Yearly Archives: 2016

Trent University grad Jessica Correa aims to spread the Random Acts of Green brand nationally

Jessica Correa is excited by all the Random Acts of Green she has posted on her company’s Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts, but one stands out.

“We really liked the Ultimate Frisbee group,” Correa say. “They do the carbon flip.”

To explain: Correa, 24, has a master of environmental science degree, with a focus on sustainable development. She also runs a business, Random Acts of Green, dedicated to promoting environmental activities in the community.

The carbon flip is an Ultimate Frisbee staple the local league adopted. Instead of flipping discs to see which team gets the choice of starting on offence or defence they do a car count.

“They encourage everyone in the league to reduce their carbon footprint by carpooling to get to the game or use active transportation,” Correa explains.

The team with the fewest cars in the parking lot wins the “flip.” At the end of the year the team with the most flip points gets a pizza party or a keg party . . . “something fun,” as Correa says.

But the impact of the carbon flip is limited if no one knows about it. Post a high quality video on social media and the word gets around, one more pebble on a growing pile that could draw everyone’s attention to the possibilities of developing a sustainable lifestyle.

That’s what Correa and her team do.

“In our minds, if it’s not seen it’s not green.”

During grad school at Trent University, Correa looked at car sharing and how to market sustainable behaviour to her millennial generation. The focus groups she conducted led to a disheartening conclusion.

“I was frustrated with it,” she recalls. “I found that we’re all going to follow the same old formula: get a job, have a family, get a home, get a car. The same formula as our parents.”

She kept thinking someone should use social media to promote an alternative formula, one that simplified sustainability and brought it into everyday life. Not tree huggers or hippies or protesters, just regular people.

One day last December she had a “eureka” moment.

“I kept waiting for someone else to do it. Someone else should change the perception of environmentalism. And then I was like, ‘No one is! No one will!’ And then I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it!'” When she is fired up, which is most of the time, Correa speaks in exclamation marks, an energetic bundle of mental activity shooting out sparks of innovation.

She is also very bright and highly focused. She finished her master’s program six months ahead of schedule while turning the Random Acts of Green concept into reality. She was soon snapping photos of people “doing green things” and posting them on social media, developing her “brand.”

Her posts started to draw attention. She was shocked when someone approached her for a quote on a green issue but it also prompted a second eureka moment – maybe she could make money at this.

“I just started dipping my toe in the world of the entrepreneur,” she says. She had no business experience but took “how to” seminars through Peterborough Economic Development and the Peterborough Innovation Cluster.

Now she pitches to clients who hire her to help them develop and popularize green initiatives. She posts video and photos of the events on her three Random Acts of Green social media platforms. Clients can put links to the sites on their own sites.

The City of Peterborough and the Peterborough Petes are among her clients.

Growing the business has been a struggle, she admits, but she’s confident the concept will work. Confident enough that she deferred her acceptance to a PhD program at the University of Waterloo.

Correa hopes to grow Random Acts of Green into “the number one green behaviour promoting brand in Canada.”

If that doesn’t happen, she says, she won’t have lost anything and will have gained an invaluable experience.

That’s a sustainable attitude, in any colour of the spectrum.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, November 12, 2016.

Family approach, natural approach at Harley Farms

KEENE – Harley Farm is sustainable from the ground up.

That might sound redundant. Of course their business runs from the ground up. It’s a farm, after all.

But the Harley family is a different breed with a unique approach to livestock farming, meaning the ground they steward – 1,300 acres of soil stretching along both sides of Heritage Line north of Keene – is particularly vital.

All they have is the ground and what grows on it. There are no barns for shelter. Their cattle, pigs and sheep live outdoors, 24/7, 365 days a year.

The operation is also entirely organic. No pesticides. No chemical fertilizer. No genetically modified seeds.

It is, Roger Harley believes, the largest-scale farm in the country that operates on those principles. The Harleys currently have 700 pigs (with plans to double that number next year), nearly 700 sheep and 200 head of cattle.

Innovation makes it work.

