Q: I know there are tons of things to do outside the city, but do you have fun, interesting, ecologically sensitive getaway ideas? Do we have ideas?
A: Well, all I can say is you've come to the right place.
Itching to get out of town but only have one day? Spend a Saturday at the Everdale Environmental Learning Centre ($5/adults, $2/kids, www.everdale.org or 519-855-4859). The beautiful 50-acre property near Hillsburgh has a working organic farm, forests and trails, not to mention demos and workshops on sustainable tech like solar showers and straw bale cabins. You can also walk the labyrinth, tour the planet-friendly Home Alive! house or stop at the farm store for organic produce and a cool drink.
Or why not skip up to Hempola Valley Farms (www.hempola.com or 1-800-240-9215), just north of Barrie. You can check out the organic farmers market every Friday from 4 to 8 pm, the Hempola barn store or just wander among the lovely rolling hills. And don't forget that we have North America's largest urban natural environment park just outside the city limits: Rouge Park (www.rougepark.com or 905-713-7426). It's great for hiking, birdwatching, swimming, even camping! Of course, it's just one of many conservation areas and reserves within day-tripping distance. Check out greentourism.ca for more.
Wanna get back to nature and give back to it all at the same time? Volunteer for Nature (http://www.ontarionature. org/action/schedule.php or 416-444-8419) organizes three- to 16-day "working vacations" that can involve everything from seed collecting and butterfly counting to wetland restoration and habitat creation. Prices range from free to $800. The Ecology Retreat Centre, nestled in 200 acres of forest, hills, streams and organic gardens, lets you stay as long as you want if you do four hours of work a day for food and lodging (1-800-486-5460 or www.ecologyretreatcentre.ca/). It also offers group retreats where you can take workshops on living off the grid, meditation and permaculture.
Or maybe you just want to kick back and have a little fun. Head to the Yes! To Life second annual living foods and lifestyle festival August 6-8. You'll get plenty of live gourmet vegetarian food, music, dancing, comedy, drumming circles, sweat lodging, yoga, wild herbal walks and shamanic healing circles. It all happens at the Living Centre, "an eco-spiritual sanctuary for conscious living" near London ($150 plus food). The Everdale Red Skies Community Music Festival ($30) is a small folk, country, bluegrass and world music fest happening at, you guessed it, the Everdale Environmental Learning Centre on August 14, where organic food will also be dished up. Or check out the MusiChaos Grassroots Music Festival for Social and Environmental Justice ($20 suggested, www.kimbercote.org or 519-599-5885) August 13-15 at the Kimbercote retreat facility, which also holds an activist camp (August 9-16).
For something a little more intimate, spend a night or two at Feast of Fields' Organic Vineyard B and B. It's a lovely chem-free property that dishes up organic meals ($125/night, see www.feast-of-fields.ca or 905-562-0151). Relax at the Springmead Bed and Breakfast and Organic Farm in Alma ($60-$95, see www.springmead.ca or 519-638-3469) or stay at Hidden Valley Farm's organic veggie B&B near Owen Sound ($150/couple, see www. hiddenvalleyfarm.8k.com or 519-794-3727).
But what about those weekends when you need a shot of green but can't leave town? Join the Toronto Field Naturalists on one of their Lost River Walks, or download your own map at www.lostrivers.ca to explore all the natural gems hidden under our city and along its ravines. Get down and dirty at a community wildflower garden event near you (www.evergreen.ca or 416-596-1495 ext 30). Or get your paddle on with a scenic Toronto Island Canoe Tour ($15, see www.torontobay.net or call 416-598-2277 for details). All you need is a set of wheels to join the Toronto Bicycling Network on weekday or weekend rides no matter what your fitness level (www.tbn.on.ca or 416-760-4191).
For more green ideas in and around T.O., be sure to pick up a copy of The Other Map Of Toronto (www.greentourism.ca). But wherever you trek, try to take transit, bikes or carpool if you must drive. Come winter, Discount Car Rentals will offer hybrid electric cars. In the meantime, Autoshare offers hourly and weekend rates (www.autoshare.com or 416-340-7888).
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