsized” away, it feels like no-one can get a decent salary anymore. Yet some businesses overcome this trend, and demonstrate that innovation is truly the key to success and prosperity, and sometimes a local business leads the way.
Reaching the top of the computer service industry.
Photo: Mark Wanzel
Such is the case with Northern Protocol. Founded by Aaron Weston almost 20 years ago as a one-man jack-of-all-computer-trades outfit, since 2007 this Barrie operation has grown exponentially. That was the year Aaron decided to turn his part-time home-based occupation into a serious concern. A forward-looking landlord offered Weston 6-months rent-free in a vacant office space at Bayfield & Ferris and the gamble paid off, not only succeeding and paying rent but within 3 years upgrading to double the space. Now with fully-operational satellite offices in Stayner and Alliston, and a total payroll of over a dozen full-timers, Northern Protocol has vaulted past their competitors and is on the verge of possible franchising.
But what innovation led to this success? It isn’t some better way to remove viruses, maintain and clean up cloggy old systems, recover lost data, or backup and reload, all services available for PC or Mac at flat rates. It isn’t because NP’s employees have special technical skills other support firms don’t, although they certainly don’t lack talent. And it’s certainly not a colourfully-wrapped compact car with the cheeky promise of smart nerds attending your site. No, the innovation has been in the style and quality of service provided.
I discovered this quite by accident, feeling unsatisfied with the service from another local computer doctor. After paying to have my problem diagnosed, then paying again to fix it, my computer came home and within the week the original problem recurred, despite my depleted wallet. Then I encountered, either on the radio or their billboard, Northern Protocol’s trademarked promise “We fix it or it’s free”. It struck me like a beam from the heavens: that’s what I need, never again paying to “fix” my computer even if it wasn’t fixed. I got that, and more. My home-business laptop frozen, I was in quite a pickle, with work coming in on a 48-hour turnaround. I brought it to NP on a Saturday morning, then spent the rest of the day on family activities. Sleeping in Sunday morning, I was awoken by Weston himself, delivering my computer which he had fixed the night before, with no special delivery or rush charge! The problem was actually fixed and my work reputation was saved.
A new angle on computer repair.
Like many computer repair shops, you can bring in your machine or they can work at your location on an hourly basis. But the added value is free pick-up or drop-off from your home in the Barrie area, which gets you the lower in-shop rates without having to drag your equipment back and forth. You can also trust NP to recommend or sell you new equipment, off-the-shelf or customized to your specs, as they only carry or endorse quality brands you can rely on to do what you need. And with a responsive Facebook page, you can get helpful updates or have your own queries addressed by real people, not faceless bots.
This is a quintessentially Barrie tale. Our community is very supportive to small and growing businesses, and you may have read elsewhere of Aaron’s personal streets-to-entrepreneur story. It’s a love that’s returned, through NP’s support for the David Busby Street Centre, Salvation Army adopt-a-family, COPE Dogs and the Jazz & Blues festival. So next time economic news gets you down, think about thriving, innovative local businesses like Northern Protocol and take heart!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie and Innisfil Examiners as "Some local businesses are very innovative"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the board of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, July 8, 2016