Roger and his son, 23-year-old James Harley, explain the ins and outs of the operation as we sit under a bright blue sky in front of the plain, neatly efficient retail store where a small percentage of the meat they produce is sold directly to the public.

Humane treatment of the animals is the key to their marketing success, Roger says.

They are the only farm in Ontario certified for humane animal care by the SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) audit programs.

Animals are happiest and healthiest when they live outside, the Harleys say. But that means selecting the right animals.

They use two breeds of cattle. Belted Galloways are native to the cold, blustery highlands of Scotland; “old style” British Herefords are from the England-Wales border area.

“You can take a Blonde Aquitaine cow (from the south of France) and you can put it outside and say, ‘Oh, it’s looking fine in the summer.'” Roger says.

“At minus 40 it will be shivering in the corner and looking dead. That is not animal welfare, that’s bloody cruelty.”

Their pigs are reddish brown and hairy, not “pink and naked” like pigs in a barn. Some live in the woods. They are, as Roger notes, clean and happy . . . and they don’t stink.

Pigs are social animals so they do have huts. Knocked together out of two-by-fours and plywood, the huts cover about 50 square feet and serve five or six animals. When it’s time to move the pigs to a new field the huts and electric fencing can be rolled up and reassembled in a single day.

Moving the pigs is an essential part of the Harley Farm system. It is, the two men agree, all about rotation.

None of the acreage ever lies fallow. About a third is pasture for the animals. Some is planted in forage crops and vegetables for feed. Ever innovative, the main Harley forage is sorghum, a hardy plant originally from Africa that does well in varied climates.

Pigs are the primary fertilizers so they move twice a year. The rest of the rotation is annual: pigs, then forage crops, then hay, then cattle or sheep, then pigs again.

No animal barns means very small energy bills. There are no buildings to heat, light or cool.

Solar battery packs about the size of a lunch box power the electric fences.

The Harleys buy their tractors from Germany, where strict environmental regulations have resulted in clean, high efficiency diesel tractors that cut fuel costs by a third.

All the family works the farm: mother Julie, daughter Emily and James’s partner, Jessica Farrell. Julie and Jessica are also nurses and Emily is a student in the Fleming College health and fitness program.

Working as a family is rewarding, Roger says, particularly when everyone is committed to the outdoor, all-natural approach.

“Some days when it’s pouring with rain, blowing a gale, you think: ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ ” he says. “But then you get a day like today, there’s no better place to be.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, October 8, 2016.

Old building, new approach as The Mount embraces sustainable growth

Andi van Koeverden is in her office in the oldest section of the former Mount St. Joseph convent, describing the work that has gone into creating the Mount Community Centre in a massive, 120-year old building that sat vacant for four years.

While the story is intriguing, I find it hard not to be distracted by the unusual stand that supports her computer screen.

It’s a used paint can. The screen’s circular base fits perfectly in the lid of the can and sits at just the right viewing height to reduce strain on her neck.

When I ask about it she laughs and says by way of explanation: “I don’t usually do interviews in this office.”

Maybe she should. The recycled can, paint drips and all, is an effective visual reminder of her observation that “sustainability has so many facets.”

That’s something she’s come to appreciate during her two years as strategic advancement director at the Mount project.

“At the end of the day this building is not in the landfill,” she says. “That is nothing short of a miracle.”

Portions of the rambling, 130,000-square-foot complex on Monaghan Rd. are protected under the Ontario Heritage Act so it would not likely have been torn down and replaced.

However, van Koeverden notes, it could have simply fallen apart over time.

When the developer that purchased the complex from the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2009 abandoned its condominium restoration plan, the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network stepped in.

The non-profit group’s vision of affordable housing and a “food hub” eventually morphed into a grander plan run by a volunteer board, the Mount Community Centre. The complex is now on its way to becoming housing, offices for non-profit agencies, an arts and culture centre and a food centre with community gardens and a commercial-grade kitchen and food processing capability.

The first 43 apartments opened three weeks ago in the most modern wing, renamed Woodland Apartments. The wing had contained 130 tiny residence rooms, not much more than cubicles, that were used by Sisters of St. Joseph nuns.

