Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meet Michael Chong: Farm Warrior


Just to the north of Sprawlville lies the pastoral paradise known as Wellington-Halton Hills. Their federal Member of Parliament is Michael Chong, who is well known and respected in the riding as a man of conscience and integrity despite his rather unfortunate choice of party affiliation.

Most MPs - most good ones, anyway - have a pet cause that they have developed some expertise in and will champion when the opportunity presents itself. In Michael Chong's case, that cause happens to be the three interconnected issues that this blog was designed to address: sustainable agriculture, food security and urban sprawl.

Chong's website contains numerous articles and speeches he has written on these and many other subjects. Some of the best are his series on Urban Sprawl, his series on Agriculture (in which he comes out strongly in favour of supply management), and his speech to the Halton Federation of Agriculture in November, which was published in the Halton Compass. He even made a presentation at the McGill Conference on Global Food Security this September.

I had the opportunity to take a scenic drive through Chong's neck of the woods a few days ago. It was like taking a trip down memory lane to the Halton I remember from when I first moved here 15 years ago. So if Michael Chong can hold back the tide of sprawl and preserve and strengthen his riding's agricultural heritage, then more power to him. Even if he is a Conservative.

Can you imagine if he were Agriculture Minister?

Friday, November 7, 2008

AnnK's Big Show

I've introduced you to local artist Ann Kornuta before. Last night she had her very own show at the Dorland-Haight Gallery and from all appearances it was a smashing success. She sold some paintings, made a few contacts, and got to listen to friends and supporters gush over her extraordinary work.

Plus there was a DJ! And a multi-media show! In Milton! I even got to meet Mike Cluett (who scooped me on blogging the event), plus a few other fans of Sprawlville.

The only down side was the rather odd couple next door coming down to complain about the music. After the woman failed to get the desired response from the Gallery owner (who has apparently had to deal with her before), she sent down her husband/boyfriend. The guy came down shirtless and reminded me somewhat of Randy from TPB - and was taken about as seriously. Sorry guys - it's Main Street Milton and it's before 10 p.m. Suck it up.

Here are a few images from the evening:




Ann, Ann's brother, and Mike Cluett


Ann's Doppelganger




Ann and fellow artist Sarah Joncas watching crazy YouTube
videos of turtles, cats, and zombie shoe fiends


"Hey you kids, turn that music down!!"



Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carr vs. Smitherman

A battle has been brewing for some time now between Halton Region and the province over the lag between new housing development and funding for infrastructure upgrades. This battle has recently come to a head in the form of an ultimatum issued by Regional Chair Gary Carr to Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, in which Carr has threatened to impose a moratorium on new development until Halton's infrastructure needs are met.

At the heart of the issue is the province's 'Places to Grow' plan. The Region and the town of Milton have consistently talked about this plan as though they were being forced against their will to rubber stamp all those sprawling new subdivisions.

Over $2.5 billion will be needed for infrastructure to accommodate growth to 2021, while more than $8.6 billion will be required to serve the population increase to 2031, Carr informed the minister.

But Smitherman said the Province and its Places to Grow plan aren’t the cause of the problem.

“The servicing costs you indicate in your letter and the infrastructure deficit in Halton relate primarily to servicing areas which were planned for and approved by the Region prior to 2006 and precede the growth plan,” he said.

He also said, “The growth plan has not created this growth pressure — it provides a framework to manage and plan for it.”


Despite Carr's protestations, Smitherman is actually correct. Halton (specifically Milton) opened the floodgates for breakneck growth back in 1999, when the 'Big Pipe' bringing water from Lake Ontario was completed and the town started issuing building permits as fast as they could fill them out. And 'Places to Grow' primarily talks about ways in which the Region could accommodate an anticipated population increase through urban intensification and 'smart growth' principles - most of which (from what I can tell) the Region and particularly Milton have ignored.

Back when Mayor Krantz and Milton's Town Councillors were reassuring us all about these new developments, we were told that permit fees, development charges and new property taxes would cover everything. Today the fallacy of that assumption is clear to see - in the perpetual traffic congestion, in the long waits at the hospital, and in the already overcrowded schools.

And yet, the building continues apace.

Regardless of whether the fault lies with the Province (which has delayed again and again the uploading of social services funding from the municipalities), or the Region (for failing to account for the fact that new houses often contain actual people who drive and get sick and go to school) - or both - the one good thing that might come out of all this is if Gary Carr actually goes through with his threat to put the brakes on development.

Stay tuned: Chudleigh vs. The Beer Store is up next...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mattamy Quality?


Every once in a while, I check in at the Hawthorne Villager, a forum for residents of the big Mattamy development to the southeast of old Milton. Most of what gets posted there is fairly mundane - people looking for babysitters, trying to sell their snowblower, etc. - and most people who express an opinion seem fairly positive about their houses and their neighbourhood. But once in a while you run across a post by somebody who has issues that provides some interesting insights into life in the heart of Sprawlville.

Like this one, entitled "Mattamy lied to my wife":

I'm not sure where to go with this, but I'm seriously fed up with the BS Mattamy's been giving us since we moved in. I'm in HVE Phase I (closed end of May) and have had nothing but problems with the speed at which our 100+ list of PDI/30-day issues is being completed.

Our master ensuite bathroom is unusable due to the fact that we don't have a counter top or sink yet, as well as Mattamy installing the shower head on the wrong wall (I pointed this out to them at the frame walk and they did nothing about it) so that every time you turn on the shower tons of water is sprayed on the floor, not to mention getting drenched in cold water. A guy has come twice to install the sink but couldn't because of a lack of counter top. Is Mattamy really this disorganized? Furthermore, the entire counter needs to be replaced because whoever tried to install it completely ripped up a bunch of the boards trying to screw it all together.

The bedroom above our garage is at least 5 degrees warmer than the rest of the house, which will end up being 5 degrees colder than the rest of the house in the winter. An obvious insulation issue. How it passed Mattamy's "rigorous" energy-efficient test to obtain the certificate is a really good question.

Parts of our basement floor are bulging and has burst through at one location allowing one to see that it's only 1/4" thick. Minimum code states it needs to be at least 3" thick.

The engineered beams for the main floor have holes cut out of them larger than what is allowed, as well as some of the squash blocks completely removed to run wiring. This is a serious structural problem.


The rest of the post continues in the same vein, but what I found most surprising is the number of people chiming in with their own horror stories. As I said, most people on this forum seem pretty content with their houses aside from a few minor cosmetic glitches. But with this, we're talking serious structural and building code issues - and not just in this one guy's house.

One wonders just how common such problems really are.

