ISSUE 1 DECEMBER 2014
The guys of
Meet the Wyatt brothers
Dare to repair Fix it, donâ€™t throw it out!
habits of highly sustainable people
a letter from the editors What the heck does sustainability even mean? That was what we have aimed to uncover during this four-month project. We asked our sources, consulted with each other, and researched online. This was how sprout was created. We wanted to create a magazine that would spotlight initiatives and people in Toronto who are attempting to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and applaud those who may be contributing to the environment in a beneficial way without even realizing it. To us, sustainability was an intimidating subject. We are not scientists, but we think that was what this topic needs: voices and opinions from everyday people. We hope through these stories that those with even the smallest interest in sustainability will have a positive introduction and feel less intimidated, just like we are. We want our readers to feel more inspired to think about the environment in a new way. We can all make a small change in our lives. Collectively, these small changes can make an impact. Because that is what sprout is aboutâ€”planting and growing new ideas about sustainability in Toronto, one mind at a time. -Kim, Chris & Sam
stay in your own lane
If biking is the better way, why aren’t there more bike lanes?
HOME 6 11 13 14
BUILD A MECCANO HOUSE
Toronto’s first “snap together” house
wood you rather?
Preserving a piece of fallen trees
black compost, green earth
Toronto-based start-up brings composting to the 21st century
7 habits of highly sustainable people
Every day people tell us their tips
FOOD 17 omg gmo? 18 fresh isn’t far 22 the birds and the beans
Millions against Monsanto march for GMO labelling in Canada
How grocery delivery is revolutionizing local produce
Shade coffee farms provide refuge for song birds
24 scarborough’s sustainable hub 26 start buzzing around 29 dare to repair
The East Scarborough Storefront has changed in the past years
Urban beekeeping may be the future for Ontario
Aiming to “fix” a culture that throws away what can be repaired
stay in your own lane by SAM TURCHAN
n a warm, late-September afternoon, Suzan and Bryan Plumstead and their daughter, Annette Papa cycle alongside the city traffic on Yonge
Street. For the Plumsteads, cycling is a family affair. So every couple of weeks they head to Toronto’s inner core, strap on their fluorescent Share the Road apparel and take a not-so-leisurely bike ride. Commuting by bicycle directly impacts sustainability by reducing fossil fuel consumption and the resulting emissions, according to Marc Cadotte, Toronto ecologist and University of Toronto biology professor. “For me, there is also a link between my personal ethic where I try to reduce my energy and material consumption with commuting by bike,” he said. “Riding my bike puts me in direct physical contact with my travel to work, and so I feel that my ethic fosters a greater physical connection to my local environment. I know where the noisy birds or large old trees are along my bike ride. So, I think that cycling has a direct impact on sustainability through lower emissions and energy use, but also an indirect, reinforcing one, through a physical connection.” However, with limited bike lanes surrounding Toronto’s downtown city streets, then why isn’t the number of bike-friendly lanes also increasing? While the Plumsteads cycle for exercise and health reasons, the main reason they ride is, much like Cadotte, they believe it’s the optimum mode of transportation in terms of sustainability. “We need more bike lanes in Toronto’s downtown core,” Suzan Plumstead said. “There are simply not enough and it’s simply frustrating for those who live to ride.” Annette Papa, personal trainer at Freedom Training, believes that increasing bike lanes will also help increase cyclist safety. “We need bike lanes on Yonge because you have a lot of people on their bikes and drivers who are not familiar with road respect,” she said. “I feel like people open their car doors continuously without checking for cyclists.” That is where Share the Road Ontario, an advo-
cacy organization centred on enforcing cycling policies across the province, comes in. “Share the Road Ontario is a coalition to promote cars and tractors sharing the road with bicycles,” Suzan Plumstead said. She and her husband live in Chesley, a rural city north of Toronto, where farm vehicles take up a large portion of street space. “Because we bike in rural areas and downtown Toronto, we like to wear our Share the Road apparel to promote awareness.” The Plumsteads can be spotted cycling the downtown streets, equipped head to toe in their colourful yellow and black Share the Road shirts, along with matching bracelets strapped to their wrists. Share the Road Ontario began operating after founder Eleanor McMahon’s husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, died in a cycling accident in June 2006. The director of the organization, Natalie Faria, says its goal is to create more bike-friendly communities across Ontario. “The urban downtown core is seriously lacking in bike lanes and safety is a major concern,” she said. When asked how she felt when biking on busy downtown streets, Papa had much to say. “I don’t feel safe. Absolutely not,” she said. “If I get hit, that is how I will be able to bike in Toronto. It will cause awareness to increase and I will be OK with it.” Papa believes that unless the number of Toronto bike lanes increases, cyclists will have to accept that there is a high risk of injury – and even death – when cycling in Toronto. For the time being, Suzan and Bryan will continue biking on Toronto streets, wearing their Share the Road apparel in hopes that people will stop them and ask why sharing the road is important and how they can make an impact in sustaining our environment through the use of bicycles. Marc Cadotte will continue traveling to work by bicycle because to him, less car travel means fewer emissions. “Car emissions produce a number of chemicals some not thought of as toxic, such as water vapour and nitrogen, but engine combustion may also produce toxic chemicals,” Cadotte said. “These toxic components have effects on our health and air quality. Nitrogen oxides, for example, can form other compounds that penetrate our lungs and lead to respiratory disease. Reducing car emissions reduces pollution.” Papa believes that as a tax-paying citizen, she should feel safe by choosing to positively impact the environment by riding on Toronto streets. Better yet, if the city wants a greener environment and to promote cycling to school or work, we need to make it completely accessible. She, along with hundreds of cyclists, wants to see change happen, or else the loss of cyclists’ lives will be the end result. “I basically say that if I die biking, I will die doing something I love,” Papa said. “You have to come to the conclusion that it could happen.”
