Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

That's a Wrap- 19th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium finished for another year

By Deborah Martin- Downs, Chair, 19th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium 

Two and a half days, 886 delegates, 156 speakers, 49 sessions, 46 exhibitors, – by all accounts the 19th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium was a great success!  Prescription for a Healthy Environment though delivered much more than that however.  It was the place to be in the conservation field.  We addressed all the current conservation topics and explored emerging topics – like this year’s focus on the relationships between health and the environment.  Speakers worked hard to bring the latest thinking from a broad range of disciplines and perspectives.

Our keynote Dr. William Bird of Intelligent Health U.K. showed us how place, people and purpose = wellbeing and the importance of walking faster than the grim reaper – 3 mph!  Dr. John Howard of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, taught us the ecosystem health model that includes social and environmental factors in treating patients. Terry O’Reilly, CBC showed us how influencing behaviour is about telling a story to reach the hearts and minds of your audience.

The delegates tore up the ice for the annual East vs West hockey Summit and 17 teams took to the halls of the Inn for the Amazing Race.  It was a tie on the rink and ‘Rock the Race’ won the race and $400!

Thursday we honoured four pioneers, John Sibbald, Jack Imhof, Peter Orphanos, and Scott Gillingwater for their extraordinary contributions to the environmental field. Twenty-one student posters were judged with Sara Dart taking first place.

The dream auction drew shoppers from all over the conference, raising almost $12,000 for the grant program.  The Drum CafĂ© raised our spirits and heart rates with an incredible 500 drums filling the dome with rhythm and sound.  The buzz was palpable for hours after.

On Friday, Dr. Samina Raja challenged the early morning risers to influence our food system policy so it that includes planning for eating in communities. We graduated 13 Young Conservation Professionals over lunch followed by a skype interaction with Ed Begley Jr. as he took us on a tour of his sustainable home and lifestyle. 

You may have noticed us moving to use more technology – including skype, mobile web site and tweeting (perhaps you were following me at @TopdogLatornell). There are still some kinks but new opportunities mean different ways of making the conference accessible.

We’re so glad you were able to join us – mark your calendars for next year’s 20th celebration on November 20-22nd 2013.

Deborah Martin-Downs is the Director of the Ecology Division at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Conference Chair, of the 19th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A nature-related prescription for happiness

By Dr. Elizabeth K. Nisbet, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Trent University

With the recent time change, even with the best intentions it's hard to get outside during daylight hours.  Finding a few moments to enjoy some nature time during a hectic work day is even more challenging when the temperature dips below zero.  This may be a difficult season - even for enthusiastic nature lovers - but keeping that connection to our natural world has a range of benefits (many of which are reviewed in Selhub and Logan's well-researched new book "Your Brain on Nature").

Environmental or 'conservation' psychologists try to unravel the mysteries of human behaviour - why some people are drawn to and enjoy nature while others prefer to avoid it. By using self-report surveys, it is possible to measure how connected or "nature related" people are. This concept of nature relatedness is similar to a personality trait, like an ecological self or sense of identity that includes the natural world.  As environmental problems worsen, more researchers are exploring these human-nature relationships to better understand how our connection (or disconnection) might influence how we treat our environment.  When people feel connected to something, they want to protect it.  And this is what we find when we measure nature relatedness; being more connected to the environment goes along with greater concern and ecologically friendly behaviour.  Nature relatedness is also good for our psyche.  That is, more nature related people tend to report being happier (disconnection from nature is associated with more negative moods).  For many people, the finding that nature can make us feel good is not exactly earth (no pun intended) shattering news.  Intuitively, we seem to know that nature can be healing, relaxing, and restorative. 

The physical and mental health benefits of nature contact (or the hazardous effects of 'nature deficits') are getting media attention, and even influencing political decisions (in 2010 U.S. President Obama called for research on how to reconnect Americans with the great outdoors).  What may be puzzling is that many people underestimate nature's benefits. 

My colleagues and I conducted a series of studies in which we asked people to predict how a short walk outdoors would make them feel; after 15 minutes of walking, we measured their mood again.  Compared to walking indoors, a brief stroll outside provided a significant happiness boost.  What surprised us was that even though people expected to enjoy being outdoors, it was much more pleasant than anticipated.  This underestimation of nature's mood boosting effects (even unspectacular nature, such as an urban park), may explain why we don't get outdoors more often. Battling the allure of technology and overcoming the seasonal challenges of Canadian weather is not an easy task, but new approaches to environmental education such as 'citizen science' hold promise for bringing together communities and fostering the awe, fascination, and curiosity that draws us outside and contributes to our well-being (you may enjoy that cold, crisp November air more than you think!). 

Psychologists are working to understand how our relationship with nature influences our psychological health and the health of the planet.  By finding ways to reconnect people with the natural environment, it's possible that we can inspire more conservation efforts for local green spaces.  And the good news is that this type of activity is likely to make us happy as well.  