_____________________

BTW, I know I haven't been posting much here lately. I've been very involved with the Liberal campaign, so that and my political blogging are likely to continue to consume my attention for the next, oh, twenty days or so.

So, barring anything really fascinating happening on the Milton municipal beat, I'll see you October 15th.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Welcome to Steam Era!

My only family connection to Milton is my uncle Bill. Bill Tom lived here with his wife and their three daughters during the 60s and early 70s, and was the vice-principal at the high school where my son is attending now.

I was too young to remember visiting them here, but apparently I did because one year, for my birthday, Bill gave me an old photo of my mother at the annual Milton Steam Era pushing me in a baby carriage. I'll try and find it so I can show you.

Steam Era takes place every Labour Day weekend at the Milton Fairgrounds about two blocks from my house. Every year, steam engine and antique tractor aficionados gather from across the province (and some from without) to show off their beauties, all lovingly restored and polished. It's one of those little sub-cultures that most people are never even aware of, but here in Milton it's a pretty big deal.

Here's what I get to watch every year from my front yard as they make their way from the Fairgrounds to the parade up Main Street.



It's on right through Monday - c'mon by and check it out!

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Garden: First Fruits

Through no fault of my own, my veggie garden has been growing like gangbusters over the past few weeks - likely the result of all the rain we've been getting. The weeds and oregano have also been growing like mad, but I've managed to keep the worst of them down.

I've already been harvesting the bok choy (which is looking more like Swiss chard these days and making me question my memory), and have gathered a couple of handfuls of snap peas and some gianormous snow peas. And this week, my first tomato started turning red!



That one is on the heirloom plant I bought from Willow Creek. It grew weeks before any of the others and has just been sitting there, biding it's time. The rest are starting to catch up, though. They all look like giant jalapenos.



My other tomatoes are all doing well, too...



... as are the mutant snow peas.



And I could have sworn this was bok choy. It certainly doesn't have that weird metal-on-teeth taste you get with chard... well, whatever. Leafy green stuff - it's all good.



Today I bought a book called "The Edible Canadian Garden", which has all sorts of very useful information that I probably should have had, you know, before I planted. But next year's garden is going to be awesome.

Hmm... maybe a greenhouse...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sustainable Wine

They just ran this fascinating piece on CNN about a Napa Valley vineyard that has taken great strides towards sustainable farming. Which is pretty remarkable given that California is one of the most over irrigated, over fertilized, chemical ridden farming regions on the planet.

Shafer Vineyards
used to be a traditional California wine operation, with bare soil between the vine rows cleared of every living thing by gallons of pesticides. Then the owner realized that if he planted cover crops like clover and vetch between the rows during the winter, not only would they provide habitat for beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, but they would also prevent soil erosion, retain moisture, choke back other weeds, and when they died off in the summer, restore nutrients to the soil.

Since then, Shafer has taken other steps such as encouraging songbirds, raptors and bats to control pests, composting, setting up an irrigation pond and recycling all their water, and converting the winery to solar power.

Go to www.shafervineyards.com/sustainability/ for more.

What I love about all this is that not only is it good for the planet, good for the soil and good for the wine - it's that aside from the solar panels, it doesn't cost the farmer a thing and saves him thousands in input costs. And although they don't mention how much the solar panels cost, they did mention that they used to spend $40,000 - $50,000 a year on electricity, whereas now they only spend about $1,500 to run the irrigation pumps - and that will be replaced with solar soon.

I think about this every time I hear farmers complain about Dion's carbon tax and how much it's going to raise they diesel and fertilizer costs and I just shake my head. But I know it's not that simple unless you run something like a winery where you're growing, processing, packaging and distributing everything yourself.

However, if you rely on corporate-owned refrigerated warehouses and processing plants, and mega supermarket chains that demand perfection, uniformity and durability in order to have a market for your crops, then your options for alternative farming methods are going to be limited.

I don't know what the solution is, but I hope the growing awareness of food-related issues on the part of the public will provoke a fundamental change in the system.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Canada in Transition

The CBC recently did a piece on Rob Hopkins and the Transition movement. It focused on Transition Town Totnes in England, as this is where the concept has been most thoroughly embraced and implemented. It also talks to people who are working towards starting similar initiatives in some Canadian towns and cities like Peterborough, Ontario and Port Alberni, BC.

If you've never heard of the Transition concept, here's how the website defines it:
A Transition Initiative is a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"


It's a unique approach that focuses on permaculture principles and re-localization (local food, local energy, local industry, even local currency) as ways in which communities can make the transition to a much lower energy future.


There are many things I like about the Transition approach. One is that it's not doom and gloom. In fact, it's been described as "more of a party than a protest march" because it envisions a future without fossil fuels as actually being better than the world we're living in now.

Another thing that sets Transitions apart is that it tackles peak oil and climate change as two parts of the same problem instead of dealing with them in isolation.

The consequences of the 'one or the other' approach are beginning to be seen in the U.S. presidential campaign, where concerns over GHG emissions and climate change have suddenly fallen off the radar in the face of rising energy prices. Politicians from both parties are suddenly desperate to start drilling everywhere they can, and are eager to be seduced by the false promise of 'clean coal', ethanol, oil from shale, and anything else they can find that will allow them to continue feeding America's addiction and (consequently) pump even more carbon into our atmosphere.

On the other hand, many proposals aimed solely at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon capture and storage, tree-based carbon offsets, and some rather imaginative proposals for re-engineering our atmosphere, fail to take the inevitable consequences of peak oil into account.

Some of the specific methods and 'consciousness building' exercises they propose are a bit hippy-dippy even for me (please, don't make me do the 'web exercise'), but the basic philosophy is sound and may be ideally suited for a country like Canada with its abundant resources, and where the remnants of the old farm, village and market town landscape can still be glimpsed under the sprawl, waiting to be revived.

(cross-posted from Canada's World)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How Walkable Is Your Neighbourhood?

This is very, very cool.

There's a website called Walk Score where you can actually find out your neighbourhood's "walkability rating", based on proximity to grocery stores, parks, shops, restaurants, libraries, etc.

It's not a perfect system, particularly for smaller Canadian places like Milton. For example, none of the three closest grocery stores to my house are listed, nor is the movie theatre, and they don't include things like banks, schools or the post office. Still, it's a neat way to get a quick idea of just how walkable any neighbourhood is.

For example, if you just enter "Milton, Ontario", it comes up as 70/100, or "Very Walkable". However, that's for a location corresponding to Town Hall, right in the heart of downtown. If I enter my address on Commercial St., it comes up as 62, or "Somewhat Walkable". I suspect it would do better if those grocery stores were in there.