Google map of downtown Toronto bike lanes, updated 2014 = Bike accessible lanes
• The majority of bike accidents occur around afternoon
• Around 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured
1 out of 3 cyclist deaths occur at night, due to artificial lighting
• 64% of cyclist deaths occur on city roads with driver speed over
(Left) On Yonge Street, downtown Toronto, Annette Papa shows us the different wrist bands she straps around her bike handles to promote awareness. Photo: Sam Turchan
Strong as steel Steel-framed houses offer superior strength, durability and energy savings
t first glance, 1 Tottenham Rd. looks like a half-finished home, no different than any of the others being built around it in a North York suburb. However, taking a more than skin-deep look on the inside reveals a house of remarkably different design philosophies than those that came before it. Banks of floor-to-ceiling windows, one set of them comprising an entire wall, allow copious amounts of natural light into the structure. That light gives the house what is called “passive gain” in regards to heating and, coupled with what is described as a “foam envelope” of insulation, was responsible for something quite extraordinary. Flies inside the house from before the cold weather arrived were still alive; they should have frozen to death long ago with no central heating to warm them. However, they survived despite the howling, bitter cold that raged just outside. The house is finished in the structural sense, although it lacks components like plumbing and interior walls. But the builders couldn’t be prouder of the job they’ve done. Hugh Murray is the project design manager for BONE Structure, the company that built the Tottenham Road house. He said that wood is a poor insulator, yet is used to build the frames of conventional houses. To circumvent that, the insides of BONE Structure houses are created with frames made of steel and aluminum, which snap and screw together on site. “It’s really more like a Meccano set, which is steel and it gets clipped together,” he said.
He explained that in a conventional wood-frame house, the framing acts like gaps between the insulation. This results in a loss of heat (or cold) from the building. In contrast, pre-manufactured frame houses are faster to construct and produce less waste in the process. The combination of structural insulated panels (SIPs) inside the house and spray-on foam insulation outside allows for a 360-degree, interior and exterior insulative layer to be created. “Our bones are inside,” Murray said in an analogy. “And our bodies are built around it.” There has been some resistance to this kind of prefabricated-frame house, both from traditional homebuilders and prospective homeowners. “The builders don’t get it,” Murray said. “Technology like this is threatening to them.” However, he went on to say that the demand for homes like these is starting to grow. 1 Tottenham Rd. is the first BONE Structure house built in Toronto, but the company has already constructed 10 buildings in Ontario to date. Stefan Belina, director of marketing and communications for BONE Structure, says the paradigm shift in construction that brought BONE Structure into existence was born of the question of why building techniques have remained nearly the same for the last century. The president of BONE Structure, Marc Bovet, was working on a home-renovation project that resulted in him staying in a hotel for four weeks trying to get it finished. The project was over-budget and off-schedule.
All Photos: Geremy Bordonaro
by Christopher lum
Steel framing and wide, heavy glass doors characterize this modern-style, energy-efficient home
Spray-foam insulation in the roof, coupled with structural insulatative panels (SIPs), combine for maximal energy savings
These issues with his own renovation inspired his decision to found a company and create a system of fabrication that could build homes or commercial buildings on time and on budget, Belina explained. “Our system allows us to basically identify every single part and deliver that on-site and... assemble the structure of the house,” he said. Additionally, steel and aluminum frame construction has several lasting advantages over its organic, wood-based competition.
For example, termites (and moulds, mildews and fungi) are much less of an issue when the “skeleton” of your home is literally as strong as steel. The other aspect of these houses’ longevity is that none of the interior walls are load-bearing. That means knocking down walls inside won’t cause the house to fall in. Because of this, the same house can exchange hands multiple times to different families or individuals and still serve all their needs. A family with children can divide the living room into two bedrooms by putting up a wall. If the next owner doesn’t have children, knocking down that wall can turn two bedrooms back into a living room. “Our homes are made to last for generations,” he said. “There’s... no deterioration of the structural materials.” However, Eric Johnson, an architect with E2 Studio Inc., said the picture isn’t entirely rosy for these kinds of houses. The spray-foam insulations are petroleum-based products, which isn’t the ideal from a sustainability standpoint as oil is a non-renewable resource. But more sustainable alternatives like soy-based insulation are being researched, like what was used at the Tottenham Road house. “As the industry matures, we look to other markets, like in Europe, where they have progressed further in certain technologies,” Johnson said. “Insulation is one of them.” “We can find more environmentally friendly ways to insulate. That’s sort of our goal.” 9
wood you rather?