Volunteer crews tore out 1.5 linear kilometres of cinderblock walls in the process, van Koeverden says, and all if it was repurposed as fill.

Volunteers also took apart, repainted and reassembled large wooden wardrobes that had been the Sisters’ closet space. They are now part of the new apartments.

“When the Sisters came through for their tours, three of then when I told them that story, their eyes filled with tears that we weren’t dumping their wardrobes in the dumpster.”

Along with the old and preserved there is new and high-tech.

A large room on the ground floor is dedicated to storage of e-bikes, complete with recharging stations. Three massive old boilers have been replaced with super-efficient Viessmann boilers that she describes as “literally, the size of a beer fridge” and which can heat half the entire building space.

Peterborough Utilities staff did an assessment of the original building and the renovation plan “and we are eligible for rebates and incentives right down to every bathroom fan in the apartment units, motors for the big air handler units on the roof, even installing low-flow toilets,” van Koeverden says.

“Even something like 50 bucks for every toilet is a huge incentive.”

She takes special pride in the food hub and plans for up to 100 garden plots in 5,000 square feet of space. Tenants will have first call but there will likely be many left for the general public.

“We envision training programs, people learning to grow fresh produce in their own garden plots and then on Tuesday and Thursday nights learn how to make soup, or can it … or what have you.”

The plan has echoes of the community garden plots the Sisters offered on the property 50 years ago.

“We are trying to carry on that legacy as well of service to society,” van Koeverden says, “so, trying to sustain that legacy.”

One more facet of sustainability, one that goes well beyond bricks and mortar.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Friday, October 28, 2016.


DBIA doing its part for a greener downtown Peterborough

Cig-urns are sprouting in downtown Peterborough.

Not familiar with the term? It’s the accepted shorthand for cigarette urns, where smokers who have been banished to street corners and alleyways can deposit their butts.

Their appearance downtown is an example of the challenges and opportunities the Downtown Business Improvement Area faces.

The DBIA represents more than 400 businesses and building owners, by far the largest collected mass of retail and office space in the city. Downtown has been described as both the heart and the face of Peterborough.

But even if there is one heart and one face, DBIA members don’t operate with a single mind. They are independent business owners and that independence can manifest as a degree of mistrust of government and reluctance to join collective ventures.

When Terry Guiel, the DBIA’s executive director, outlines the cig-urn program during an interview in his bare-bones Water St. office he touches on all those themes, intentionally or inadvertently.

The cigarette litter problem is a government creation, he says.

“The health unit and the government decides its going to ban smoking. I did 25 years, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year in smoke-filled bars so I was the happiest guy around when they did that,” says Guiel, a longtime local bar circuit staple as a singer and guitar player.

“But there was no residual plan. What happens to cigarette butts? Now everyone is standing just outside the patios or on the corner of the street and cigarette butts are everywhere. Now we have to clean it up.”

His solution has been to attach 21 cig-urns to the sides of buildings. That helped, but created a secondary problem of its own: Who cleans out the urns and where do the toxic butts go?

“We hope the owners of the buildings take it over,” he says, although that hasn’t been happening to the degree he’d like. “We kind of put the cart before the horse because we had to do something right away to start tackling the problem.”

Stage two will be the addition of another 20 urns on downtown lamp posts. A cleaning crew the DBIA pays will look after those, he says, as long as he can work the extra cost into his budget.

Not a perfect system, but a practical attempt to deal with litter that is both unsightly and damaging.

Another project was easier to implement.

After he was hired three years ago Guiel noticed that food vendors at DBIA-sponsored events like Ribfest and Taste of Downtown were dumping waste liquids, including grease, down the drain.

The solution was to provide grey waste bins to collect the liquid. The organization got some positive publicity over that initiative when a Trent University graduate student, Jessica Correa, shot a video and featured it on her Random Acts of Green website.

“I wasn’t thinking I was doing anything green, I was just thinking this is illegal and it shouldn’t go in the water,” he says.

“But when you think about it these are all little steps that improve the quality of life and we should be doing these, everything we can. It’s the right thing to do, thinking of the bigger picture.”