My son's friend lives in one of the '70s developments in the NE quadrant of town - his house scores a 58, only slightly less than mine. However, a friend of mine in another older development in the SE quadrant only gets a 32, or "Car-Dependant", although that is definitely because there are things missing from the map.

As for the new developments, here`s a random sampling:

Dixon Drive: 30
Weller Cross: 13
Yates Blvd.: 10
Lancaster Blvd.: 10
Pettit Trail: 18
Ferguson Drive: 12

Just for fun, I also entered the Toronto addresses for my first home near Avenue Rd. & Lawrence (only 37, but still pretty), my second home near York Mills and Bayview (30 - ouch!), and my first apartment on Dovercourt (80!)

Of course, none of this takes into account things like street width and design, trees, sidewalks, bike accessibility, etc., but it's still a lot of fun. So you tell me - how walkable is your neighbourhood?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The 'Building Complete Communities' Post-Summit Report is Here!

I'm excited! Aren't you excited?

Esther Shaye (Garth Turner's right hand woman) attended this summit of urban planning experts and regional and municipal leaders back in June, and was so excited she couldn't wait to call and tell me about it when she got back. Today, one of the co-sponsors of the event (the Canadian Urban Institute) released its post-summit report, along with presentations by CUI President Glen Murray and others.

The focus of the summit was primarily on service and infrastructure funding challenges and solutions for municipalities (particularly in Halton and Peel), but at the same time summit presenters emphasized that designing that infrastructure around compact, complete, sustainable communities isn't just a good idea - it's a necessity.

Complete communities require a financially sustainable growth management strategy, but they also require that we design our communities in a new way. This presents new challenges to municipalities where suburban expansion into rural areas has been the norm. As such, these new communities can be more costly to develop and maintain to the standards GTAH residents currently enjoy.

Affording this type of development in the GTAH requires a commitment to fiscal reform and innovation as far-reaching as the commitment to developing in a completely new way to implement the vision for the Growth Plan.

To summarize the road-blocks that need to be addressed and overcome:

• Development Charges that are calibrated to “business as usual” growth and not the rapid, compact form of growth projected in the Growth Plan.
• Cash flow issues related to the partial/delayed payment of Development Charges.
• Long-term operating and maintenance costs of infrastructure not covered by Development Charges.
• A regressive property tax structure.
• Inadequate funding for growth-related provincial infrastructure and servicing (this includes not only the building of schools, community centres, and day care facilities but also their day to day operational funding).


Murray's presentation is particularly interesting as it cites several reasons why developing 'complete communities' based on New Urbanist principles is going to become even more vital in the future. These include:

- Climate change: both because of the necessity of reducing GHG emissions from transportation and housing, and because we will need to accomodate a new wave of 'climate refugees' very soon.

- Economic changes: "In the past, three out of every five jobs in Canada were in the manufacturing sector. Today, in Canada’s “New Economy” 80% of job growth is in knowledge-based industries, with the remaining 20% in service industries. This type of growth promotes the development of centres of innovation and is attracting a new and creative workforce to Canadian communities. This workforce has different needs and preferences than the one our communities were planned to accommodate. The creative workforce is attracted to urban centres where arts and culture are vibrant, recreational facilities are state-of-the-art, and lifestyle choices are wide-ranging. Communities that are able to attract and accommodate this new workforce often enjoy increased community assets."

- Demographic shift: because for a rapidly aging population, issues like walkability and easy access to health, social and cultural services are becoming increasingly essential. Also because our multicutural and multi-ethnic society has different needs and wants than those for whom the suburban model of development was designed.


Anyway, it's a great read for anyone interested in urban development issues, and does a great job of explaining exactly what kind of infrastructure funding challenges our municipalities face in a way that we lay people can understand.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Island as Sustainable Community

In many ways, an island is the perfect environment to examine issues of local sustainability. Not only are the boundaries clearly defined, but the costs and consequences of relying on food, goods and jobs from beyond those boundaries are considerably amplified and therefore particularly visible.

I just got back from a week-long trip visiting my sister on Salt Spring Island, BC, so I thought it might be useful to examine how a place like that functions and just how sustainable and resilient it really is.

The Island

Salt Spring Island is located off the east coast of Vancouver Island, directly north of Victoria, and is the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands. The population consists of about 10,000 permanent residents, but summer brings large numbers of tourists to the island. The largest town is Ganges, and there are two smaller towns, Fulford and Vesuvius Bay, which also serve as boarding points for ferry service to other islands and the mainland. The terrain is mountainous, but there are large areas of good farmland in the valleys and at the north end of the island.



Food

Salt Spring is becoming famous for its local wines and cheeses. Many of the farms on the island grow organic produce and other crops, and there is some livestock as well - notably lamb and dairy cows. The grocery stores all carry a good selection of local foods, and there is a very well attended weekly farmers' market in Ganges.

The problem is, the abundance of local food available on Salt Spring is largely an illusion. According to a study conducted in 2005 examining produce farming on the island, only about 5% of the food consumed on Salt Spring is actually produced there. The rest, about four million pounds a year, is ferried in.

The reasons cited for this surprisingly low percentage were varied: the low percentage of active farmland engaged in commercial produce (about 6%); reliance on manual labour rather than appropriate mechanization; lack of farm labourers and lack of affordable rental housing for labourers; lack of larger scale processing and storage facilities, etc.

The study found that producers are, for the most part, selling all of their crops. And, at this volume at least, most prefer to sell retail rather than wholesaling. At the same time, retail grocers and some restaurants reported that they are not able to source an adequate supply of quality Salt Spring produce to meet their requirements. At present Salt Spring produce represents only about 5% of all the produce being transported onto the island.

Clearly, the island is not even close to growing enough produce to feed the population. Changing this situation would mean significantly increasing production. The study found that there are a number of commercial farmers interested in doing this. If this is to happen, however, many obstacles will have to be addressed including: improving the efficiency of farm work through appropriate mechanization; business planning to ensure financial sustainability; and engaging the community in supporting local food security with their food dollars.


One thing I noticed that was not mentioned in the study was that much of the food production on Salt Spring is geared towards the tourist and export markets, with highly specialized and expensive items like artisanal cheeses and wines dominating. While this type of food production is vital to the local economy, it isn't going to feed 10,000 people.


Map of Salt Spring Island showing
Agricultural Land Reserve


For more information, read the 'Plan to Farm' document, which addresses all of these issues and proposes concrete solutions. The plan was prepared for Salt Spring Island but the ideas are also applicable to other rural communities such as Milton.