Urban wood use in Toronto is growing. Residents count on arborists and artists to create furniture and products to preserve a piece of their fallen trees by Kimberly Aglipay
Photo of tree: Fotolia
anet McKay was heartbroken when she found that one of the six black locust trees in the backyard of her Toronto home needed to be chopped down. The trees were part of the reason she bought her home in the Junction neighbourhood. But the tree that needed to be chopped down wasn’t going to leave her home forever. McKay decided she would work with an arborist and an artist to salvage what they could of the wood and turn it into something she could keep. “I was so sad to have to take that tree down,” McKay said wistfully. “But what I was able to do with it made me feel better.” And it turned out that McKay was able to do more than she imagined with the tree. Black locust trees, she discovered, are similar to cedars in that both are extremely weather-resistant and durable. The arborist and artist arrived one day to assess the tree and made decisions on the spot about what to do with it. “I knew I had to be flexible as to how the wood could come down safely, how large were those pieces going to be and what was going to be made out of them after,” McKay said. Her story is just one example of how the urban wood use movement is growing. Instead of a fallen tree being seen as waste, the homeowner can both preserve its memory and use in the form of furniture. But McKay says that turning a piece of wood from a tree into a piece of furniture or art isn’t a cheaper option than calling a regular tree removal service and buying furniture elsewhere. Ikea furniture, for example, is cheaper because it is made in high volumes, she explained. But she said the value of what she received from
her tree made it worth the cost. care is really essential—it’s not just When her tree was taken about planting,” she said. down, the arborist milled four large Because of this, LEAF and “slabs” of wood, branches for wildlife the City of Toronto’s economic dehabitat, two large stumps, cross secvelopment and culture department tions of branches and mulch. McKay have created a road map outlining was surprised at how much could be the challenges and needs of the urused from her tree. ban wood industry. “I wasn’t sort of awakened Rob McMonagle, a senior to the issue and I didn’t think of the advisor with the Economic Develpotential of it,” she said. “But I think opment and Culture department when people start to hear stories at the city of Toronto says the city of what is possible, then they start is looking at going beyond raising thinking of it. Being able to keep awareness for individual homeownsomething of that tree you Janet McKay/LEAF valued so much in some way—it has an emotional tie, it has an environmental and social responsibility tie, and it’s a story.” Because of this, she says, there may be a potential market for “treeto-table” companies who provide the entire service of cutting down and creating furniture or decorative pieces from a homeowner’s tree. Tyler Ganton’s company, We Care Tree Care Janet McKay’s wood bench which operates in Toronto and the Toronto Islands, provides ers to use their wood and is looking this service and others, including to create a market for urban wood pruning trees or milling them for use in the building and furniture flooring. If someone only wants a industry. tree to be removed, Ganton will He explains that urban wood sometimes buy the wood himself to is unique because of the different use for his own purposes. stresses the tree goes through from “For a lot of long-time clidifferent types of obstructions and ents, if I prune their tree, I’ll keep a the environment, for example. As a piece of that wood. I’ll bring it home result, it creates designs in the grain and I or one of my employees will of a tree. make them a bowl,” he said. “[Furniture and floor man Ganton started out as a wood ufacturers] all love the concept [of carver before he became an arborist, urban wood] and ask, ‘Where can we and received his wood from arborist get access to large volumes of it?’” companies. He was shocked at the McMonagle said. He says the chalamount of wood they didn’t use. lenge then is to create production He acknowledges that his that can meet the market. company is one of the few that does “When you talk to a furniture maneverything, but isn’t worried about ufacturer or a floor manufacturer, competition. they’re always trying to get that cus “I’m more than willing to tom look,” he said. sacrifice that just to see more people For McKay, getting that starting to use their wood,” Ganton custom look was worth it. In the midsaid. dle of her backyard, which, instead McKay wants other people to of grass, is filled with mulch from use their wood, too. As the founder the black locust tree, sit a few stools of LEAF, a not-for-profit organizamade from that same tree. The cross tion in Toronto that provides educasections from the tree are used as a tion, training and planting of trees to pathway to her backyard. The trunk protect the urban forest, her expeis left as a wildlife habitat. And a rience using the wood from the tree custom bench, made from one of the in her backyard caused her to think slabs of the tree, makes its new home abou the full cycle of wood. “Tree in McKay’s living room.
Black soil, green Earth
Toronto-based startup has just the thing for composting in the twenty-first century by Christopher lum
All photos: Kimberly Aglipay
ver since it was mandated, everyone has had to deal with “it.” That “it” is, of course, that smelly and rather unsanitary thing you’d find in kitchens across Canada. That grey, plastic bin that houses food waste, which is ostensibly destined for some farmer’s field somewhere, but may in fact be going to a landfill. The sorry state of affairs of compost technology was shocking to brothers Jackson and Morgan Wyatt, inventors and proprietors of the Greenlid. The brothers, 25 and 29 respectively, hail from Brockville, Ont., east of Toronto. The Greenlid is a compostable compost bin, created to solve the vexing problem of dirty, organic waste-bins. Morgan Wyatt, who was used to doing in-depth research for his PhD. in chemical biology, happened to do some research into the current state of composting and pulp-additive technologies. “It’s a really big problem with plastic bags and the fact that everybody hates cleaning their bin. That’s really what started our looking into creating a product that solved that problem,” he said. The brothers decided that there must be a technical solution. Their investigation led them to create a compound that was at once waterproof and also able to be broken down in the natural environment. The next step was to bond that chemical to a material that was compostable and also recycled. “At first we were looking at just generic KFC bucket-type containers, but we didn’t like those because it’s not recycled product... It’s virgin trees and stuff like that,” Jackson Wyatt said. The brother’s eventual solution was a bucket that was formed of moulded plant fibres, very much like the egg cartons you’d find at
your grocery store. Gardeners might look at the Greenlid and associate it with the recycled-paper pots you see some plants in at garden nurseries. And they’d be right. They are both pulp-moulded fibres, but they are not the same. “The difference is the leak-resistant formulation that we add to it,” Jackson Wyatt said. The duo sent their idea to the wild winds of the Internet and were able to raise over $25,000 by doing so. “We pitched it on Kickstarter and got such a positive response from there we flipped it from a pastime into a real business,” Morgan Wyatt said. Before creating the Greenlid, Morgan Wyatt was involved in drug discovery and his brother had been enrolled in industrial design at Humber College. Now both are working on their Greenlid business full-time. Jackson Wyatt was quick to extol the environmental and financial benefits that proper composting can provide. “It’s better for the environment, it’s a given. Less waste going to the landfill, but also if you’re thinking from the community sense, municipally it saves each city or the town, whoever manages the compost… money,” he said. And not only does composting save towns and cities money, it can also make them money. If the compost is of the “A” grade, which means it has no plastic in it at all, it can be used to grow food meant for humans. That means that the city can sell the compost it makes to local farmers to grow food, generating revenue for that municipality in the process. Since the Greenlid is made of paper, compost made with it is of the “A” grade. “My brother was keen to remind me about the repercussions of putting organic waste in the landfill; it gets covered over and anaerobic respiration is then undertaken by the bacteria breaking down the waste,” Jackson Wyatt
added. “This produces greenhouse gases, which otherwise would not be created. Proper composting in a facility is aerated and just produces nutrient-rich soil.” Toronto is less-than-ideal when it comes to composting, as it uses an anaerobic process for breaking down organic waste. It also produces B-grade compost, which isn’t good for much besides getting tossed in a landfill. Which, one could argue, defeats the purpose of separating organic waste and composting it to begin with. In addition, since the city allows plastics in its organic waste feedstock, it has to use a giant, water-powered separator to remove the plastic. This industrial-scale process uses large amounts of water. However, some would say biodegradable plastic is an alternative to a technology like the Greenlid. One such person is Orlando Gómez, a compost facilitator with FoodShare Toronto, although he cautions composting those yourself might be difficult. “Some bags are biodegradable. If you want to compost in your backyard, it would take more than a year to break down,” he said. “But if you have very active compost, with good temperature and moisture, you can break it down very quickly.” The Greenlid starter-pack can be purchased at your local Home Hardware for $11.49.
