Sunday, 27 September 2009

Dining With The Stars

Fall is definitely here now; geese are gathering to head South, the trees are working on their fall splendor, and last Saturday we hosted our last workshop for the season. We had a wonderful group together for this Astronomy workshop, great company to "dine with the stars" with. After our salmon dinner with home-grown organic veggies and potatoes (and decadent dessert, of course) we headed to the Thunder Bay Observatory for a private presentation and some serious star gazing at Canada's largest privately owned observatory. Just before we got there and right on cue, the clouds dissipated to make place for near-perfect viewing conditions.

This astronomical gem was designed and built by Randy McAllister, who did a wonderful job in getting everyone involved with and in awe over the mysteries of the universe. We watched the moon's peaks and valleys (I even took my first moon close-up!), witnessed an eclipse on Jupiter and saw nebulae & galaxies hundreds of light-years away.

 Someone noted that we should be doing this as an Earth Day initiative, as witnessing the cold, inhospitable vastness of space really makes you appreciate the beauty and fragility of this tiny speck we call Earth.
Hmm, maybe not a bad idea...

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Bad Movies You Got To Love

I love my movies. All 400 or 500 of ‘em (well, almost of ‘em). There’s nothing like finding an unknown film in the Two For $5.99 bin, pop it in the DVD player – and enjoy an unexpected little gem: “Kitchen Stories”, “10 Items Or Less”, ”King Of The Corner”, “Off The Map”… Just because they stayed out of the Hollywood marketing machine doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.

Sometimes I slip, though, and pick a movie that friends told me I should watch. Like “Evan Almighty”. Of course it turned out to be a paint-by-numbers theology-lite comedy that didn’t live up to the exclamation-marked hyperboles on the cover. Okay, it gave me one or two brief chuckles, but its most redeeming quality was that it was short.

Still, there is one thing about this movie I really enjoy: it was produced with a Zero Carbon Footprint. After the shoot wrapped, the entire set was recycled. Carbon-offsets were calculated and purchased. Even the DVD was environmentally friendly manufactured, with packaging made out of recycled and bio-degradable materials.

Now this is not the first movie that was produced and distributed this way. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was probably the first one, and if you check the end credits for the Cohn Brother’s “No Country For Old Men” you’ll see it says “This movie was produced with a Zero Carbon Footprint”.

“Evan Almighty” moved this practice beyond the “eco geek” label that came with Al Gore, or the “art house” label you’d associate with a Cohn Brothers film. To my knowledge “Evan” is the first big-budget crowd-pleasing blockbuster to adopt this production model.
That’s something to be happy about; it gives hope more movies will follow suit.

I’m now almost grateful for this dud.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Sweet Smell of... Hay?

For about a week the Nolalu Eco Centre could have passed for a working farm: around us cutters, balers and tractors were very busy clearing our fields of hay. With the poor summer we’d been having, many farmers didn’t have enough warm & sunny days to get their hay in on time.

Moe Thiboutot from Mile Hills Farms was one of them, until he saw our fields. And with the beautiful fall weather we’re experiencing, he didn’t wait long to get his equipment over and get hayin'. Pretty soon the air was filled with the intoxicating smell (and dust) of freshly harvested hay.

Our fields now look like they must have when this property was still a mixed farm. The original settlers who arrived here over a century ago cleared the dense forest of trees, an incredible job considering they only had a horse (two, if they were lucky), their own two hands and some very basic equipment.

It was sad to see the fields slowly growing back in, so we were more than happy to help Moe out. His cattle will have enough to eat this winter; and as things go around here, Moe will barter us something in return.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Announcing the 2009 Eco Heroes!

North Ontario’s first Eco Hero Contest has successfully wrapped! We received lots of wonderful nominations for lots of encouraging initiatives happening all over the region. The jury consisting of Graham Saunders, Kirstin Muth and ourselves had a pretty tough time selecting the winners, but finally came up with these 3 names:

1) Jeannie Gaudette (Murillo),
2) Laura Ogden (Thunder Bay), and
3) Gary Peacock (Neebing).

Congratulations to all, and a big warm thank-you to our sponsors and CBC Radio (Gerald Graham, who graciously gave us the the air time to kick the contest off earlier this summer and the opportunity to announce the winners yesterday, drum roll and all).

The winners have been notified and will receive their prizes at an informal get-together here at the Eco Centre, early October.

Missed out on nominating someone (or had hoped to get nominated)? No worries; this first contest generated so much positive response and was so much fun to organize (okay, and hard work, too...) that we decided to do this annually!

Check our website and click the Eco Hero button to learn more about the winners as well as the thoughtful folks who nominated them.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Storing Our Daily Food

Summer (or what passed for it) is winding down; there’s a crispness in the air, the first local frost warnings have been issued and regional Fall Fairs are popping up around us. It’s also that time of year when it’s hard to keep up with all that our garden is producing: potatoes, carrots, beets, chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, rutabagas, onions, cabbages... you name it.

Of course there’s no way we can eat all this bounty as it suddenly becomes available, it’s just too darn much. We’ll have to find a way to store it for the winter, but the fridge is already full… Sure, we’ll cook & freeze some of it, but not everything can be stored this way. Besides, the freezer is getting full, too.

Many homesteads all over rural Canada had (have) a root cellar or cold storage room. They’re small rooms that can be kept at just above freezing by controlled venting to the outside, while warmth from the house or thick earth berms prevent it from getting too cold. No power required…
Since our straw bale insulated garage usually doesn’t get colder than around –6C in even the coldest of winter, we figured it would be a good place to build our own cold storage room there. So we built one, well-insulated to keep the warmth in (sorry, no straw bales this time – just left-over fiber glass batts). A 60 Watt light bulb can be switched on for some additional heat in case the temperature dips too low.

Our cold room is pretty much done now, awaiting its shelving. It’s a bit of an experiment, we’ll have to see how it goes. But if it works, we’ll be eating the fruit (okay: veggies) of our labour until spring!