Energy

Most energy used on Salt Spring Island is electrical, even for home heating, although low and high efficiency wood stoves are also fairly common. Electricity is supplied from Vancouver Island via undersea cables; as far as I am aware, none is generated on the island. An energy strategy study from 2005 suggested an investigation of local power generation on a scale of about 5% through wind, solar and micro-hydro, but so far nothing seems to have been done.

Transportation

Aside from a few small privately owned boats, access to the island is entirely through BC Ferry service. A return trip for one person in a car ranges from about $40 to Vancouver Island to over $100 to the mainland. Trucks pay more.



As far as local transportation goes, while the towns themselves are very compact and walkable, getting there from the rural areas or from other towns still generally requires the use of a car. Cycling even moderate distances is difficult for all but the most hardened athletes due to the terrain, and even for them it's a hazardous undertaking because the roads are narrow and twisting with no shoulder, and the drivers all take them at full speed.

One common and rather unique form of local transportation is hitchhiking. Driving the main Fulford-Ganges Road it is not unusual to spot three or four people by the road with their thumbs out, and they rarely have to wait long for a ride. While in most parts of the country hitching a ride can be a rather dangerous proposition for both rider and driver, on Salt Spring the community is so small and tightly knit that it's considered a safe and efficient form of ride sharing.

Salt Spring recently instituted a public transit system, but so far it is somewhat underused.

Economy, Employment and Housing

Ferry costs make commuting off the island for work pretty much out of the question for most, and bringing in outside workers for summer jobs or farm work is made even more difficult by high housing costs and lack of available rental units.

The economy on Salt Spring is largely tourism-related, with a high percentage of residents who run their own crafts or other businesses, or who are employed in the service sector.



A large artist and artisan community sells its wares principally through the '100% Local' Saturday Market in Ganges, which draws thousands of people every week from the island and beyond. However, with a worsening economy and high fuel prices now resulting in a new surcharge on ferry rates, there is concern that those tourist dollars might be at risk and that the community might need to become even more self-sustaining economically.

Conclusions

While Salt Spring Island is in many ways a model of local sustainability, and the people there take great pride in their local foods, wines and crafts, it is clear that the island still has a long way to go towards becoming truly sustainable and self-sufficient. But the potential certainly exists for Salt Spring Island to feed, power and employ itself. It has done so in the past and could easily do so again.

Happily, enthusiasm for and understanding of sustainability issues is extremely high among island residents, and many practical solutions have already been worked out in detail. So it's really only a matter of time before those solutions begin to be put into place on a broad scale.

Now we just need something like that for Milton.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Milton Draws its 'Line in the Sand' with Region

From today's Milton Champion:

Town setting growth 'rules' with Region

The Town is laying out ground rules that it wants the Region to follow when it comes to local residential growth beyond 2021.

The proposed list of growth principles prepared by Town staff went before town council at an information workshop held Monday afternoon.

The item comes in response to the Region's Sustainable Halton plan, which is being developed to steer future growth while preserving and protecting things like greenspace and farmland.

As part of the process, Region staff has come up with five concepts that show how about 2,400 hectares of 'greenfields,' or undeveloped land, in Milton and Halton Hills could accommodate 120,000 people and the needed community infrastructure between 2021 and 2031.

(...) In response to the concepts, [Town] staff developed a list that tells the Region the Town will accept residential growth beyond 2021 only on the basis of the following principles, including:

- Balanced residential and employment growth based upon a minimum .5 employee-to-resident ratio

- Increased financial support from the Region relating to capital projects, with transportation/transit and water/wastewater systems as a priority

- Encouraged financial assistance from the Province for hospitals, schools and transit, including things like legislative changes to development charges

- Continued and respected input into the Region's evaluation of the proposed growth concepts, all the while respecting Milton's Strategic Plan goals and objectives

- That the cost of providing lake-based servicing to Halton Hills be borne by Halton Hills' landowners/developers, and that Halton Hills development doesn't impede Milton's ability to manage its growth


What I find most interesting about this list of "principles" is that every one of them is about money.

The sad thing is, the 'Sustainable Halton' plan is actually very good. Although it takes as a given that the population and urban area of Milton will expand significantly (which it already has), and although the suggested population density for new residential developments is shockingly low (50 people + jobs/hectare), it does take into account things like continuity and preservation of as much agricultural land as possible, recognition of the special needs of the greenhouse/market garden areas along Eighth Line, the integration of rail, transit and automobile transportation corridors and hubs, etc.

That's the big picture. The smaller picture - the actual implementation of this plan on a local level in terms of individual housing, retail and industrial developments, is the purview of the Town of Milton. But instead of going with the spirit and intent of the Region's plan and exploring innovative ways of creating sustainable new urban spaces (such as New Urbanist concepts, or, say, this development in Ottawa), the Town long ago chose to simply hand over the design of housing and retail developments to private corporations whose only purpose is to maximize profit per hectare.

The result, which may or may not adhere to the overall land use recommendations of 'Sustainable Halton', nevertheless makes 'New Milton' look like exactly the same barren wasteland of ticky-tacky houses and big box stores covering Brampton and Peel when viewed from street level.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Farmers' Market as "Third Place"

One of my fellow bloggers over at "Canada's World" recently posted a fascinating piece on the concept of 'Third Places':

Ray Oldenburg coined the term “Third Places” in 1989 to distinguish between one’s home (first places) and work (second places). Third places are those public locales that make you feel safe, comfortable and happy. Where you are likely to bump into someone you know. These are the coffee shops, street corners and park benches where people of a certain stage of life tend to gravitate, therefore increasing the chances of chance encounters.

Unfortunately, as our cities suburbanized and our movements became encased in personal automobiles, the number of third places in our lives has diminished. The fear of the uncontrollable spaces outside our private property has taken away the apparent randomness of kids meeting other kids as they prowl the empty spaces the working class leave behind at night. Uncertain exchanges and tentative acts of bravado with the kids two-streets over have been replaced by play dates and organized entertainment. Surprising conversations at the corner pub are losing ground to packed coffee houses silently listening to headphones and typing on laptops. Walkabouts to the local shops are a quaint pastime, whereas one-stop-shopping big-box-store efficiency is an everyday reality.


I had this in mind on Saturday as I did my weekly rounds at the Farmers' Market. At one point I bought myself one of the Scholarship Cafe's famous peameal-on-a-bun sandwiches, and as I stood on the sidewalk eating it I watched for these sorts of 'chance encounters' between people.

I counted at least half a dozen within earshot just in the five minutes or so that I stood there. Just people smiling and waving and saying "Hi! Howareya?" and starting up conversations.