by Kimberly Aglipay
ome habits are harder to make than others, and sustainable habits are no exception. Things such as recycling may seem like second nature to some, but it is the continuous, repetitive action of throwing cans and bottles in the proper receptacle that makes it routine. But how do you get into the mindset of living more sustainably in the first place? For Bettina Hoar, a certified sustainable building advisor and founder of Sage Living, a sustainable renovation company, thinking long-term is key before taking any action. This is especially important when thinking of costs. “How many shower curtains, for example, will I throw away before I pay for what it costs to put in a $200 glass wall or door?” Hoar asks. “It might be initially more expensive, but in the long term it might save more money.” Hoar says it’s important to think of the entire lifecycle of a product, from when it is made to how it is installed and finally, to how it is disposed of. Producing household items--for example, vinyl curtains--has a negative effect on the environment that Hoar says just isn’t worth it. After doing research, the second step is to take action. Think of the other benefits to whatever habit you’re trying to keep up, advises Karel Vredenburg, who works and lives in Toronto and is host of a podcast called Life Habits. Vredenburg, a vegetarian for 30 years, became so for moral reasons and kept up with it after seeing the environmental benefits it also provided. He says looking at all benefits—whether environmental or not—could help people develop more sustainable habits. For example, when he travels, his meal profile is vegetarian. The benefit? “ You get served first,” Vredenburg laughed. “You get a special meal, and it’s typically done a lot better.” For Vredenburg, the emotional benefits are extremely important, as well. He and his family use The Freecycle Network, a non-profit movement that connects people who are
giving or want to receive items for free. “When our kids no longer needed their bikes, we put them on Freecycle, and other people who wanted them got to have them for free,” he explained. “It’s personally really satisfying, but also provides significant value.” Among other things, Vredenburg and his family drive a hybrid vehicle and started recycling before curbside recycling in Toronto was implemented. His wife and four children are also vegetarian. Jane Hayes, founder of Garden Jane, an organization that teaches permaculture, gardening and healthy eating says that support from family and friends is key to developing sustainable habits. “Maybe your family agrees it would be better to eat healthy food, or you prepare food regularly. So you could help each other out,” she says. Meeting new, like-minded people can also help you develop sustainable habits. “You get some support and encouragement,” Vredenburg says. “Start online, start to connect in the community and join groups as well.” Vredenburg says letting your friends and family know about what sustainable changes you’ve made in your life is important to developing strategies and solutions to help you make it a habit. “You have to make sure others are aware of the fact that you’re going vegetarian, for example, so they can choose an appropriate restaurant.” Like most goals, living more sustainably should be done in small steps. For Hayes, it’s a matter of doing a little more of one thing and a little less of another, such as preparing food at home more and eating out less. “It’s incremental,” she says. According to Vredenburg, any habit requires a period of focused attention. “My advice is: don’t do everything at once. Choose one thing that you’re going to do for, say, a month.” Both Vredenburg and Hayes say part of keeping up sustainable habits is encouraging others as well. “I’m not hard on myself or others when they can’t shift a habit yet—the changes we need to see are cultural shifts as much as they are personal shifts,” Hayes says. “We have to work within the context we’re in.”
Photos 5 &6: Kimberly Aglipay; All others: Pixabay
Habits of Highly Sustainable People
Reduce the energy consumption in your home. “One of the most sustainable renovations is making sure the walls, windows, the roof and your basement (also known as the envelope) of your home are as tight as possible,” Hoar says. Ensuring that your house is well-insulated and warm air does not escape through any cracks in the envelope will reduce the energy consumption of your heating system.
And bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, either “If space is a problem, maybe get rid of some stuff rather than renovating. If you have to renovate, make the smallest size renovation,” Hoar advises.
Buy from local farmer’s markets
“Get to know your farmers. Let them know what you want to buy,” Hayes says. “Ask how things are grown so you can make decisions that are both healthy and sustainable.”
HERE’S WHAT THE EXPERTS HAD TO SAY Less is better, in terms of renovation
Consider donating parts from your renovation “I cringe when I see HGTV shows where they hand the homeowners a sledgehammer and they destroy perfectly good cabinets that could’ve been donated to be restored,” Hoar says.
Grow your own food
“If you’re only looking for materials that are sustainable and healthy, it limits your choice, but that’s not a bad thing,” Hoar says. “It frees you. From having to choose from among thousands of things to choosing only what’s good for the planet, your health, and sometimes that means not buying anything at all.”
“Start with sprouts for salads and winter,” Hayes advises. “Grow a few plants on your balcony or garden or join a community garden project in your neighbourhood.”
Always consider the emotional benefits
“The good feeling you get for actually helping others [through recycling] and helping the planet ends up feeling way better than money,” Vredenburg says.