Education, which Guiel likes to refer to as “edification,” is another DBIA focus. A representative of Peterborough Utilities Inc. has spoken twice at monthly breakfast meetings, explaining how business owners can cut electricity consumption and take advantage of subsidy programs.

Promoting cycling lanes and downtown trails, and the now annual Pulse event where a stretch of George St. is closed to cars, are also a high priority.

Pulse is a co-operative venture with Peterborough GreenUP, a partnership Guiel hopes to expand.

“The more these synergies happen, the more positive impact its going to have on the community,” he says. “We’ve got to stop looking at green people as tree huggers, and I think that mentality is shifting thanks to organizations like GreenUP.

“We’re seeing that we’re all in this together, and that there’s only one planet.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, September 24, 2016.

Business through a sustainable lens

The thick countertop at Green Eyewear has the unmistakeable lustre of old wood, but customers who routinely comment on it might be surprised by its origin.

The planks come from a Hamilton factory that supplied munitions for the Canadian Army in both world wars. It was also home to Studebaker Canada’s assembly plant.

At some point during an expansion years ago, old-school industrial shipping crates were broken down and the inch-and-a-half thick, 12-inch wide boards were repurposed as flooring, explains Shane Palmer, co-owner with Amanda Palmer of the eyewear store at Hunter and Aylmer streets.

The last Studebaker made in Canada rolled out of the plant in 1966 but the aging factory building survived. Two years ago it was was torn down and a Grimsby demolition company ended up with the flooring.

Rob Bianco, a cabinet and furniture maker in Warsaw, acquired the wood. At the same time the Palmers were moving Green Eyewear from George St. to its current location. Bianco supplied them with some of that planking to fashion the countertop that became a focal point of the store.

The re-use triple play – packing crates to flooring to countertop – reflects the Palmers’ low-environmental-impact approach to everything about the business. The rest of the counter is barn board that was used as shelving in their former George St. store, barn board that Palmer bought from a farm in Keene a decade ago.

“I got a really good deal on it because a lot of it was rotten but the lady made me take it all,” he recalls. “She told me I could go back to the big city with nothing. I told her I was from Peterborough.”

Other sections of what had been barn board shelving were cut down and hung vertically on the new store walls. Instead of sitting on shelves, glasses are suspended on metal rods down the middle of the boards.

“We just try to re-use stuff, you know like old chairs . . . as much as we can.”

Two vintage red 1950s chairs in the store were made by Nightingale Corp. in Toronto, still a major Canadian furniture manufacturer.

But their main “green” focus is the products they sell. One supplier, Tipton Eyeworks, provides a line known as Vinylize Eyewear. The frames are made of recycled LP vinyl records and all the metal in them is also recycled. Another style of frames is fashioned from repurposed camera film. Film is made with cellulose acetate and has a base of plant fibres, not petroleum.

The Palmers have also made a commitment to local production. Many of their frames are designed by Paul Storace, founder of Alternative Eyewear and Plan B. Storace has lived in Millbrook for more than a decade and the edgy, internationally competitive eyewear company’s offices are in Ajax.

Storace hires his marketing expertise in Peterborough and subscribes to the “buy local” philosophy whenever possible, Palmer says, which helps Peterborough’s economy. His frames are not as environmentally friendly as the Vinylize line so Green Eyewear donates $2 to Peterborough GreenUP for every pair sold.

The Palmers met more than 20 years ago while both were at university in Ottawa. Ten years ago they decided to go into business for themselves and to do it in Peterborough, which they saw as a good place to raise a family.

In 2014 they moved the store from George St. to a new building developed by Ashburnham Realty. Part of the attraction was the building philosophy of the firm’s principals, Paul Bennett and Rob Fisher. “They probably build more environmentally focused than most people do for commercial buildings,” Palmer says.

The walls of the four-storey, mixed residential and commercial complex are constructed of foam blocks filled with poured concrete. The method, known as ICF, produces insulating factors in the R-19 range and makes the building nearly soundproof.

Now well-established commercially and settled into an environmentally friendly building, the Palmers’ vision of a unique “green” Eyewear business has come fully into focus.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, September 10, 2016.