This is why I focused on people-watching with this week's video. As you play it, keep an eye out for the interactions between people, as well as the variety of ages and social groups represented.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Garth on Sprawl

Our much maligned, beleaguered and beset MP Garth Turner managed to sum up many of the issues of urban sprawl on his blog today, with particular focus on the situation here in Milton. He even led with this shot of Mattamy's assembly line house factory:



I'm sorry, that just creeps me out.

Turner covers most of the bases, although he doesn't go so far as to present any concrete solutions. I suspect that there aren't many from a federal perspective. My response was as follows:

I got my first up-close look at where my new neighbours are living while (coincidentally) distributing Garth Turner fliers over the past few weeks.

Several things struck me:

1) In the two and a half or so hours I spent pounding the pavement, I saw exactly two other people using the sidewalks - one walking a dog, and another handing out newspapers.

2) The reason for this may be the fact that there is absolutely no shade to be found. Anywhere.

3) The second development I walked through wasn't bad, but the houses in first one (which was only a year old) all had peeling paint, heaved up paving and crumbling concrete on their steps and porches.

There are many, many things wrong with suburbia, particularly in its current, "insta-house" incarnation. Garth has covered most of them, but one thing we all have to remember is that the people living there aren't the enemy.

Too often in Milton I've heard disparaging, marginally racist comments made about "those people" who have suddenly invaded our town, as if somehow they are to blame for the mess. In fact, not only are they the victims in all this, they are actually responsible for the only upside in this whole fiasco: added racial and cultural diversity in Milton.

Hell, I can actually buy some decent East Indian junk food now!

By all means, blame the developers, although they are only doing what corporations do - maximizing profits. Even better, blame the municipal politicians who, seduced by the siren song of millions in added property taxes and development fees, have rubber stamped every single development application that has crossed their desks with the sole caveat that there be at least one Big Box complex for every eight square kilometres of McHouses.

The fact that they have suddenly realized that all the development fees they've been charging don't begin to cover the costs of servicing these developments, and in fact come too late to help anyone for years after they move in, elicits exactly zero sympathy from me.

And yet, they keep handing out those permits like candy and continue to leave all the fussy business of urban planning to corporations whose sole purpose is to squeeze as many high-priced, low-cost houses as they can into hundreds of undervalued acres of former farmland that we may never, ever get back.

They should all be run out of town on a rail.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My Vegetable Garden

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I have a black thumb. I can count the number of plants I have successfully nurtured to maturity on the fingers of one hand. I've killed aloe plants.

Still, I persist.

This year, once again, I have hopes of wresting something edible from our tiny patch of arable yard (the rest being in perpetual shade). Whenever I attempt this, I always try to select vegetables that I actually eat on a regular basis, which unfortunately don't always include the easiest to grow species. So, no zucchini or runner beans, but yes to arugula and bok choy.

Tomatoes I can grow. We got lots of tomatoes.



In addition to installing the water barrel and hooking it up to that funky drip irrigation system from Lee Valley Tool, I have two other schemes in mind to be implemented (maybe) in the next couple of weeks:
1) Tobacco pesticide. Back when I had an interest in herbology I took a class in Organic Gardening 101, and I actually retained a memory of 'tobacco tea' being an excellent natural pesticide. I've looked into it again, and I suspect it might come in handy with the bok choy - although apparently NOT with the tomatoes.

As a matter of fact, I've been wondering if struggling tobacco farmers in Ontario might find a good market for nicotine-based pesticides now that the government is going to be banning chemical pesticides.

2) Newspaper ground cover. I've been reading a bit about no-dig gardening, and while I don't think I'm anywhere near that point just yet, there are a couple of ideas inherent in the concept that I think could be applied to my generic garden: newspaper and straw.

Ground cover controls weeds (great for lazy gardeners like me), but the commercial stuff is expensive and a pain in the ass. Newspaper is compostable, free, and easy to lay out around existing plants. And adding a layer of straw or hay would retain moisture, which was a big issue last year what with the heat and my lackadaisical watering habits. Plus it would cover the ugly newspaper.

I may or may not end up implementing any of these plans this year. We'll see how the summer progresses. At any rate, I do have one 'Note To Self' for next year: enough with the abstract garden design.

I liked the idea of just leaving stuff like the oregano and lavender where it wanted to be and trying to plant around it, but it's just too awkward to maintain and weed. I would like to retain as much of the strawberries as I can, but they seem to have mostly migrated to the edge anyway.

....

Now that summer is upon us and most of my contractual obligations are behind me, I hope to delve a little more deeply into what I originally intended to do with this blog: namely, explore the issues of sustainability and sprawl though a close examination of life in Milton.

More and better soon. I promise.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week... oh, look, an MP!

A brief encounter with Garth Turner before he wandered off to do his requisite blah blah blah at the Milton Strawberry Festival at the Fairgrounds:



I still have a lot more questions about the Liberals' "Green Shift" plan, so I hope to have an opportunity to finish my "interview" in the weeks to come.

BTW, I can't help thinking that if we had a Conservative MP here in Halton (ok, other than Garth), that the second he saw some chick with a video camera sneaking up on him from around the corner he would have FLED.

Access. It's all about the access, man.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 4 PLUS the Milton Street Festival

More with AnnK, Donna Danielli, street music, and puppies!!



(EDIT: better quality video this time)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friends With Chickens, the Milton Street Festival... and a comment for Garth

I have a friend with chickens.

She doesn't have a farm, exactly. She just has chickens, and from those chickens, eggs. She sings with me in the Milton Choristers, and I found out last year that she was supplying one of the other sopranos.

This year, I got hooked up. Two bucks a dozen for the biggest, tastiest, most golden yolked eggs I have ever eaten. Behold and be amazed.



Ok, so the photo doesn't really do them justice. But trust me - store-bought eggs simply pale by comparison.

__________________________


After the Farmers' Market tomorrow is the Milton Street Festival. The event attracted over 15,000 people last year and may do even better this year. But more importantly, I will be wandering the streets all afternoon singing with Nero's Fiddle. You will recognize us by our dulcet tones, our Renaissance garb, and our sheen of sweat as we roast in bodices and full skirts.

C'mon down and say hi!

__________________________


I got a rather excited phone call this afternoon from a certain MP's office manager (who shall not be named to avoid further harassment). She had just attended an event entitled "BUILDING COMPLETE COMMUNITIES: A Summit to Explore New Ways to Afford Sustainable Growth", co-sponsored by the Canadian Urban Institute, and couldn't wait to tell me all about it as she knew it was right up my alley. It sounded fascinating. Garth Turner thought so too and mentioned it in his blog tonight.