Photo courtesy of Millions Against Monsanto
Millions Against Monsanto marches for GMO labelling in Canada
by SAM TURCHAN
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
he average consumer has absolutely no idea what they are eating, according to James Connor. “I have done my research and I know what ingredients are bad,” he said. “Most people don’t even know what a GMO is.” GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” – an organism, primarily a food ingredient, genetically altered by chemical engineering. While there has been much debate over the topic in recent years, many organizations have formed to inform those who know little about the cause they are fighting to win. Connor and Jennifer Berman Diaz are the co-founders of a Toronto-based organization aimed to fight against Monsanto, an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation. Their goal is to boycott GMOs, as well as the development of new GMOs, and to fight for GMO labeling. They hold marches in Toronto several times a year to raise awareness about the growing issue. “We were not expecting the first Millions Against Monsanto March to be big, but over 3,400 people showed up that day,” Connor said, speaking about the 2011 march in St. James Park. “We were very ill-prepared. We had speakers speaking through a megaphone and a microphone just to try to reach the amount of people that showed up.” However, not all believe that GMO foods are contaminating our food supply, but rather see it as ways to control the food needs of the world’s population. Justin Lee Pack, 24, has a degree in environmental biology, and strongly believes that GMO foods are the Earth’s best source at practising sustainable farming. “I don’t think GMO foods are bad,” he said. According to Lee Pack, people often misconceive the idea of GMO versus pesticide use. Lee Pack has done various tests on GMO foods in lab studies while completing his undergraduate degree and his studies have found that GMO foods are just as healthy as non-GMO foods. He doesn’t see the need for labelling. “Anything farmed or grown is GMO. It plays into the genetics, which is really not hard to understand,” he said. In the GMO process, diversity is lost in the genes and only specific ones that are tolerant to the environment are the ones that are used. It’s a genetic modification or specific trait selection
that it undergoes. “You couldn’t pay me to eat an ‘organic’ fruit or vegetable. It’s all a money-making scheme and a complete farce,” he said. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a not-for-profit worldwide organization, has reported that 88 per cent of American corn, 93 per cent of soy, and 90 per cent of canola are genetically modified – and this is just the beginning. While the majority of foods on grocery shelves is GMO, there is the issue of cost with fully organic foods. Many believe that non-GMO foods are too expensive. Helena Tsapoitis-Barbesin, an activist with Millions Against Monsanto, hates how our society operates in terms of food and pricing. “It’s appalling what we will and won’t spend money on,” she said. “We will spend $7 on a Starbucks coffee, but not on organic eggs. It’s warped.” Many do believe that organic non-GMO is more expensive, but worth it in the long run. “The more people that are buying organic, the more the cost will go down. It’s supply and demand,” Connor said. Millions Against Monsanto also protests for the issue of labelling GMO foods in Canada. As of this moment, it is currently legal to sell foods items that are GMO and not labelled. Connor and Diaz want to see that happen. Their actions, paired with Rachel Parent’s campaign “Kids Right To Know,” is aimed forcing the Canadian government to enforce GMO labelling. Sixty-four countries have GMO labelling laws, including countries in the European Union, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ecuador, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, and El Salvador. “We want to make an informed choice. They say that it is going to cost us more money for them to do that, which is a complete farce because they’re putting ‘new and improved’ on things, changing labels all the time,” Connor said. “The whole reason they don’t want GMO labelling is because it’s like putting a skull and crossbones on there. If you had a choice of eating something that you knew was soaked in pesticides and could cause you health problems, or choosing an organic option, you would probably go with the latter.”
Fresh isn’t far
Can it get more local than this? How grocery delivery is revolutionizing local produce by Kimberly Aglipay
All photos: Kimberly Aglipay
hen a friend told Beth Elder that Fresh City Farms delivered groceries, she was elated. She had first heard of the business when she stopped by its 500-square-foot vegetable garden on King Street West on a hot July day and was sad to see it go at the end of the summer. Living in downtown Toronto and working at the University of Toronto school of public policy and governance, Elder often relies on walking or public transportation to get her groceries. She had never used an organic delivery service before. She and her boyfriend had always tried to make a point of eating locally whenever they could, so they decided to try Fresh City Farms’ service. She was excited to pick the items online and have them arrive at her door. “I felt like I was looking at their website every day checking to see what to expect, and I was telling my boyfriend, ‘Oh, I’m so excited to get this produce bag,’” Elder said. Elder is just one of 1,500 customers in Toronto who are turning to delivery to receive their produce each week. But Fresh City Farms is different—much of its produce comes from its six-acre “farm” in Downsview Park. Right next to it are three greenhouses with an aquaponics system, which allows them to grow organic vegetables year-round. The vegetables, such as kale and lettuce, are harvested, placed in bags and delivered to a warehouse. Based on what a customer has ordered, the produce is sorted into reusable tote bags that are then loaded into vans and delivered to various customers. Different neighbourhoods are served on specific days of the week. For example, produce bags are delivered to homes in Scarborough on Fridays. According to the founder of Fresh City Farms, Ran Goel, this is one of the ways running a local produce farm reduces carbon emissions. “We do 50-60 drops in one neighbourhood, which means people are not driving back and forth,” he explained, “so we really reduce the mileage associated with shopping and groceries.” Because some vegetables such as potatoes need more space to grow, Goel says Fresh City Farms not grown on the farm from local farmers, just two to three hours away from Toronto. “We are really trying to build that connect between a city, towns around that city and the surrounding farms, which has really been broken,” Goel says. “The one thing that’s really under-appreciated is the whole food-kilometer issue. A lot of foods we eat now are transported from around 4,000 kilometres away and that’s obviously very carbon-intensive.” But some of what goes in Fresh City Farms bags is grown right in Toronto, if not on the farm. This is the case for the ‘herb of the week’ option customers can choose to receive in their bag. The herbs are supplied by Sage Rising, an herb farming business in the Annex that had its start on one of Fresh City Farms’ micro-plots. Micro-plots are purchased by “member farmers” who
FOOD are free to use the land however they wish in exchange for half a day of labour per week. Caitlin Langlois Greenham is the founder of Sage Rising. She says Fresh City Farms is her company’s primary purchaser. The ‘herb of the week’ option for Fresh City Farms bags started three years ago and is ongoing. Herbs are grown in front and back yards of residents in the Annex. After harvesting and washing them by hand, they are delivered by bike to a volunteer for Fresh City Farms who lives near Greenham. Every week, Greenham delivers 50 20-gram bunches of herbs. “It’s a great purchasing relationship. (Fresh City Farms) is willing to go the extra mile to work with small producers, and on a backyard scale it can be difficult to produce the volume you’d need for wholesale. They allow me to be flexible,” Greenham says. Because the ‘herb of the week’ changes each week, Greenham is able to offer whatever crop is currently in abundance the week before the bags are delivered. “We really learned in our that people really value that local, organically-produced product and that they value the model of our farm and the fact that it was right in the city,” she says.
