Archive for the ‘Green’ category

Taking the classroom outside

June 25, 2010

June is a difficult month for students (and teachers).  Not only is there an increased demand to get assignments submitted and marked, but the warm weather calls, tempting students and teachers alike to move outdoors.  How many times have I had to field the question, “Can we have class outside today?”  Really?  Class outside?  Come on — that’s something that is not going to end well.

Although I have had students perform outdoor theatre and I have taken leadership students on camping trips, could a typical day-to-day lesson actually be facilitated outside?  Well tire manufacturer Bridgestone Canada and not-for-profit organization Evergreen have teamed up to provide one Mississagua, Ontario school with an outdoor classroom.

You would think that this was big news but good luck finding any reference to the project on the websites of either Evergreen or Bridgestone or even a local newspaper.  I came across it here, on a trucking news website.  Interesting.

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Gardening by stealth

May 18, 2010

I never meant it to be a political act; I just wanted to improve my daily walk.  For years I would walk one kilometer from my home to the high school at which I taught.  On my walk I would pass by the yards of dozens of homes, some with beautiful gardens, others quite drab and plain.  In the late summer, when flowers began to go to seed, I would reach from the sidewalk and grab the seeds from one yard and then deposit them in the neglected gardens of another.  The easiest were hollyhocks, morning glories, and marigolds.  The following spring, I would look for (and usually find) the results.  Some of recipients of my distribution must have been displeased as I would see the new plants dug up and removed, but most plants were left to grow and bloom.  Some even became my source for the seeds of next year’s walk-by gardening projects.

I have also been known to prune the odd bush or hedge who’s owner has allowed it to grow out over the sidewalk.  I deal with such projects gradually.  Each time I walk by, I casually reach out and snap off a single twig.  I do so at the exact point where it invades the space over the sidewalk.  One bush in particular required an entire summer of daily dog walks to conceal my stealthy pruning.  I probably shouldn’t do this, but I hate brushing against a hedge on my walk and getting soaked by the dewy leaves.  There should be a general rule that people should plant their hedges at least a foot and a half from sidewalks to allow for overgrowth.  And they should be trimmed yearly.  If only I were King.

Apparently, there is a name for what I do: guerrilla gardening.  It seems there is an entire movement dedicated to bettering public spaces with greenery and flowers.  Check out the guerrillagardening.com website to see some great examples.  I am planning my next guerrilla gardening project at this very moment, but the details are still secret.  I will, however, post updates.

If you want to read about a very cool, secretive gardening project completed on a giant scale, read about 14,000 tulips that were planted (in a little over an hour) on a patch of public land in Toronto.  Impressive, but I think they cheated (using an automated tulip planting machine).

A mysterious 100 metre long patch of tulips planted surreptitiously along the north side of Kingston Road, Toronto.

Shovelling compost the ergonomic way

May 16, 2010

A few weeks ago I “won” 3.5 cubic yards of compost.  I put “won” in quotations marks because it was a silent auction and I and another fellow kept running up the bids until I ended up with the winning bid just a few dollars short of the actual cost.

However, it was all for a good cause; the silent auction was part of the annual fund-raising brunch for Jamaica Self Help, a fantastic organization based in Peterborough, Ontario.  I won’t go into  detail explaining what they do (I strongly advise that you go to their website), but they support education and community development programmes in Jamaica and engage Canadian youth on global issues.  If you know a high school student interested in international development, have them explore their website.  They run incredible awareness trips for youth, having young Canadians volunteer on projects in Kingston, Jamaica.

I stuck with the bidding for the compost because I actually needed some (although perhaps not 3.5 cubic yards worth) and because the City of Peterborough Waste Management division’s compost program is awesome.  We routinely leave out brown bags of garden waste throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s great to see it put to such good use.  I don’t know how they turn it into compost (giant compost bins?) or where, but I do know that the compost is amazing for gardens.  Every year my wife and I seem to increase the size of our gardens (more weeding) and decrease the size of our lawn (less mowing).  She has recently discovered the art of planting vegetables among the flowers and it’s led to some interesting combinations.  I’ll post pictures later this year.

I never minded digging in the dirt and this year I am actually excited about it.  For my birthday I received the unusual but also garden-geeky-cool ergonomic shovel pictured at the left.  It was a generous gift from my in-laws who picked it up at one of my favourite stores, Lee Valley.  I’d go into more detail about this remarkable tool, but I believe that I am needed in the garden.

How many wheelbarrows of compost in 3.5 cubic yards?  A lot!

Water comment correction

May 13, 2010

Okay, I need to correct something I said in my previous post about bottled water.  As Trebor pointed out, the water coming out of your taps is not free.  There is a cost associated with public water.  The point I was trying to make was how much cheaper it is than bottled water.  For example, at my local corner store it is not unusual to pay $2 for a 500 ml bottle of water.  In contrast, $2 on your home’s water bill will get you a cubic metre of water.  What’s the difference?  Bottled water cost 2,000 times more! So cheap that it almost feels like it is free in comparison.

However, the point that Trebor makes is an important one and one that the video The Story of Bottled Water makes as well.  Keeping our public water systems safe and secure costs money.  Bottled water companies, by encouraging our reliance on their product, threatens to reduce our attention to publicly accessed water.  It is estimated that the United States will need to spend $250 billion over the next 30 years to repair and maintain existing public water systems.  In the meantime, U.S. citizens spend $11 billion on bottled water annually.

Bad, bad, bottled water

May 11, 2010

Confession: Rarely, I repeat, rarely, I can be found at the local Walmart.  And on my rare excursions there, I have seen many strange things, including an early morning pep rally for employees.  There were 20 or so blue-aproned adults standing in a circle performing some kind of cheer.  About three quarters of them were really into it, while the others watched me walk by with a fearful look that seemed to beg me to rescue them.

My general rule of thumb about these trips to Walmart is that everything I see there is bad — bad for my health, bad for my psyche, bad for the environment, bad for the local economy, just bad, bad, bad.  This has lead me to believe that the following things are not good: over-sized plastic butterfly lawn ornaments, leaf blowers, Orange County Chopper t-shirts, fish-shaped pillows, and black stretchy pants.

However, the most horrifying thing I see when I am at Walmart are legions of shopping carts being wheeled out of the store, stacked high with cases of bottled water.  Bottled water!  How the general public was ever fooled into buying water (which comes free out of the tap) I will never know.  Some advertising executive must have been elevated to the status of demi-god after that coup.

The Polaris Institute, which is an amazing Ottawa-based organization which supports citizens to fight for social change, helped produce an excellent video to educate the public on how bottled water is not only unnecessary, but dangerous.

Bamboo bikes!

May 6, 2010

One of the joys of getting up early to beat the morning rush is listening to BBC on the commute.  One of my favourite correspondents is Peter Day who is traveling around the US gathering stories for his show World of Business.

This morning he did a great piece on the Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn.  You can buy a bike frame made of bamboo from them or attend one of their wildly popular Bamboo Bike Building courses.  The advantages of using bamboo instead of steel?  It’s lighter, cheaper, easy to work with (no soldering or welding required), easy to customize, and apparently makes for a very natural ride.

Won’t be in Brooklyn anytime soon?  Check out DIY instructions and instructables.