Electoral reforms look promising

This is an exciting time for those who want to improve how we fund or vote for political parties. Both the federal and provincial governments are initiating processes for much-needed reforms.
On the national level, one of the Liberal government’s election promises was that 2015 would be the last federal election held under the antiquated “first-past-the-post” (FPP) system. They were joined in pledges for electoral reform by the NDP and Green Party, which together means that almost two-thirds of voters chose a party with electoral reform and ending FPP in the election platform. Therefore, so long as the proposed reforms meet the approval of the elected members from those three parties, the change will have sufficient legitimacy to be implemented in time for the 2019 election, without requiring a referendum or any other such impediment.
Which only makes sense; we’ve never before needed a referendum to make our electoral system more fair, in line with the evolving social and political conscience of Canadian society. We extended the vote to women, Canada’s indigenous peoples, and other ethnic groups who had not previously been allowed to vote (Catholics, Chinese, Japanese) without a referendum, and surely extending the vote from the minority of land-owning white Protestant men to all adult citizens was a far more wide-reaching reform. Voters clearly indicated last fall, in surveys and at the ballot box, that they felt our current system does not adequately grant a fair and equal vote, so it’s time to fix that, without undue delay.
Unfortunately, the governing Liberal party has created a committee to draft this legislation which has a majority of Liberal members, meaning they have the power to push through a reform which no other party supports. And in their promise to “make every vote count”, they have even taken the extreme step of having the Green Party and Bloc on the committee, but as non-voting members! The gall is almost breathtaking. *
However, I still hold out some hope that the consultation process will convince the government that only a proper reform to a system incorporating proportional representation, and having the support of parties representing the majority of voters, can fulfill their election pledge. Fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, at the provincial level, the reforms at hand relate to political funding. There has been widespread and totally justified complaint about the way it seems that individuals and corporations with deep pockets can buy enhanced access to our elected officials, including the Premier and her Cabinet, but also Opposition leaders and parties. Responding to this outcry, the Premier has pledged reforms to be in place before the next election.
In this process, the Premier isn’t forming an all-party committee but at least has been open to consultation and input from other party leaders, including the electorally mature but currently seatless Green Party. For what seem like petty partisan reasons, the NDP chose to forgo this opportunity, but since the Greens have the most developed electoral finance reform policy base, there was no vacuum of good advice.
Measures announced so far will bar corporate and union contributions altogether. Sadly, the proposed individual contribution limit of $7500 is still too high, and restrictions on party spending aren’t sufficient. But one key reform is to replace the forgone corporate/union money with per-vote funding. This system, already present in other jurisdictions like Nova Scotia and Quebec and formerly in place federally, is the fairest way to apportion spending money between political parties. It allows every voter an equal amount of subsidy to direct to the party of their preference, regardless of their personal finances and without direct cost to them. What’s best is that this per-vote subsidy will actually cost the taxpayer less than the existing tax rebates on the contributions being phased out.
So although we’ll have to pay careful attention to this process to make sure the results are fair to all, there is at least reason for optimism on the electoral reform front.

* This has changed since this column was originally published.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Feeling positive about electoral reform"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Barrie's Food Forest continues to grow

Regular readers of this column will know that one of Barrie’s greatest good-news stories is FruitShare, the organization I helped found 3 years ago to rescue surplus fruit from the many apple, pear, plumb, and cherry trees growing in the yards of Barrie residents. This initiative sends teams of volunteer pickers to pick the crop and clean up the fallen fruit, then divide the harvest between themselves, the tree owner, and a social agency like the Barrie Food Bank. So far, over 5 tons (10,000 pounds) has been rescued and distributed, over half of that in 2015 alone.
However, you may also have read about our other, long-term project: Barrie’s Food Forest. This isn’t one specific location, but rather an approach to making fresh, local, organic fruit available to anyone without charge, by planting hardy locally-adapted fruit trees in parks and other public lands. Like Barrie’s backyard fruit trees, these public mini-orchards will increase Barrie’s tree canopy and provide ecological services to bees and other pollinators and natural species that share our city. But they will also be available for citizens to help themselves to healthy, tasty fruit, free for the picking.
So far, a dozen trees have already been planted north of downtown, and thanks to a “Carrot Cache” grant from The Big Carrot organic co-op in Toronto, fifty more will be planted this Saturday in Barrie’s west end. Planting locations aren’t publicized until the trees have matured enough to withstand picking, but as the Food Forest matures in coming years, we will be posting and sharing locations with free, ripe fruit around Barrie, including near you!
In recognition of this goal and our work towards it, the Rotary Club of Barrie recently presented FruitShare the Charlie Wilson Environmental Award, given each year in recognition of exceptional promotion and commitment to the environment. Over his six decades as a Rotarian, Charlie spearheaded many environmentally-friendly initiatives, including the planting of trees in public spaces along the lakeshore and streets across Barrie, so this award clearly embodies his spirit. A project of Living Green in partnership with Transition Barrie and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, FruitShare continues to expand the fruit-tree resource for our citizens and ecology and thrives on this kind of community recognition and support.
Speaking of support, there are many ways you can get involved with such a worthy project. Every year, we need people with fruit trees to contact us and let us pick their harvest. We need people to volunteer as pickers, and as “ShareBosses”, our pick supervisors. We also need administrative and financial support. Get in touch if you are interested in any of these forms of involvement, and sign up at
Each of our Food Forest locations represents a naming opportunity for a local business sponsor – would you like to have free fruit growing in your name? If so, then contact us!
And a special, unique opportunity to get out and help comes this Saturday, May 14, from 1 – 4 pm, as we plant our latest 50 fruit trees to expand our Food Forest. If you’d like to come out and help, email and we’ll tell you the exact location. Dress for the weather, including appropriate footwear, and bring your own shovel & bucket, if you can. Together we can grow Barrie’s healthy future!
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Food program taking root"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation and a founder of FruitShare Barrie.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The (non) Future of Pipelines