Why is there not a structure in place so everybody, in a dignified way, can get food?” -Ran goel
But Goel admits that eating locally and organic comes at a price. “We’re not Whole Foods, but it’s much more affordable at an organic equivalent of a Loblaws or Sobeys. But there is a huge issue,” Goel says. “Why is there not a structure in place so everybody, in a dignified way, can get food? Forget organic food, just food. It’s a broad question we are not equipped to handle.” Goel is on the board of FoodShare, a non-profit organization that delivers fresh produce through its “Good Food Box” program, where residents can place an order with a volunteer in their neighbourhood for a box of fresh produce, much like Fresh City. But the similarities end there: the produce in Good Food Boxes is not always organic, but the boxes are at a lower price point than Fresh City Farms bags. According to executive director Debbie Field, FoodShare grows some vegetables on school lots and sells them in farmer’s markets. But the lots are not big enough to replace a farm, she says. “It’s hard for a farmer to survive as a farmer. We honour how hard it is to be a farmer. What Fresh City Farms is doing is great, but it’s part of a continuum,” she says. Buying locally and growing your own food is not mutually exclusive, according to Field. “The more you buy from local farmers,” she says, “the more you grow your own food, the more you are interested in what you are eating. The more you will recognize it and believe in it.”
The birds and the beans The birds and the beans Shade coffee farms provide refuge for the songbirds
that visit your feeder every spring Shade coffee farms provide refuge for the songbirds that visit your feeder every byspring Christopher lum
All photos: Christopher Lum
by Christopher lum
t’s a morning ritual for many of us trying to rouse ourselves from grogginess. We get out the coffee beans, grind them into dust while summoning the deities of caffeine, then filter hot water through it to get a cup of coffee. All right, in reality most people probably just head to their nearest Tim Horton’s or Starbucks. But when you look into that deep, dark liquid, do you ever wonder what secrets might be hiding beneath the surface? There are two kinds of coffee beans, one of which is highly detrimental to the environment, while the other is beneficial. The coffee we drink usually is either coffea arabica or coffea robusta. The latter lives up to its name, thriving in full sunlight, while the former requires shade to grow and develop flavour. Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, a biology professor at York University, has studied the relationship between shade coffee farms and birds. There is a real connection that cup of morning coffee has with the birds visiting your feeder each spring and fall, one Stutchbury explored in her book, Silence of the Songbirds. “Many of the birds that we have living in our backyards in Canada and the U.S. winter in Central and South America in... the shade coffee plantations,” Stutchbury said. Such plantations can apply for a “bird friendly coffee” certification, which entails benefits ranging from reducing soil erosion to guaranteeing fair and stable prices for producers. The “bird friendly coffee” certification was originally created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which assures the coffee was grown in full shade and is certified organic. Shade grown coffee tastes better than its sun-loving relative and the farms themselves supply habitat for tropical plants and birds. “Sun coffee is not a forest-like habitat. It’s more like a cornfield,” Stutchbury said. “So it provides very little or no habitat at all for plants or animals.”
“If... [people] drink shade-grown coffee, that is helping to provide habitat for the very same birds that they might see in their backyard... it’s a really wonderful way to... make that connection,” Stutchbury said. Stutchbury herself shares a connection to coffee deeper than merely clinical interest in how sun coffee farms affect North American songbirds. She acts as the scientific adviser to Birds and Beans Café, located by the lakeshore in Etobicoke. The café was co-founded by Madeleine Pengelley, who is dedicated to serving and selling bird-friendly coffee. “When you look at birds typically found in virgin rainforest and if you look at a certified bird friendly coffee farm you find almost as many,” Pengelley said. “It’s a phenomenal balance between human need and ecology.” Sun-coffee farms are nearly as sterile as you’d expect, with hardly any species besides coffee plants. There are some “partial shade” coffee farms as well, but they are only negligibly better than full sun farms in terms of biodiversity. “So partial shade is just as ecologically bad as sun coffee,” Pengelley said. Fundamentally our birds winter in tropical locales, including shade-coffee farms, which remain safe havens in countries with high levels of deforestation. “In the shade coffee farms, it’s a beautiful forest full of birds and you step out and drive five miles away and there’s no forest left,” Stutchbury said.
Scarborough’s After four years of volunteering at the East Scarborough Storefront, Ajeev Bhatia has changed a lot. So has the storefront.
by Kimberly Aglipay
hat used to be a former police station that people avoided is now a sustainable building where people of all ages can find community
resources. In the back of the building, what used to be jail cells are now offices that were designed by local teens. On the east side of the building, a new grade A kitchen is being used by entrepreneurs. And in August 2014, an entirely new green technology called a “Sky-o-Swale” was completed and launched. It is a tall structure meant to collect rainwater as well as provide shade, made of the police station’s chain-link fences, which are propped up by reused wood. And the changes don’t stop there. One weekend late in November 2014, carpenters, free of charge, erected a pergola. As funding becomes available, the East Scarborough Storefront is undergoing continuous renovations, all with the help of youth from the Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park neighbourhood. This is all part of the Community. Design. Initiative. (CDI) project which started in 2009 and involves youth collaborating with three different architecture and design firms to design sustainable features that will be included in the renovations.