To learn more about the research on individual differences in nature relatedness, happiness, and environmental behaviour, visit, or come to the "Mind Gains: Nature and your brain" session (TD3) on Thursday, November 15th, 2:00-3:30 pm with Melissa Lem (MD), Alan Logan (ND), and Elizabeth Nisbet (PhD).

Dr. Elizabeth K. Nisbet is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Trent University in Peterborough, an Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, and an avid (and happy) nature enthusiast. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Best way to end a workout?

A big glass of our most precious resource: fresh, clean drinking water

By Bruce Ringrose, AgriINNOVATIONS

After my weekend ball tournament late last month, I enjoyed a tall glass of one of nature’s finest gifts: fresh, clean drinking water from my personal well. I am reminded continually of our great fortune here in Ontario to be so close to fresh water resources.  Ontario watersheds support a huge part of Canada’s population: more than 12 million people in cities, towns, and villages across the province. 

Southern Ontario’s Grand River Watershed alone supplies water for 39 municipalities and 1 million residents. Home to cities like Kitchener-Waterloo, this region also represents some of the province's most viable farmland. Growth in agriculture and other industries, along with sprawling residential development, has our dependence on natural resources at an unsustainable high. For all the differences of urban and rural cultures in the region, they are bound together by the common benefits—and responsibilities—that come with stewardship of the water upon which they depend. Water quality is intrinsically tied to our health and prosperity—and to our local food supply, from the land that it grows on to when it’s served at my family’s table.

How will Ontario’s diverse municipalities work together to preserve our water resources and support our farmers, while also expanding developments that create jobs and economic growth? Well, we’ve got policies, plans, frameworks, roadmaps, and strategies. None of them will function to their highest potential without a clear and true commitment to active collaboration and consensus. A concerted effort is the best-suited prescription to resolving the practical problems we face in meeting our stewardship goals. 

I am fortunate to be a leading partner in a collaborative project to bring new agricultural practices into use on farms in the Grand River Watershed. AgriINNOVATIONS, a division of Ottawa-based ClimateCHECK, has taken a “social innovation” approach to resolving the practical issues around farm practices and water quality. Put another way, our approach centres on finding the best social solutions to mobilize economic, environmental and social benefits. With funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence Social Innovation Program and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, we’re developing resources to boost the adoption of better and more sustainable fertilizer usage on farms. With online tools, such as the CFI’s GrowZone online training program, and the secure web forums of our Collaborase platform, we’re looking at these critical issues from a fresh perspective. 

Our Grand River Watershed effort is a pilot project, which we hope to expand to other watersheds of Ontario. Our pilot launched this past August thanks to the pooled talents of our expert and energetic team representing farm groups, municipalities, scientists, fertilizer retailers, and of course the Grand River Conservation Authority. We’ll report our findings in late 2013. To read more, visit: visit and attend our free technical workshop and panel discussion set for Nov. 22 in Kitchener, Ontario (see web site for details).

When it comes to the large and often serious challenges of water stewardship, I ascribe to a decidedly positive outlook. Consider Margaret Mead’s inspiring adage: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Bruce Ringrose is Vice-President of Buisness Development at AgriINNOVATIONS, a division of ClimateCHECK.  AgriINNOVATIONS combines subject matter expertise and web-based solutions to engage with agricultural experts to create content and to enable mobilization of this knowledge to achieve sustainable agricultural intensification. Bruce lives in a rural Eastern Ontario community with privately owned wells experiencing urban sprawl and aggregate resource extraction.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Pigs in Kenya- Miracle Workers

By Natalie Carter, PhD Student, University of Guelph
Investment vehicles, waste management systems, providers of tuition and healthcare costs, improvers of food security, enabler of climate change adaptation, enhancers of soil structure, fertility, and water-carrying capacity and, accessible to even the most disadvantaged members of society. What miracle worker is this? Pigs on smallholder farms in Kenya.

My PhD work involves developing feed rations for pigs on smallholder farms in the western province of Kenya. No it's not an attachment to pigs, or a burning desire to collect samples of unappetizing waste products fed to pigs (such as cattle blood and the contents of cattle stomachs) so that nutrient analyses can be done on them. It's because pigs, when fed natural renewable resources, provide money for healthcare, education, and food security, while making nutrient rich manure.

Resource-poor-subsistence farmers in Western Kenya grow all they can to feed their families on their less than 1 hectare of land. While primary education is provided by the government, parents must purchase uniforms and supplies. Many parents can not afford that so over 1 million primary aged kids in Kenya are not in school (UNESCO). Secondary education is never free. Parents pay about $150 per year for public day school and about $2,000 per year for private boarding school (where the quality of education is much better. Just 23% of high school aged kids are enrolled in high school (UNESCO). Incredible. Over 15% of people in Western Kenya have HIV. Studies show that education reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS and treatment reduces transmission. Many smallholder farm families can’t afford education or treatment, so you see the problem. And I haven’t even mentioned malaria, typhoid, cholera, diabetes, high blood pressure, tumours, childbirth, tooth cavities, car accidents…you get the point.

This is where pigs come in.