Given that I'm well into reading 'The Transitions Handbook' right now, I gave the following response:

I wish I could have been at the meeting. It sounded really interesting. Unfortunately, nobody on Milton's Town Council or the Halton Regional Council appears to be paying attention.

Our municipal governments are our first line of defence against urban sprawl, and in Milton's case in particular they have failed us miserably. We knew there was going to big a big influx of people once the Big Pipe arrived, and all we asked of our elected representatives was this: don't let Milton turn into Brampton.

Instead, they succumbed to the siren song of development charges and property tax revenues, and rubber stamped every single agri-to-res re-zoning and big box retail proposal that crossed their desks.

They should all be run out of town on a rail.

But fear not, my friends. There is hope. There's a quiet but growing movement in England, Ireland and towns in several other countries called Transition Culture, aka 'Energy Descent Action Planning'. The idea is that the combined effects of climate change and peak oil have conspired to make it an absolute necessity for us to start adjusting to a life with much less power. And that, if we do it right, that can be a good thing.

It only took about a hundred years for cheap oil to become "essential" to our way of life. Using that same inginuity and drive, we can find our way back down again through initiatives like micro energy generation, diversification and re-localization of food sources and industry, and many more creative and pro-active ideas.

I'm excited! Are you excited?

Milton would make a perfect Transition Town. We still have enough remnants of what the town once was to re-localize and weather the coming storm. Hell, we still have a working blacksmith's shop!

Ok, so we might have to plow under some of those new developments. Something tells me they're going to have a hard time finding buyers pretty soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

DBIA Follow-up

As promised, here is the response I received today from the Chairman of the Milton Downtown Business Improvement Area board:

Thank you Jennifer for your email. It has been a long standing agreement with the Chamber of Commerce to purchase these bump out spaces for merchants to come out into the market. Due to a tight budget for the 2008 year and very low business participation, the DBIA Board made the decision that the funds would be better spent elsewhere. It was a large expense that only two or three merchants took advantage of. Merchants are still able to put out tables against the storefront walls and windows if they wish. Or if you are friends with a store in the market area, people have been partnering up. You are right, we have a lot of completion [sic] to contend with now and we are trying new ways to attract people downtown. These decisions are made in the best interest of all the businesses downtown. Not just two or three.

I hope you continue to enjoy the market and the downtown shopping experience.

Sincerely,

Glenn English
DBIA Chairman


I have verified at least one part of this explanation: very few merchants were taking advantage of these spaces, possibly because so few were willing to get up at 6:30 in the morning to set up a table. However, I suspect that at least part of the problem may lie with the DBIA failing to actively promote and offer the spaces to merchants who aren't on that particular stretch of Main St.


I am far more suspicious of the claim of budgetary restrictions. I know several store owners on Main Street and one person who was actually on the DBIA board until a couple of years ago, and they all say the same thing: the DBIA is awash in cash. They collect well over $100,000 dollars a year and only spend a fraction of it, resulting in an enormous and growing surplus. It's possible that this situation has changed drastically since my friend was on the board, but somehow I doubt it.

I'm not sure how far to push all this given that I'm not a downtown business owner and I shouldn't really know what I know. However, what I would like to know is this: if the DBIA feels the money would be better spent elsewhere, what exactly are they planning to spend it on that will reverse the exodus of customers from the downtown core? And to whom is the board accountable for how it spends the money it collects from merchants? Are their accounts and practises open to public scrutiny or only to its members?

Is all this none of my business?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 3

Mmmm... berries... and meat...



(UPDATED)

After speaking with Ann, I spoke to a couple of other people and now have a slightly better idea of what's going on with changes to the policy regarding spaces for stores at the Farmers' Market.

Essentially, we're talking about two different things. At one point in the market's history, store owners on Main Street were allowed to set up displays of their wares on the street to 'fill in' empty spots. That practice was discontinued a few years ago, and now stores are only allowed to put out tables on the sidewalk a maximum of four or five feet from their door.

The exception to this was the designation of a few specific spaces reserved for store owners to promote their business and sell their wares. As I mentioned, when my husband had a store on Mill Street (a block over), we were allowed to set up a table at the market for a few weeks out of the season. It did wonders for promoting a store that didn't otherwise get a lot of people walking by.

I wasn't sure originally who was responsible for these spaces, but after contacting the Market liaison for the Chamber I have found out that they were leased for a reduced fee by the DBIA from the Chamber for the use of DBIA members. This is apparently the program that is being discontinued. How or whether this applies to Ann painting out in front of Dorland-Haight I do not know, but I wouldn't want to be in the room when they send someone to tell Peter.

Given that the whole purpose of a Downtown Business Improvement Area is to promote downtown business, you would think it would be a no-brainer.

Here is the email I received from the Chamber. I will also email the DBIA and see if I can get an explanation from them.

Thank you for bringing this mis-information to our attention. The Milton Downtown BIA Board of Directors made the decision this year to not support the Milton Farmers' Market by purchasing the space at the market. Their financial contribution went to assist our advertising program to bring people into the Downtown to attend the market and learn about the downtown.

As you can see the decision to not allow the merchants space on the bumpout portions of the sidewalk was made by the BIA itself. Our policy has always been to partner with the BIA and we were surprised by their decision as well. Downtown businesses within the closed off portion of Main Street are able to set up tables within three feet of their storefront according to the town by-laws. However they cannot impede pedestrian movement and that is why it must be close to wall of the building.

The Farmers' Market brings farmers/producers/specialty vendors plus crafters and non-profits onto Main Street 22 weeks per year and attracts thousands of shoppers/visitors to our community. In order to inform thoses shoppers we must advertise the market on a continuous basis in a variety of ways.

If your husband has a business Downtown and he is upset by the decision of the BIA Board of Management perhaps he should speak to the Chair of the Board. To again clarify, the Chamber has never provided free spaces to the Downtown merchants - the BIA provided free spaces to them via a contribution to the Chamber.

Regards

Sandy Martin

KFC Canada reaches agreement with PETA

Saner heads prevail.

The Canadian Press has learned that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has agreed to call off its Canadian "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" campaign, which featured high-profile actress Pamela Anderson among others, following a signed agreement with the company.

Among other things, the deal obliges KFC Canada to begin buying from suppliers who use gas to kill their chickens painlessly, considered to be the least cruel method of slaughter.

The company is also promising to insist on other "animal-welfare friendly" measures relating to how the birds are kept, including a maximum on crowding and phasing out non-essential growth-hormones and other drugs.


Just to be upfront here, I generally have no use whatsoever for PETA. Not only do I strongly disagree with their ultimate goal of 'no animals for anything', I feel that their extremist approach ultimately sabotages any rational discussion of animal welfare issues. Which is why I was so surprised and pleased to read of this very reasonable agreement with KFC Canada.