Steve Socha, an architect with SUSTAINABLE. TO, the firm involved in the building process of the renovations, says that the involvement of young people helps make the renovations more tailored to the community. “People who use the storefront on a day-to-day basis know about it and the community more than we (the architects) do, coming in as outsiders. We are consulting with them, using their designs, then making them real,” Socha said. He adds that the project has helped the youth, as well. “One of the youth, right from the beginning, he was going down the wrong path, hanging out with the wrong friends, getting into trouble, and now he is one of the biggest ambassadors for the storefront,” he said. That youth is Ajeev Bhatia, who was 15 years old when he was convinced by a friend to attend and he started volunteering at the storefront in 2010. Initially he saw volunteering as an obligation, but was intrigued by the CDI. “They wanted youth to redesign the resource centre,” Bhatia recalls of one of the earlier renovations. “That’s a lot of ownership and a lot of authority. And I never really experienced that. Where else would I get to design a building at the age of 16?”
All photos: Kimberly Aglipay
The volunteer position turned to a Youth Ambassador position, which eventually led to him working with ERA architects to oversee eight to 10 youth to build parts of the pergola and square sections of what is now the deck below the Skyo-Swale. According to Socha, the CDI is an eight-phase project, jumping between different phases as funds become available. Because the storefront is not-for-profit, fundraising through grants and donations from the City of Toronto and United Way must be done for the renovations, which can be challenging. “We had an engineer go through the existing mechanical system. We discovered the back of the building used to be a garage so there is no mechanical system. So that adds an extra $100,000,” he said. Architects and designers must also teach the youth about sustainable features such as energy-efficiency and using rainwater to water the community garden. “The youth know some, but usually it’s pretty new,” Socha said. “We try to teach them in as simple as a way we can.” For Bhatia, the experience has changed his way of thinking about architecture and design. “I always thought it was beyond me,” he said. “I thought there was no place for youth.” Teaching the youth about sustainable architecture and design opens doors for them, says Anne Gloger, director of the East Scarborough Storefront. “We looked at it as a way to break down barriers to professions that tend to be somewhat elitist and restrictive to people who live in
neighbourhoods like KGO,” she said. It also gave all parties involved a new way of thinking about sustainability. “One of the things I learned is that anything can be repurposed. Even some of the wood used in the Sky-O-Swale was salvaged from an art event,” Bhatia said. “Some of the tables at the storefront are repurposed. I wondered, how come we weren’t doing this before? It’s changed the way I think about things.” Socha says the economic, social and cultural changes help make the community more sustainable, with the storefront as a hub. “When you look at the residents in this area and other similar areas, a lot of them don’t own cars. It’s a great challenge for them to walk to a grocery store or anywhere else,” he said. “These buildings are spaced so far apart where residents don’t have any amenities.” Some of the other physical sustainable features added include a green roof for the storefront, solar panels and green walls, which are walls of vegetation that reduce carbon emissions and attract biodiversity such as birds, bees and other insects. Hopefully, the changes will be felt beyond the storefront and into the community, with bike lanes created to make Morningside Park, which is adjacent to the storefront, more accessible. “The storefront is a pretty vibrant community centre,” Socha says. “”It’s a small piece of the neighbourhood. It doesn’t exist in isolation. It exists in the towers around it, and that’s where most of the residents live.”
Sky-O-Swale deck Plants on Sky-O-Swale “roof”
Rain water barrels
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Start buzzing around! Urban beekeeping could be the future for Ontarians by Christopher Lum
All photos courtesy of Toronto Botanical Gardens
he day was cloudy, wet and cold; it was not exactly cation for the TBG and a beekeeper, began with just that beekeeping weather. keen interest in the tiny insects herself. Inside the Toronto Botanical Gardens (TBG), She embarked on her beekeeping journey when it was warm and the inclement conditions outside did she was encouraged by a friend to attend an informalittle to dampen the fires of learning in the prospective tional meeting with the Toronto Beekeeper’s Co-operbeekeepers that braved the miserable weather to attend ative. Hood was interested in gaining what she called today’s beekeeping class. “urban homesteading skills.” She had already mastered The “urban beekeeping” at the TBG is a series the art of spinning wool into yarn and knitting it. Beeof six lessons to give students the keeping seemed like the next logical skills they need to maintain their step, dovetailing perfectly with her own hives throughout the year. interest in organic food producIn addition, those that complete tion. the course can take a profi “I think that there’s a ciency test to earn their TBG whole new generation of urban-beekeeping certifipeople who are re-embraccate. ing these skills that had At the head come out of fashion in of the class were the the ‘50s and ‘60s in teachers and beekeepthe era of time-savers, Cathy Kozma ing devices,” Hood and Oliver Couto. said. “We’re re-ap Kozma proaching things was dressed like growing in black and our own food yellow, her and making lapel pin a shiny, our own clothes metal bee. and... living The duo lightly, having a began to review what lighter footprint on the class had learnt the planet and being over the year, the steps more connected.” and checklists and the Regaining a conwarning signs that beenection to nature seems keepers needed to look out to be the driving force in for. this almost quasi-mystical This final lesson was connection to bees that their about “putting the bees to bed,” keepers have. Couto finds a which is the term for readying a nigh-spiritual satisfaction in his hive for the cold winter. beekeeping. Yet, what impetus put peo “Beekeeping is a wealth and a ple on the path to becoming an apia- Mylee Nordin, former head bee- treasure and a blessing,” he said. rist? The only common denominator Despite this rosy glow of afkeeper of the Toronto Beekeep- shared by the students was a love of fection for their charges, beekeepers er’s Co-operative, holds a hive know there are plenty of problems, bees. Liz Hood, the director of edu- frame filled with honeycomb. ranging from pests to pesticides to
destroyed habitat that plague their bees. “With urbanization there is destruction of a tremendous amount of habitat for a lot of species, and especially the pollinators and the bees,” Couto said. The neonicotinoid pesticides also cause a huge problem for beekeepers, because even low-level exposure is detrimental to bee health. It weakens their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to diseases and parasites. To the average person, issues like these are abstract; they haven’t known the heartbreak of losing a hive like a beekeeper would. A dedicated beekeeper’s determination to do what’s best for his or her bees is remarkable. However, urban spaces and urban beekeeping might just be the last refuge for bees in the pesticide-laced landscape modern agriculture has become. Kozma expressed her confidence in just how much of an impact urban beekeepers would have in this struggle to reverse the declining number of bees. “Urban beekeepers will save the bee population,” she said. In Ontario, there are laws in
place that ban the use of ornamental pesticides. This means the least-toxic areas for bees are the urban ones. However, due to the restrictions put in place by the Ontario Bee Act, beekeeping isn’t practical for everyone. “Not everyone is going to want to keep bees and not everybody should,” Hood said. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. By planting a pollinator garden, you provide food for honeybees and other pollinating animals. That is a personal step you can take to help bees. Hood believes that enough people acting together can create a more pollinator-friendly city in the future. “So, although you may feel you have just a small postage stamp of a garden... I know that each person and all my neighbours, if they’re making the decisions based on the benefit not just for themselves but for the birds and the bees and the butterflies... we can have an incredibly green and supportive city for all pollinators and that feels good.”