Pipelines will soon reach their vanishing point
Despite last year’s Paris climate conference clearly demonstrating most nations are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, some in Canada still insist our economic future rests on building new pipelines, primarily to get oil and gas from the Athabaska sands to tidewater for export. Yet many reports now show pipelines are not only unnecessary, but will be an economic albatross around our necks if we do actually build them.
First, let’s sweep aside a few of the false arguments. One is that new pipelines will make Canada become energy-independent by replacing eastern provinces’ oil imports with domestic supply. This simply isn’t true, as the destination for proposed pipelines isn’t Canadian refineries to turn bitumen into gasoline, but rather deep ocean ports where bitumen can be loaded onto tankers for export. And let’s not fall into the silly trap that pipelines are safer than rail as a way to ship energy. When it comes to bitumen, rail is actually safer; tanks of thick, viscous bitumen are not a risk for explosion, fire, or even significant leaks. Taking that same bitumen and diluting it with toxic fluids to make “dilbit” flow through pipelines is, however, a serious risk, as this dilbit is a far more harmful liquid if (when) it leaks or spills. Of course the silliest argument is that our economy will shut down without new pipelines. Is there some problem with the existing ones that get oil and gas to our homes, businesses, and factories now? Are they all about to fail or shut down? That’s news to me.
But ignoring those red herrings, and even if we ignore our own responsibility to reduce, rather than increase, carbon emissions, dollars and cents argue against the viability of new pipe. For new pipelines to ever pay for themselves, much less turn a profit, they need a corresponding expansion of Alberta bitumen extraction. Putting aside that Alberta’s own greenhouse gas cap promise won’t let this happen, the money isn’t there. Oil must be over $68, even towards $100, to fund the infrastructure to pry oil out of sand. Yet they likely won’t rise above that any time soon. The Saudis, who pump oil freely, have seen this coming and are having a fire sale, liquidating as fast as they can to prepare for the post-oil economy of their “Vision 2030”. Meanwhile, cheap oil and gas from US fracking will keep prices down, regardless of Saudis actions. Without money to expand tar sands operations, there’s nothing to send through new pipes.
And that’s looking at oil alone. The other elephant in the room is the rise in supply, and drop in cost, of renewable energy. Solar technology is improving at a similar rate as microprocessors, with costs dropping steadily as demand increases. Wind is already one of the cheapest new power sources around, while improvements to storage tech are making all clean and renewable sources more competitive. There is widespread agreement that electricity is becoming the dominant global energy, supplanting fossil fuels. As this trend continues, investment in electricity infrastructure is a good bet, while investment in pipelines or fossil extraction is a long shot at best. Even in the auto market, the growth of electric cars in the market is set to be exponential, and by the 2020s buying a new gas vehicle will be like buying a black-and-white TV in the 70s. Affordable long-range electric cars are the colour TV of the future.
So all in all, anyone who still insists that new pipelines are a wise investment, or necessary for Canada’s economic future, simply isn’t paying attention to all the key economic indicators and risks, and shouldn’t be trusted.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "New pipelines are not a very wise investment"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the board of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.