This is a good thing. Well done.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 2

This week I had a lovely time talking to Kelly and Chrystal of Willow Creek Farm. Chrystal's the one I got on tape, but afterwards all three of us got yakking about everything from urban sprawl to peak oil to small town politics.

I'm definitely going to be talking to these two more in the future. I think a road trip may be in order.

(Oh, yes - and Ann K. finished the painting she started last week. Yay!)



Speaking of farming, Part 3 of the Champion's series was published in Friday's paper. This week looks at chicken farmer John Opsteen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

One Family's Food

Since I'm going to be talking a lot about food in this blog, I thought it would be helpful to take a detailed look at my own food buying and consumption habits.

To this end, I collected all (or most) of my grocery receipts for one month and broke it all down by category:
  • fruits and vegetables
  • meat and eggs (subdivided by type)
  • dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
  • bread and grains
  • canned goods
  • prepared meals, including frozen entrees and deli sandwiches
  • oils, condiments, spices
  • snack and junk food, coffee, and other misc. food and drinks

(You'd think with these obsessive/compulsive tendencies, I'd manage to do the laundry a little more often. Oh, well.)

Not everything is included here. My husband only saved about half his receipts - he cooks about three nights a week for himself and our son while I'm at work. I didn't save receipts from places like Quizno's where I have lunch about once a week. I also didn't include wine or beer, cat food, or non-food items like shampoo. And of course this is only what we bought, not what we consumed that was already in the pantry.

Still, I think these numbers are pretty representative of what my family eats in a week. I think we do pretty well in terms of a balanced diet, although those three nights a week when I'm working at the video store account for most of the frozen entrees (me and the microwave) as well as a lot of the pork (Italian sausages and KD for the boys). The rest of the week we're probably above the North American average for fruit and veg consumption, and below average for meat and for take-out.

All in all, it's an illuminating exercise. Try it for your own family!




The Smiths:

Family members:
    2 adults, 1 teenaged male, 2 cats
Family members who cook on a regular basis:
    3
Approx. number of take-out/fast food meals:
    3-4 per week (including lunches)
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with all family members present:
    3-4 per week
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with at least two family members present:
    almost all
Est. food costs per month:
    $570.00 (including estimate of items not counted)
Est. food costs per week:
    $133.00
Est. food costs per week, per person:
    $44.00
Regular grocers:
    Loblaw`s SuperCentre, LaRose Italian Bakery, Food Basics






The differences between these two charts is interesting, because it illustrates the fallacy of a common belief: that eating healthy is expensive. Just going by the number of items vs. their cost, it seems that fruits and vegetables are more economical than meat, and that breads and grains are more economical than dairy products.

Going by number of items isn't terribly accurate, but I did verify this by comparing the average price per kilo of the meats with the fruits and vegetables.


KilosCostPrice per kg
Fruits/Veg.16.43$80.22$4.88
Meat13.9$132.35$9.52


In other words, meat is about twice as expensive as fruits and vegetables - and this is the off season for just about everything here in Ontario.

This is, of course, as it should be. In fact, meat should be three or four times as expensive as the equivalent weight in vegetables or grains because that's about how much grain goes into every kilo of meat. Specifically, it takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef: the conversion is 4 to 1 for pork and 2 to 1 for chicken. If prices truly reflected this, and if people were aware of it, then they might start looking at meat (particularly beef) as more of a luxury item than a staple.

Happily, we don't go through a lot of beef. We do go through a lot of pork, partly because our son cooks himself up a mess of bacon and eggs most every morning. To give him credit, he's also been going through an enormous amount of fruit every day as well. Here's the breakdown for the whole family:



I worked it out, and it adds up to an average of 3.2 kilos of grain per kilo of meat we consume. Mind you, there are a lot of unknown variables. We eat free-range eggs and a mix of wild and farmed fish, and I have no idea how much if any of the other meats are grazed rather than grain-fed.

Still, this is something I'll be keeping in mind when shopping at the farmers' market tomorrow. There isn't a lot of local or organic produce out yet, but there are local meat vendors. Time to check them out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Chat with Peter Haight

There are few people in Milton more knowlegeable or passionate on the subject of Milton's sprawl problem than gallery owner and ex-council candidate Peter Haight. What he knows hasn't made him any happier, but it does make him fascinating to talk to. If a bit... discouraging.



For those of you who don't live here, Sargent Farms is a chicken processing plant located right beside Sixteen Mile Creek in the middle of downtown Milton. Next door to a pub. Every day, large trucks full of live chickens drive into town and truck loads of dead chickens drive out - all through the heart of our historic downtown.



By all accounts they are good corporate citizens and a fairly major employer, although most of their employees are from out of town. And I'm sure it was perfectly reasonable for them to be where they are when they first set up shop - back in the 1940s! Today, I'm sure even they would agree that it's ridiculous.

Trouble is, solving the problem would require two things that are in pitifully short supply with our town council:

1) money, and
2) the willingness to admit that there is a problem

A Chat With Artist Ann Kornuta


In addition to her work as a reporter for the Halton Compass, Ann Kornuta is pretty much the 'Official Artist of Milton'. She's a fixture at the Farmers' Market, where she can be found painting out in front of the Dorland-Haight Gallery - or in it, if it's raining. Ann is best known for her uniquely skewed vision of the streets and buildings of Milton, and many locals have commissioned 'portraits' of their own houses and stores from her (I want one too!).

We chatted about bicycle accessibility in town while she worked on her latest creation.



And in a hilarious example of blog-on-blog incest, Ann beat me to the punch and posted a video on her blog yesterday promoting THIS blog!

Milton Farmers' Market: Day 1

It was chilly, pissing rain, and there wasn't much of anything to be had except for flowers, seedlings, and lots and lots of asparagus. But BOY it was nice to be back!



I also stopped by the Dorland-Haight Gallery to chat with resident artist / cub reporter Ann Kornuta, and owner Peter Haight who you may remember from the 2007 Ward 2 By-election. Video from those conversations to come.




BTW, there has been some response to Milton CAO Mario Belvedere's comments about the Town's "outstanding" performance in managing growth. Here are a couple of samples from the Letters section of the Champion:

As a 22-year resident and taxpayer of Milton, it pained me to read the verbal diarrhea that emanated from the lips of our illustrious Town of Milton CAO, Mario Belvedere, at a recent town council meeting.


And:

I think it would be a good idea if town council and members of regional council took a look around Milton before they decide how "wonderful" things are.

If they really want to know how things are going, they should have a town hall meeting and invite townspeople to speak about this subject -- without limiting how people can voice their opinions and views.