Did you know? n It takes two million flower’s worth of nectar to make one pound of honey n Dusting bees with simple icing sugar helps them clean off varroa mites n Honey made from Japanese Knotweed (fallopia japonica) is much darker than clover honey
R E P A I R J
by sam turchan
se-Chem Lam’s 20-year-old cracked cookbook has been sitting on her kitchen shelf for months. The book’s binding had collapsed in a recent move, but she wouldn’t throw it away. It was a gift from her mother many years ago and held great sentimental value. Thankfully, she discovered a local repair shop, Toronto Repair Café, where she had the book fixed by community volunteers. “I brought my much-loved cookbook to be repaired by Andy, who does book-binding,” Lam said. “I could have just thrown it out and replaced it, but there was nothing wrong with the book except that a few pages were missing. Andy repaired my book with expertise and great care. I knew I would come back.” The idea behind the Toronto café that helped restore Lam’s cookbook to its former glory was spawned in 2009 on the other side of the Atlantic. It was in Amsterdam when the first repair café set up shop, and since then has grown exponentially. It soon became a global initiative and last year, co-founder Wai Chu Cheng opened the doors for the first Toronto Repair Café, and since then the concept has grown. The first Toronto event was hosted on May 25, 2013 and since they have been running a monthly repair café for over a year and a half, according to Cheng. “Repair Café is where people meet together
to fix household items, whether that be computers, electronic devices, small appliances, clothes, jewelry, books. You name it, we can fix it.” The café, tucked away on St. Clair Avenue West, has a relaxing atmosphere with coffee and snacks, along with skilled volunteers from various Toronto neighbourhoods who teach visitors how to repair their broken items. Lam believes in helping those in need and collects broken laptops, many of which she has taken to the café to be fixed, and then given to students in need. “I brought an eight-year-old laptop that I had forgotten the password to and hoped that someone would be able to retrieve it for me or reset it,” Lam said. “Giles, a Linux specialist volunteer, was there and helped me to reset my password. This computer is now on loan to a student who does not have the funds to purchase a computer for herself. She was so relieved to now have a means of completing her work and no longer rely on school computers.” The café aims to change the way of our society’s “throw away-mindset,” Cheng says. In relatively wealthy countries such as Canada and Western Europe, we don’t realize the impact our actions have on the environment. She says that there are very few places that operate for the sole purpose to “fix” things anymore. “When things stop working, we throw it out,”
“Repair Café is where people meet to fix household items, whether that be computers, electronic devices, small appliances, clothes, jewelry, books.”
All photos: Kimberly Aglipay
-WaI CHU CHENG
Community Cheng said. Toronto Repair Café’s goal is to cut down on landfills because they contaminate our soil and ground water. Every new item being made comes from natural resources, such as water or metals or minerals. This isn’t the only initiative in the city that repairs items for individuals. Bill Ashley is the owner of Fix It Again Sam, a repair shop on Millwood Road in East York. He has been in the repair business since 1980 and believes that his customers come to him for three main reasons: cost, sustainability beliefs and sentimental value. The number of people coming to his shop for repairs has gone up in recent years, and he believes that society is changing. “There are the people who want to buy everything at Walmart for cheap, and they’re not going to fix their vacuum because they can buy a new one for sixty dollars,” he said. “But then there are a lot of people who are more informed and who don’t want to throw stuff out anymore. Those numbers of people are increasing.” Being in the business for over 30 years, he has seen people of all walks of life come into his shop. Yet he believes the majority of them could afford to fully replace their items, but choose to have them repaired instead. “I think it’s because people are better educated.
People are starting to wise up,” he said. “I hear it a lot. People will bring something in, I will give them a price and they will look at me and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to throw it in the dump, so you better fix it!’” Stephen Leahy, environmental journalist and author of Your Water Footprint, believes strongly in saving water consumption, and thinks the repair shops are a great way to do so. “It takes water to make anything – your laptop, your cellphone,” Leahy said. By buying a T-shirt second-hand as opposed to brand new, you can save up to 3,000 litres of water, he said. Cheng says that she founded the Toronto Repair Café because she wants to create an economy that is sustainable. She would like to see future generations enjoy the natural resources we are taking for granted today. Meanwhile, Lam will continue to take her broken items to the Repair Café and refurbish broken laptops in order to give underprivileged students a chance to access technology. “I can’t say enough about the Repair Café,” she said. “It’s good to know that we can all do something small, yet significant, to protect Mother Earth – and to help someone in need or to rescue a treasured item that has suffered a bruise.”
Kimberly Aglipay Sam Turchan Chris Lum
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