The small land base needed, purchase price, and amount of feed they need, are often within the means of these farmers living on less than $1 U.S. per day. Pigs are piggy banks. Farmers own 1 or 2 pigs and feed them leftovers, waste from the floors of grist mills where grains are ground for flour, cattle blood and rumen contents, cassava, and weeds; investing small amounts in feed each day and selling pigs when medical emergencies arise or school fees are due (Dewey et al., 2011).  With no pig to sell, school and healthcare are often inaccessible.

Pigs are efficient waste managers; consuming slaughter and grist mill by-products and converting renewable natural resources like weeds and vegetables into meat and manure; providing income for farmers and butchers, improving food security and the nutritional status of communities while providing manure that improves soil fertility, structure, and water-carrying capacity.

Lately crop failure is common due to erratic growing conditions; dry seasons are longer and are followed by uncharacteristically heavy rains, making successful harvests rare. When crop failures happen, diversification ie. owning a pig means there is money for food, school, and healthcare.  

Spending the next two years of my life, finding economically feasible ways for farmers to better feed their pigs; making use of waste products and renewable natural resources, which are converted into meat for the community, manure for the farm fields, and provide much needed money to pay for food, healthcare, and education, will be time well spent.

Natalie Carter is a PhD student (epidemiology) in the Dept. of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.  She is an active member of the Ecohealth Club there, an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty interested in understanding and solving the big picture problems of human and ecological health.  In her spare time she leads the Tei wa Syana Community Initiative, a  community library and high school sponsorship program based in rural Kenya.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Escape from the Gym- Step into Nature!

By Jayme Crittenden, Communications Officer at Conservation Ontario

If you are like 98% of the people I know…you hate the gym. I can honestly say that I am no exception. Sure, I do my best to get there- I put in my 30 minutes of cardio, followed by some strength training, and all the while listen to a lot of really bad ‘top 40 ’ adolescent music playing over the PA system. I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I’ve done something good for my body, but I can’t say I actually like it.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could obtain the myriad health benefits of the gym, while being blissfully ignorant to the fact you are undertaking the ‘chore’ that is exercising? You probably already are.

In 2011, over 6 million Ontarians used their free time to explore Conservation Areas with their families, friends, and dogs. Based on this number we can assume that roughly 1 in 2 of us enjoy spending time in the great outdoors- at least on occasion.  Despite this reverence for nature- we are fatter, sadder, and sicker than ever. It doesn’t help that new technologies (such as the Wii) have allowed us-and more specifically our children- to pretend to jog, cycle, fish, ski, and swim in ‘nature’ from the comfort of our own homes. In Ontario, health care spending in 2011/2012 is projected to be over $47 billion- that’s nearly 38% of the province’s total $124 billion expenses, and many of the common illnesses that plague us are preventable. Think of the time and resources that could be saved if we focused on preventing these problems rather than simply treating them.

Doctors and researchers are starting to think this way, and many recent studies have examined connections between time spent in nature and prevention of various medical conditions. Some doctors, Dr. Conrad Sichler from Burlington for example, have started writing ‘park prescriptions’ for patients suffering from stress, depression, and other conditions associated with lack of physical activity. Studies have shown that the mental benefits of exposure to nature include reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and improvements in memory. Physical benefits include increased weight loss and fitness, increased energy and immunity, increased vitamin D production, and reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

It’s sometimes easy to overlook the value of nature in a province where we have such easy access to an abundance of green space. However, it is crucial that we place a higher priority on investing in and protecting natural areas and in promoting the health benefits associated with visiting them. If we embrace the value of these areas, the result will be lower health care costs and a happier and healthier population. 

There are over 270 publicly accessible Conservation Areas in this province, and all (at the very least) offer up the ability for you to wander around in the wilderness. These protected green spaces are typically located close to urban centers, some are open year-round, and many offer free admission.  Collectively, Conservation Areas provide access to over 2900 km of multi-use trails where you can enjoy a variety of recreation activities like hiking, cycling, and snowshoeing and skiing in the winter months.

The benefits of these natural areas don’t stop with improvements to mental and physical health! Conservation Areas and other Conservation Authority owned properties also protect important ecological features- like wetlands, forests, and Great Lakes shoreline- as well as natural heritage and biodiversity in our local watersheds. The health of our natural environment plays a crucial role in our own health and well-being, and healthy ecosystems provide us with multiple goods and services that sustain us, including food, materials (such as wood), fuel, clean air, and drinking water.  Collectively, Conservation Authorities own over 37,000 hectares of wetlands, which help protect the quality and supply of our water by acting as a natural filter for toxic substances, prevent soil erosion, and store flood waters. CAs also own nearly 92,000 hectares of forested lands, which moderate our climate, regulate water systems, and purify our air by filtering out many airborne pollutants.

Do yourself a favour- get outside and take advantage of the benefits available at the natural areas near you.  While you’re there, look around and notice the trees, wetlands, lakes, and rivers that are each doing their part to keep you healthy and safe.

Jayme Crittenden is a a Communications Officer with Conservation Ontario.  As part of her role she is lucky enough to learn about and promote 270 green gems (and health powerhouses)- Ontario's Conservation Areas