Brad Zavislake at the Merchants of Green Coffee
Earth Day is a perfect chance to stop, smell the pesticide-free roses and revitalize our connection to the vibrant green places/spaces/communities and projects around us that remind us that, yes, this is doable.
Initiatives that, right before our eyes, prove that if we band together, we live in a better world right here, right now. And while you might think you've seen all there is to see in this town, here are nine lesser-known green happenings that could use your mind- and body-power. In exchange they'll fill your soul with a distinct sense of "yes we can."
Be a peak-oil pioneer
You don't have to be building a Mad Max bunker to ready yourself for a post-oil world - not when Transition Towns are creating cheerfully sustainable communities through solar share programs, chicken coops and canning classes. Nearly 300 such towns in the world (yes, there is a Transition Toronto) are equipping themselves for the sunny-side-up opportunities of peak oil and climate change by creating long-term "energy descent plans." These include undoing the great deskilling of the last 50 years with "reskilling" workshops. Think classes on preserving, foraging, carpentry, animal husbandry, sewing and other DIY workshops of all shapes and sizes. The Beach branch will hold more canning, bread- and candle-making classes this summer. If you think life without oil could actually be our chance to live more fully, pioneer a Transition Town branch in your 'hood (transitiontoronto.ning.com).
Swap till you drop
Most of us just dump our unwanted dust collectors at Goodwill or drag them to the curb when they're no longer useful to us. Instead, start your own local bartering group with your block or building, encouraging folks to reuse discarded goods and skill-swap their way to a more close-knit community.
SwapSity (swapsity.ca) makes it super-easy for students/collectors/sports fans to set up special interest groups. Or just punch what you've got into SwapSity.ca's public engine and who knows what you'll get in return? One woman scored a free haircut in exchange for her old art supplies, and another a whole kitchen renovation in exchange for a 2000 Hyundai Sonata.
Lobby for Rocket fuel
And by that I don't mean you should call the feds demanding more cash for our non-existent space program. No, no, you need to speak up for the future of mass transit in this town. That means saying no to more smog and overcrowded buses and yes to lobbying for the resuscitation of Transit City cash. (Thanks for nothing, McGuinty!) No smarmy suit tactics required - just talk to friends and neighbours and be there for the launch of the Public Transit Coalition, which includes orgs like Toronto Environmental Alliance, on Wednesday (April 21, 6:30 pm) in City Hall's council chambers to help kick-start a ridership revolt (ttcriders.ca).
Down a conscious cup
The cityscape is littered with architectural hotbeds of enlightened action, from the historic 401 Richmond West and the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina to Artscape's wondrous Wychwood Barns.
Well, the east end's now adding one of its own to the mix: 2 Matilda, best known as the home base of Merchants of Green Coffee. Come for the obsessively fresh organic, fair trade brews and stay for deep green community vibes.
The industrial space has become an up-and-coming hub of green change agents (think green realtors/promoters/offsetters/solar power pushers), but anyone, including you, can walk in off the street and linger in the café or sample the live music, art, weekly workshops, 3,000-book library and, by May, planet-resuscitating talks via evolutiongreen.com's green speakers bureau.
Ring your bell for renewables
Whether you join a pickup game of horse-free bike polo at Scadding Court, tell cars where to go at Critical Mass group rides the last Friday of every month or just explore hidden nature rides with the Toronto Bicycle Network, you'll get a good lungful of T.O.'s green potential.
But if you need a jolt of big-picture hope, join the peeps at Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative on one of their Green City Bike Tours.
You'll pedal past Canada's largest solar panel spread atop Exhibition Place's Horse Palace, learn about deep lake water cooling, linger on a lush green roof and stop by a cool cooperative solar hot water heating project at Arcadia Housing Co-op - all via your kinetically powered wheels, of course. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pick 5-mile fruit
If a fruit falls in the city, will anybody eat it? Until recently, most of the apples, cherries, plums and berries growing in backyards across Toronto ripened and rotted out of reach. What a waste of our local bounty!
If you join the locavore squad of volunteer pickers at Not Far from the Tree, you can save a serviceberry from a life of decay and cut some of your food miles (and all the pollution that comes with 'em) down to zero.
A third of the pickings go to the tree's owner, another third to you the volunteer, and the last third gets delivered by bike or cart to community orgs desperately short on fresh, vitamin-rich fruit. And that's no slim pickins'. Last year, Not Far rescued over 3,600 kilos of everything from juicy apricots to native black walnuts (notfarfromthetree.org).
Mingle with eco-tweaked minds
Saving the planet is serious business, but even dedicated environmentalists need to kick back and have a few pints with like-minded souls in an agenda-free setting. Hence, greenies from Argentina to Zambia come out for Green Drinks nights the world over.
These laid-back meets have been attracting up to 200 conscious T-dotters per evening for five years now, so if you're looking for the good company and conversation of fresh green friends, not to mention potential contacts for planet-friendly jobs and schemes, get your butt down to one of these earth-lovin' mixers and order up a pint of local lager. Next one's at the CN Tower on Earth Day, April 22, 7:30 pm (greendrinks.org/ON/Toronto).
Foster a baby tree
Is it me, or do our collective tree-planting schemes seem to end the moment Earth Day disappears in our rear-view mirrors? And the city itself might make a big show of its urban forest expansion plans, but who's watering and maintaining the poor things? Given the incalculable help these air-purifying, stormwater-sucking, building- and body-cooling beauties give us, it's time to give back, people, with a watering can and a shovelful of mulch. LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests, yourleaf.org) will show you all the tricks of the tree trade, and as a volunteer arboreal steward you'll tend to needy baby trees citywide. LEAF would also love to tap your photography, carpentry or really any skill set you have to offer up to the great arboretum gods.
Grow a heart
Cravin' that earthly connection you get from diggin' in the dirt? Don't go hoe alone; link arms with the army of green thumbs changing the city one root at a time in more than 225 community gardens. One of my faves is run by the inspired people at Parkdale's Greenest City, which, among other plots and projects, seeds the 4,000-square-foot HOPE Garden on Cowan.
This vibrant art-infused breeding ground for Healthy Organic Parkdale Edibles helps everyone in the 'hood plant for a healthier world. Plots are tended by at-risk youth, rec centres and churches feeding the needy, Tibetan and Roma ESL students taking their class to the fields, as well as plain old eager individuals.
Once the frost threat lifts in mid-May, show up for Work Party Wednesdays ready to get down 'n' dirty. To tap into other volunteer opportunities in your nabe, check in with the Toronto Community Garden Network (tcgn.ca).