Oh dear.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Farming Series in the Champion

There's a great series of articles in the Milton Champion this month on the changing world of farming as seen through the eyes of local farmers. Part one focused on corn and soybean farmer Peter Lambrick. Part two, in today's paper, talks about the Egger family and their dairy farm.

The articles cover all sorts of issues impacting local farmers including encroaching development, climate change, government regulation and red tape, and the lack of young people getting into farming. It's a fascinating look at the day to day reality of 21st century farming and well worth a read.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Best Gardening Thing Ever

I thought I was so clever.

I was thinking about setting up a rain barrel again this year, and was pondering ways to get the water to the garden with my usual minimal effort. I had seen 'dribble' hoses before, and realized how simple it would be to hook one up to a faucet near the base of the barrel and just let gravity do the work. Eureka!

I should have known it was too good an idea.


Gravity Feed Watering Kit




The kit is, of course, from Lee Valley Tools (home of all things wondrous), and is surprisingly cheap: $34.50 for all the hoses, fittings and spikes, plus another $17.50 for the barrel tap.

This system has no end of good things going for it. Drip irrigation systems lose less water to evaporation than sprinklers, and rainwater is better for the plants than tap water because it is warm and has no chlorine. And I can just turn it on and leave it, which is a huge plus for me.

Who knows? Maybe my vegetable garden will actually survive my inept ministrations this year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Town of Milton Pats Itself on the Back

From Friday's Champion:

Town doing 'outstanding job': CAO

While things may not be perfect when it comes to the timing of development and infrastructure in Milton, Town staff says that overall it's doing a good job in managing growth.

...CAO Mario Belvedere told council he feels that generally the Town has done an outstanding job in managing growth.

He acknowledged there might be "hiccups" when it comes to things like the timing of road construction.

"But other than that we've done a pretty darn good job," he said.

Town Director of Planning and Development Mel Iovio shared similar sentiments.

He said the planning, development phasing and financial agreements the Town has struck with developers have generally resulted in a controlled and logical growth pattern.


BTW, that would be this pattern:


But I digress...

Town Director of Engineering Services Paul Cripps pointed out that some roads projects are being fast-tracked through the Accelerated Transportation Capital Program, such as the widening of Derry Road from Tremaine Road to Bronte Street.


The `Accelerated Transportation Capital Program` was brought in after the Town clued into the fact that the development fees they were charging wouldn`t be enough to cover the required arterial road improvements to service the new developments, and that the fees they would be receiving wouldn`t reach the Town`s coffers until long after the work needed to be done. So they worked out a deal where Mattamy and other developers would supply the capital needed to fast-track the road improvements, and the Town would pay them back without interest at a future date.

In other words, our town is currently tens of millions of dollars in debt to the very same housing developers who are asking them to approve still more housing developments.

I`m no expert, but that seems to me to be the very definition of a conflict of interest. But hey, kudos to the Town of Milton for doing such an exceptional job of letting the developers do their job for them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Video Post #1: My House

Since this blog is all about local everything, I thought I'd start with the most local locale I could think of: my own house.

My house is something of a rarity these days - a small (about 1,200 sq.ft.), older detached home with a big yard and lots of trees in a mixed neighbourhood. We have no central air. We have no dishwasher. We have no granite countertops. It's messy and the lawn's a wreck, but in the grand scheme of things it's a very comfortable and relatively sustainable place to live.

For someone who grew up in suburbia, this is paradise.



(Just so you know, today's video blog was brought to you from my swanky new laptop while eating lunch at Coffee Culture at Main & Commercial in Milton. Free WiFi and the best grilled panini in town. Sweet.)


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Halton's Fresh Food Box Program

I ran across a little local magazine called 'Escarpment Views' when I was at Lee Valley Tools yesterday, and there was an article about something wonderful that I hadn't been aware of: the Halton Fresh Food Box program.

Based on the principles of Toronto's FoodShare network, the Halton program supplies over 500 boxes a month to low income families, seniors, and people who just want to buy local produce. It is not a food bank or a charity - rather, the program is designed to address issues of food access, food insecurity and healthy eating, while at the same time supporting local farmers.

The boxes cost between $12 and $15 depending on size, and contain an assortment of fruits and vegetables purchased in bulk and sorted by a dedicated group of volunteers. Local and/or organic produce is used whenever possible, although they will go further afield when not enough is in season here. The boxes even contain a newsletter with updates, storage tips and recipes.

To learn more about the program, to order a box or to volunteer your time, visit the website or call program coordinator Brenda Moher at 905-634-8645.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welcome to Sprawlville!

With the release of the 2006 Census, the town of Milton, Ontario attained the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing municipality in Canada. In seven short years this small rural town has more than doubled in population, and its rapidly hollowing historic core is now surrounded by an all too familiar accretion ring of mono-culture housing developments and big box stores.



(Note: the above satellite shot is already a few years out of date)

Still, from my little house smack dab in the middle of what the real estate people like to call 'Olde Milton', things don't look so bad. The creek still flows past my front door, the Fall Fair is still the big event of the year, and strangers still smile and make eye contact as you pass them in the street. And yet every day it seems another farm gets paved under and another business moves out to the edge of town.

The unprecedented speed of this transformation from small town to sprawling bedroom community is troubling, but it also provides a unique opportunity to examine some fundamental issues.

Why is it that a small old town can work so well, but a large modern town becomes dysfunctional? What lessons can we learn from the past, and what can we do to ensure our future? Is there any way to make a town like Milton more sustainable, more resilient, and less dependant on fossil fuels? What is Milton doing wrong and, more importantly, what are we doing right that we can build on and perhaps teach to other communities?

Is it too late, or can Milton survive as a livable town?

This blog will be a chronicle of my efforts to answer some of these questions. Through video, maps and photos, I will show you what life is like in a town that is in many ways the perfect case study for the effects of sprawl.



I'll show you how to get from my house to the new Loblaw's Super Centre on a bicycle without getting hit by a truck. I'll explore the different neighbourhoods, old and new. I'll take you down the creek and up the escarpment to put the town into its geographical context. I'll take you on a bus ride. I'll find the best places in town to get local food. I'll talk to seniors and newcomers and business owners about how the changes in town have affected them. I'll show you the Mill Pond and the Farmer's Market and the solar-powered laundromat.

I'll even show you my vegetable garden if I can get it to grow any actual vegetables.

I am not an urban planner, nor am I a trained environmentalist. I'm just a local with an abiding interest in living lightly on this earth and a passion for my adopted home town. I hope that by documenting how things work here, we can all find ways to make our communities a little more livable and sustainable.