Emerging from the pandemic, we can’t return to normal in every way, environmental groups argue, instead recommending governments need to go green with new investments in the likes of infrastructure and job creation.
That kind of thinking was the focus of Wednesday’s virtual town hall entitled ‘Rural Economic Development Through Green Innovation,’ hosted by the Nith Valley EcoBoosters and 50 by 30 Waterloo Region
“What we’re recognizing now is that we can unlock the power of nature to help local economies,” said Michelle Kanter of Carolinian Canada, one of the speakers at the event. Her organization focuses on preserving the biodiversity in the Carolinian ecological zone that runs from Toronto to Windsor.
About half of the world’s economic system relies on nature and healthy waters and soils, she noted.
She was joined in the panel discussion by Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis, University of Waterloo Prof. Paul Parker and Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Kanter said she hopes that this week’s event helps people realize the little steps they can take to start moving towards big-picture solutions.
“Since we have such a complex landscape, we see the opportunity that everybody can get involved in growing the local economy in many ways, either by growing native plants, like creating a mini-ecosystem in your backyard or on your farm. More and more farmers are growing native plants in marginal land. Some farmers are actually switching to native plants as a crop. And there’s a growing industry in nature-based solutions,” she said.
“Almost every corporation and institution now has a sustainability strategy. And right now, biodiversity isn’t usually part of that. So, we’re suggesting that by unlocking the power of nature as an economic tool, that is win-win: protect nature, we protect people, and we actually grow green profits. They are betting industries that are based on growing life, rather than destroying it.”
One simple step encourages people to take is planting a native species in their gardens.
“I think building the green economy is really important. And that starts with buying a native plan. You’re supporting local green business that are really trying to save the planet, as well as develop a green economy.”
Stephanie Goertz, a volunteer with the EcoBoosters and an organizer of this week’s town hall, says there are many areas in which the townships should focus their energy to move towards a greener way of life, including better land-use policies, conserving more biodiversity in forests and green spaces, and investing in environmental infrastructure.
“I think really having our townships understand that we need to be not only protecting our farmland, not from just mono-cropping, but bringing it back down to smaller farms. And the benefit of smaller micro-farms is you actually use more people on those properties that come up with more diverse food for the community, and that stays local. And that you’re actually building up that community feeling and that knowledge in going back to [local] people.”
Municipalities can start to change how they do things by reviewing their policies, setting specific goals rather than simply making statements about a better future, said Goertz.
“Set a goal of exactly [what you’ll do], not just ‘we want to have a nice future and we’re inclusive,’” she said, stressing that protecting farmland should be a priority.
Protecting the farmland itself is the stewardship goal of farmers, notes Reusser.
“I think for most part, farming has always been sustainable. I just think we’re getting better at it, recognizing that when you till the soil too much, it can have some negative effects on the capacity of the soil to hold water and produce and so on. So we’re tilling it less. We’re realizing that rotating crops is good for the soil, we’re realizing that a diverse rotation is better than just a simple rotation,” he said.
“We’re learning that leaving as much residue as possible on the surface of the soil is a good idea. And I think we’re learning that keeping something growing on a soil all year around is probably a good idea to so a cover crop of some fields so that we don’t see bare soil – the less bare soil we see the better. Growing a single crop or a monoculture is not the best [option] for farmland.”
Goertz encourages people to get involved in the conversation and future green ideas by visiting the EcoBooster’s website.