HURON COUNTY – The Turnberry Conservation Area is a flat, grassy field with a soccer field bordering on the Maitland River. On the far side of the river is a dense forest that towers over the field and its soccer posts. On May 13, members of the Carbon Footprint Initiative (CFI) partook in a tree planting initiative at Turnberry in an effort to rebuild some of that forest, lost after settlement. They planted almost 100 trees as part of their ‘carbon sequestration and flood plain restoration plan.’ In 50 or 60 years, Phil Beard of Maitland Conservation (MC) says that it may look similar.
Phil Beard is the general manager-secretary-treasurer of MC. He organized the event, which invited representatives from the CFI out to the tree planting. The goal of the day was to “do denser plantings and hopefully shade out the grass. Then, 50 or 60 years it looks like on the other side… That’s what was here pre-settlement.”
It was also a nice excuse to get out of the office. The CFI includes members from the area’s business community, including Ideal Supply Company, J.H. Keeso & Sons, Molesworth Farm Supply, Trillium Mutual Insurance Company, Corteva Agrisciences – Wingham, the Municipality of North Perth, and the County of Huron.
Tracy MacDonald, CEO and president of Trillium, attended with five employees. On the event, she said that “it’s great to sit around and talk about initiatives, but it’s also good to get out and get your hands dirty – and bring some people along. We’ve got a great group of staff that are here today that all have a passion for making the world a better place.”
The CFI is nearing its 10-year anniversary. Beard says that the group wasn’t supposed to be around for this long and the anniversary has really crept up on them. “Originally,” Beard said, “we were only going to be together for a few years. Next thing you know, 10 years has passed.”
They’ve been meeting “for 10 years to figure out how they can individually and as a group, reduce their carbon footprint,” said Beard. “They wanted to get out and do some actual work rather than just meeting. I’ve been talking to them about restoring natural areas and (how) that’s helped sequester carbon, so they wanted to experience that for themselves and see what it takes. Because to try and replace all this grass with trees, shrubs, and things that should be in a forest is a lot of work.”
Richard Keeso of J.H. Keeso & Sons gave an impromptu lesson to the group on how they should go about planting these trees. After digging, soaking, planting, packing, stamping, and covering they then had to do that a hundred more times across the field, before taking a small roadtrip to a precedent-setting farm in East Wawanosh.
The Pletch Farm
Murray and Wilma Scott owned and operated a 600-acre East Wawanosh farm for decades before a common problem many farmers face has offered a ground-breaking solution. Heavy rains and runoff would overwhelm the municipal drain and erode the landscape and, as Beard explained on a tour he gave to the CFI group, “with hotter, drier summers and more intense rainfall events, (Murray was) finding all the water coming from his neighbours’ farms was bringing all kinds of silt down on his farm. We helped him put in a real stormwater management system like they have in town to sort of slow (the water) down, soak it in, spread it out. He had a municipal drain on his property that used to be a brook trout stream. So we restored it as a brook trout stream, which is almost unheard of in an agricultural area. It’s just a great success story of what can be done.”
Through working with the municipality and MC 15 years ago, the Scotts installed a storm water management system in the form of wetlands. This wasn’t new technology, as Beard noted, cities and municipalities across Canada have similar systems, but this was novel for just one farm.
Melanie Pletch, Murray and Wilma’s daughter, bought the farm from her parents in 2011. She continues her parents’ work and maintains the wetlands. The change the farm has undertaken in the 15 years since the work began has been enormous, though it was a big undertaking. A lot of farmland had to be devoted to the wetlands and adjacent areas and the financial burden the installations had were too much for a single farmer. Luckily, they were able to benefit from government funding, but as Beard explained, it still wasn’t easy. There is no reliable funding for a project that has never been done before and they are designed from the top down, something he says is detrimental to projects like this. “They’re designed up there and they don’t necessarily work down here.”
Pletch said that legacy is important to her. She has four children, two boys and two girls, and though there are no plans yet, she imagines that the farm and the wetland project will be carried on by one of them, most likely one of the boys, in the future.
While walking past the restored trout stream, the group asked about the former municipal drain. Beard happily replied that fish have returned to the brook.
“As long as you’ve got constant, cold, clean water coming in and there’s a brook trout population somewhere … they’ll find a way.”
Beard noted that through all the efforts the MC highlighted on May 13, the common message is reducing our carbon footprint. Recently the MC invested in an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Even for a rural area like Perth County, Beard said that the vehicle has been able to serve MC well – and they are saving money on gas.
Aside from a vehicle, MC is also looking to invest in electric equipment in the future. A lot of equipment is used in their work and electric blowers, mowers, and other equipment will greatly cut down on emissions.
Beard also said that reducing our carbon footprint as an individual is very important and something which shocked him.
“Anybody can go online and use a carbon footprint calculator to figure out how much carbon they’re using through their everyday lifestyles. I did my own for my home and it was something like two and a half planets to support everybody (if they lived like me). I’m going like ‘I thought I was pretty good.’
“Two thirds of the excess carbon in our atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels, a third comes from deforestation and loss of organic matter. So we can’t plant trees to offset the burning of fossil fuels, we have to do both. We have to stop burning fossil fuels and we have to restore natural areas. That’s the misunderstanding of these carbon offsets. ‘Oh, I can travel all over the world and burn this carbon. I’ll just pay a couple hundred bucks to plant some trees and everything’s fine’… it’s greenwashing.”
Beard recommends that everyone should look at their own footprint and do their part. The website can be found at footprintcalculator.org.
Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner