Archive

August 2016

Browsing

Premier Wynne shows what female leadership can do for climate

This week has been a whirlwind for the provincial government. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s is in Mexico City to discuss environmental and international relations, all the while promoting women within these industries.

The premier made the trek down south to discuss the importance of climate change and the economy with Mexican leaders, exporters, and potential investors and to host the first-ever Women in Leadership Climate Change Panel Discussion. The participants of this panel discussed the role that women can play in the economic transition to a low-carbon economy and explored the unique experiences of the Indigenous people in the fight against climate change.

Several other prominent women leaders were present as well, including the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate, Her Excellency, Patricia Espinosa. Espinosa was elected executive secretary in May 2016 at the Paris Climate Change Conference. She is originally from Mexico and has worked in foreign affairs between the Americas for several years. Espinosa was joined on the panel by Tanya Muller Garcia, the Minister of the Environment of Mexico City. Garcia actively promoted cycling programs throughout Mexico City and played a large part in integrating the region’s transit system.

Wynne has had a large impact on the climate change agenda in Ontario, most recently with her adoption of cap and trade in Ontario. Part of her agenda in Mexico is to promote an open trade relationship with Mexico City, who has recently adopted a pilot project cap and trade program themselves. An interworking relationship of cap and trade with Mexico would have a significant economic impact on Ontario’s new climate change incentive, and would integrate will with the programs in California and Quebec. Recently, cap and trade has come under fire because Quebec and California have failed to sell all of their emissions, leaving both governments in debt. Many worry Ontario will suffer the same fate.

The climate change conference is a good opportunity for Wynne to show that Ontario is not concerned with the xenophobic agenda that Trump followers and the US is currently leading towards, and is instead open to creating trade partnerships involving climate change. It is inspiring to see a representative of the Canadian political fabric represent women interests, tackling environmental concerns, and promoting healthy international trade relations in the midst of struggling global unity.

It is easy to see this week as a win for Wynne.

 

Do you enjoy our content on sustainability and green living? If so, sign up for our newsletter below:

[email-subscribers namefield=”YES” desc=”” group=”Public”] 

Comedy on College: embracing the female funny bone

There is nothing better than a good joke to make the hardships of womanhood feel lighter, and the women who run Comedy on College do just that.

Female comedians are all the rage in entertainment these days, ranging from Amy Schumer to Tina Fey, and Toronto has caught on to the funny female fever.The lead organizers of Comedy on College, a comedy night on Tuesdays at Pour Boy (666 Manning Ave.) are embracing the move towards female comedians wholeheartedly. Heather MacDonald, 30, and Clare Belford, 26, both run the weekly event, balancing the responsibilities between hosting and performing. MacDonald recounts the ambitious tale towards her comedic stardom.

“I started it last June. I have a full-time job and I was sick of going to open mics and staying up until two a.m in the morning. I wanted to be on good shows,” MacDonald says. “I talked to the owner and convinced him to let me try it. It has been very successful and in January I asked Clare if she wanted to run it with me.”

Stand-up Comedian Clare Belford. Photo by Scott McLean.
Stand-up Comedian Clare Belford. Photo by Scott McLean.

MacDonald hails from the Waterloo region and was in the industry for just over a year when she started Comedy on College. She is an ultrasound technician by day, and enjoys having her own show because it provides much-needed flexibility in a busy work week. Belford, on the other hand, has been in comedy for over three years. She ran a show in her hometown of Edmonton, helping her create a cross-Canada network with other comedians. She serves at a restaurant in the financial district, which occasionally provides material for her comedy set. Both women moved to Toronto excited to pursue their comedy careers in a diverse and progressive city.

The two comedians host a weekly series of local female and male comedians, and look for diversity in their performers. Oftentimes, comedy sets are male-dominated, and Comedy on College has even numbers of both genders performing. Having women performers in the mix adds a range of experiences and perspectives into the various sets. “I think comedy has changed a lot in the past few years and people want to see women performing,” Belford says. “I think you lose a lot when you don’t have women performing because then you are limiting yourself to one perspective. People in the audience have a good chance of identifying with more people in the comedy show when it’s diverse.”

It hasn’t always been a bed of roses for these two women. Both reported experiencing sexism during a stand-up routine, due to the fact that comedy is traditionally male-dominated.

“One time, I made a joke about being half-Asian, and when I left the stage, a fellow comedian said, “You’re half-Asian and I’m fully erect,” MacDonald says. “I had just finished my set. I wanted to punch the guy because I felt discredited in what I just did.”

Belford had an experience in Edmonton, where a booking agent told her that women weren’t funny when she was trying to get a spot in the line-up. “I had a full-on argument with someone who was booking shows that women aren’t funny,” Belford says. “There was a crowd of comedians standing around me that didn’t support me and I floundered in the argument by myself. It was very discouraging.”

Women have to deal with performing sets on stage that is often full of rampant over-sexualization of women and the common idea that men are funnier than women. The 10 highest paid comedians in the world make a collective $173 million — and are all men. Comedian Samantha Bee is the only late-night television host, otherwise filled with funny male comedians. These tendencies in the big leagues don’t dissuade these two women performers, and several other women comedians they bring on stage each week.

Regardless of gender, both comics believe the most important thing is to put yourself out there, practice, and work to become a talented comedian. “I just want to be as good as I can be. I want to be a very good comic, and I don’t care how long that takes me,” Belford says.

Comedy on College. Provided by Heather MacDonald.
Comedy on College. Provided by Heather MacDonald.

I personally watched both comics on Tuesday night on stage, with MacDonald hosting and Belford performing. It was a hilarious evening. MacDonald began conversations with individuals sitting near the front of the event, and cracking jokes left and right. Belford’s comedy routine was a rip-roar from beginning to end. She joked about how difficult it was to finish an entire cabbage when living solo, and the dilemma of going home with a man with no sheets.

I felt I could identify with both women on stage, and discovered a new and great way to connect with other women and shared experiences many of us have. I highly recommend hitting up their show. I guarantee you will walk away laughing to yourself about the hilarious parts of being a woman in Toronto.

Your guide to back-to-school fashion

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it’s time to go back to school!

In just under a week, kids of all ages will be pilling on to busses to be shuttled all over the city. Some may be excited, other’s terrified, but the one thing everyone will have in common is a desire to look good on the first day of school. But, what’s in? What should your kids be wearing this fall? Women’s Post has a few ideas:

For younger children, the freedom of being able to dress themselves may lead to some interesting combinations. If your child really wants to wear polka-dot leggings and a stripped shirt, who are you to argue? But, if they do ask for your input, it’s good to have a few outfits on hand.

Layers are perfect for class and recess. Try jean jackets — they go with everything and you can find them in all sorts of colours and styles. Don’t be afraid to be colourful and fun!

 

Smocked Boho Swing Top for Girls - Orange Floral
Smocked Boho Swing Top for Girls – Orange Floral
Gap, $59.99
Gap, $59.99
Converse, $64.99
Converse, $64.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a new type of pressure for high school kids. No one wants to look like a dork wandering the halls on their first day of classes. For high schoolers, Women’s Post suggests keeping it simple — Printed tees, for example, with sayings that express your personality. Pair it with some funky jewelry or a funky jacket, jeans, and some rockin’ shoes. Trade in those runners for heels for a night out. An oversized sweater, with leggings or a skirt is a comfortable option for those long study sessions.

 

Torrid, $34.50
Torrid, $34.50
H&M, $19.99
H&M, $19.99
Staples, $119.99
Staples, $119.99

 

 

 

 

 

Heading to university this September? Remember to dress to impress — but it’s also okay to remain casual. Your best bet is to get clothing that can be worn with dress pants on presentation days, and with ripped jeans for those early morning classes. There are a lot of really comfortable leggings and pants that can be thrown on with a nice shirt for ultimate

Backpacks are critical. You may be spending an entire day on campus, running from one end to another with a computer in toe. Make sure you get a bag that is both stylish and practical. Over the arm bags can hurt your back if you aren’t careful, so try the traditional backpack route. Luckily, there are a lot of really great ones out there that are perfect for both the classroom and the interview room.

Note: no matter what other people say, do NOT wear pyjamas to class. Sweatpants or oversized hoodies are fine, but PJs are just tacky.

Aldo, $55
Aldo, $55
H&M, $19.99
H&M, $19.99
Mango, $34.95
Mango, $34.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you wearing come September? Let us know in the comments below!

How to use your bike hand signals

Cycling is a healthy and effective way to commute. There is nothing more satisfying than passing by hordes of traffic on a bike after a long day of being in an office. It is also important to know how to navigate safely past the vehicles, and hand signals are essential. Here are a few tips on the most popular hand signals and how to use them properly.

Left turn signal.
Left turn signal
  1. Left turn signal

The left turn signal is pretty straightforward and is useful if properly displayed. When turning left, be sure to stick your arm straight outwards at a 180 degree angle so that vehicles have the best chance of seeing it. This is the bike signal I use the most often when biking because left turns can be dangerous for cyclists. When turning left or merging into a left lane, it is essential to use this hand signal and shoulder check as well. If you are merging over two lanes into the turning lane, be sure to have your hand signal engaged the entire time. Otherwise, for turning left in a heavy intersection, I use the crosswalk instead and do a two-point turn.

Right hand signal. Photo provided by JugendstilBikes.
Right hand signal. Photo provided by JugendstilBikes.

2. Right hand signal (using right-hand)

The best right-hand signal is often debated, but I prefer to use my right hand. In light of left and right turning signals used by vehicles today, using right and left hand signals is more universally understood. Similar to the left-turn signal, make sure to extend your arm at a 180 degree angle to increase visibility to drivers. It can be difficult to see a right-hand signal from a vehicle so be sure to hold out your signal for at least 30 seconds prior to turning. The longer and more emphasized the signal is, the more likely it will be that a driver is paying attention to your turn.

Right turn signal with left hand.
Right turn signal with left hand.

3. Right hand signal (using left-hand)

The traditional right-hand turn signal uses the left-hand. Using a flat-palm, place your left arm at a 90 degree angle. This indicates to cars that you are turning right. Some people believe this hand signal increases visibility, but it seems more often it increases confusion. The hand signal came into existence in the days before vehicles has automatic signals. Drivers would have to use their arms to signal turns, and it wouldn’t have been possible to use your right arm to indicate a right turn. Thus, the left-armed right turn was born. Some supporters of this hand signal also believe it is more visible than the alternative because cyclists travel with traffic, so vehicles can see the left hand more easily. It is a hotly debated topic in the world of cycling, but I am personally a fan of using the right-hand. I find this signal outdated and confusing for drivers, which could be dangerous in the long run.

Stop hand signal.
Stop hand signal.

4. Stop hand signal

The stop hand signal is always good to use, especially when there are no stop lights on the roads. It allows the driver to know you are going to stop ahead of time, which helps avoid an accident. I don’t use this hand signal very often because cycling lanes allow the flow of traffic to remain fairly consistent between cyclists and motorists, and telling the vehicles I’m slowing down is unnecessary. I also find it to be very awkward on the arm. It is an odd angle to bend at, and feels weird when cycling. Besides its aesthetic properties though, it is always good to have this hand signal tucked away for emergencies.

Bike hand signals help cyclists and motorists communicate and keep people safe. Not using bike signals is disrespectful to other cyclists and can cause accidents between bikes as well. I have nearly hit people who don’t signal when turning on my bike, and not doing so definitely warrants angry yelling and hollering from other parties. The bottom line is bike signals are safe, effective and enforce communication between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Use your hand signals, and enjoy feeling like a more confident urban two-wheeler.

Note: Riding with no hands is effectively known as the hand signal that means you are having a great time and love cycling more than anything else in the world. Use with caution though, and not in traffic.

 

Section 37 vs. inclusionary zoning: Which would you choose?

What is the best solution for affordable housing?

The city and province are at an odds yet again, with the City of Toronto rejecting the inclusionary housing proposal the province is pushing towards. Instead, the city wants to continue using Section 37 benefits, a part of the provincial planning act that allows cities to give developers permission to build outside of zoning laws in exchange for providing funding for a project that contributes to the community. In conjunction with Section 37, the city has been working on the Open Door policy that pairs up with voluntary developers who are willing to provide affordable housing in exchange for various incentives.

On the other hand, inclusionary zoning would mandate that any new development being built in cities across Ontario would have a certain portion built as low-to-mid-income housing. The province plans on giving the cities the power to mandate how to implement the inclusionary zoning policies in their respective regions. Though this is a complimentary policy for affordable housing, there is one small problem. The province has mandated that Section 37 cannot be used in conjunction with inclusionary zoning unless under specialized circumstances. They have not specified what the “special” circumstances would be either.

This policy is forcing Toronto to choose between providing essential community services and desperately needed affordable housing — and it appears politicians are at a loss on how to proceed. Quite honestly, both section 37 and inclusionary zoning have their pros and cons, but neither is sufficient to solve the plethora of housing and funding issues that plague Toronto.

Pros and cons of inclusionary zoning:

Inclusionary zoning has been a popular method of building affordable housing in many major US cities including Chicago, Montgomery County, Maryland and San Francisco. It speeds up the growth of affordable housing because it makes it mandatory for developments to build new units.  It also creates mixed-income neighbourhoods, which allows children of low-income areas to avoid being marginalized in poor areas. Many people are worried that inclusionary zoning would drive up prices of the other units, but a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has determined that affordable housing doesn’t affect pricing as much as assumed. Critics are concerned that the cost of inclusionary zoning falls on new homebuyers rather than all of the taxpayers in a city, which they believe isn’t fair. Inclusionary zoning can also only be applied to new developments.

Pros and cons of section 37:

Section 37 gives the local councillor and community the opportunity to choose how to use development funds to benefit a particular neighbourhood, which makes the funding flexible. It helps to create good neighbourhoods and give people access to parks, public art infrastructure, and community centres. These types of infrastructure are often ignored by the city in light of other projects that need funding, and shouldering private developers with the burden is a good solution. On the other hand, section 37 can be misused if the local councillor chooses a project that isn’t effective in the community. Though community funding is important, families, seniors, and low-income individuals need homes to live in, and this trumps public art installations.

What is a possible solution for the city and province? 

When the city rejected the inclusionary zoning proposal last week, they also said that if the zoning proposal were approved they would want a 10 per cent affordable housing mandate for the new developments going up, instead of just targeting inclusionary zoning at mid-to-low income households.

A potential solution is to have both options available for developers. By allowing them to choose between section 37 and inclusionary zoning, both community funding and affordable housing needs may be fulfilled. Most would choose section 37 as it stands, but if it were mandated that the community funding would have to equal the cost of building and maintaining 10 per cent affordable housing, it would even the playing field between the two policies. As well, Open Door could be maintained and continued alongside inclusionary zoning to the benefit of the  95,000 people on the affordable waitlist to obtain housing.

The state of affordable housing in Toronto is not of casual concern. It is a state of emergency. The staggering amount of people desperate for housing, and who are forced to resort to the streets or use most of their income to pay rent, is unacceptable. Instead of city and provincial councillors bickering over which policy is better, everyone need to bring all solutions to the table and create a viable plan to work together. After all, people’s lives depend on it.

Bringing back the Burkini: Thanks France!

Muslim women have a lot to celebrate when it comes to living in the west. The right to higher level education, the right to an independent lifestyle, and the right to modesty are just few of the many things they can rejoice. And with the invention of the burkini a few years ago, Muslim women can now even spend a day at the beach wearing the full-body bathing suit, all while eating that extra slice of pizza. Because coverage.

However, up until this morning, planning a European getaway in the most romantic country in the world would have likely left you feeling otherwise. Beaches were being patrolled by police after several cities on France’s Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts banned the burkini.

The ban followed a number of terrorist attacks that took place in the country over the last couple of years, most recently occurring just last month. Conveniently, France’s secular political class said the burkini subjugates women and is incompatible with a country whose motto celebrates equality and freedom. The logic behind the ban also stemmed from security concerns, because according to French men, no day at the beach is complete for Muslim women until they bring their weapons and explosives hidden under their fitted suits.

The woman was on the beach when the police arrived.

At first, you may have seen the ban as slightly amusing. ‘So ridiculous, its funny.’ However, France strongly implemented the ban, as the world saw just a couple of days ago when the now infamous photographs of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach, making her remove some of her clothing. The incident caused a media frenzy, dividing the world in two; with one side not being able to see the logic behind the ban, and the other side looking to implement the ban in their own cities.

On behalf of Muslim women, I can ensure you that the only thing that’s being hidden under these burkinis are a treasure of secrets and pearls of wisdom that they have acquired from decades of life experience. Thankfully, like the rest of the world, many non-Muslim women have evidently realized the convenience of the burkini, as some retailers have actually experienced an increase in sales since the ban. International debates ensued and political and religious tensions increased.

Image result for police measuring bathing suitAfter several think pieces, blogs and contradictory images of both men and women dressed in what is essentially a wet suit, France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’État, overturned the so-called burkini bans in 26 of the country’s coastal towns and cities just this morning.

The court struck down both arguments for the bans: It ruled that the burkini is neither an insult to the equality of women nor a harbinger of terrorism. The attempts to ban it, the judges maintained, insulted “fundamental freedoms” such as the “freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal liberty.”

Rejoice again, Muslim women. For you can, once again, celebrate the very reason you’re living in the west; freedom– and a slightly more liberal view on modesty and religious practices.

Because let’s not forget, France has still placed a ban on the niqab, or full-face veil in public, along with outlawing the headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols in state schools. But hey, thanks for listening, France! One step at a time, right?

Veiled or not, the badassery won’t stop.

My life through the words of The Tragically Hip

Over the years, I’ve often looked at a mountain view in Alberta or a downtown Toronto landscape, and at each of those moments, I think of one of the many of  Tragically Hip songs that really encapsulates how it feels to be there.

The iconic rock band The Tragically Hip defines the Canadian sound. It is as if Gord Downie and his bandmates took rocks from the mountains, soil from the prairies, and water from the Great Lakes to create a melodic elixir of Canadian essence and feed it to our starved northern souls. Canada was lost before this band existed, and boy, do they ever bring us home.

Along with 125,000 Canadians that watched the live streaming of CBC’s final Tragically Hip show on August 23, I cried, laughed, remembered, and mourned. It truly is the end of an era. Gord Downie’s tragic diagnosis of Glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer, has rocked Canadians to their core. The show was rumoured to be their final performance, and the band will be duly missed for their years of dedication to the local music community.

You could say I was born listening to The Tragically Hip. As the millennial daughter of two parents who were in their twenties in the 1980’s, “The Hip”, as they are commonly referred to, were all the rage. The band began their journey in 1984 and produced 14 albums during the course of their thirty-year career.  I am proud to say I have been listening to them my entire life.

My first memory of The Hip is when I was about six years old at our family cottage in Ontario. I have a fond memory of walking out to the campfire hearing “100th Meridian” blasting from the speakers and my dad and uncle rocking out in their blue jeans and mullet-styled hockey do’s. Later on, I would realize how much this song defined my own life. “At the hundredth meridian, where the Great Plains begin” is about the journey from east to west and the division between the two parts of our country. Spending my summers in Ontario with my dad and living the rest of the year in Alberta made me realize the contrast and tension between the two regions, and The Tragically Hip helped me identify with those differences.

I considered one particular Hip song the soundtrack to my life; “Wheat Kings”. This song is for the people in “the Paris of the Prairies” and reflects how it feels to cruise across the yellow sea to my home in the foothills of Alberta. I can recall listening to this song with my cousin and best friend, who was also forced to watch our dads rock out together to The Hip. Needless to say, she is as die-hard as I am when it comes to our love of the music. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wheat Kings”, beginning guitar riff and Downie’s haunting voice floating across the speakers, I’m transported home to a creaky prairie heritage home watching the mountains through the window with the curtain blowing in the wind.

My dream to see the Tragically Hip finally came true when I moved to Toronto and saw them play at a free concert in Dundas Square two years ago. I had just moved to Canada’s largest city, and what better way to celebrate than watching The Hip. When “Bobcaygeon” came on and Downie howled “that night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors”, 10,000 people were singing along with him — I was one of them. Interestingly, the checkerboard floors are in reference to the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St., a favourite bar of mine as well. This iconic tune has continued to be loved, now reminding me of what it is like to fall in love in Toronto. “I left your house this morning ‘bout a quarter after nine, it was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time” is a lyric I often sing to my partner. It reminds me of the first time he told me he loved under the stars at his cottage on Georgian Bay (cheesy, I know).

Not all of my memories associated with Tragically Hip are happy and sweet. The band had a way of pulling at your heart strings in tough times as well. When a close friend died, I played “Fiddler’s Green” and at that moment, I think only Downie’s voice could soothe me. Later on, I found out the song was written in memory of his nephew that passed away. Downie refused to play it for 15 years, only to sing it at a show in Calgary much later.

In The Tragically Hip’s final show, “Grace, Too” was one of the final songs that caused an uproar of emotion to flood the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston. Downie was visibly upset, and almost every person I know who loved this band cried along with him at that moment.  Belting out the lyrics one last time, I felt the unfairness of it all. How is an amazing musician cherished by his country condemned to get sick and die of terminal illness? I could talk about his legacy as others have done in their courageous soliloquies to Gord Downie, but honestly I am angry. Cancer seems to claim us all.

I will say though: one comfort that The Hip fans can have is the absolute immortality of the band’s music. The Tragically Hip will live on as I raise my child in Canada. It is my turn to wear acid wash blue jeans and rock out to the “Hip” at a campfire while my daughter dances too. [It is her turn to listen to “Boots and Hearts” and learn to line dance. It is my daughter’s destiny to close her eyes and think of our home in the prairies when she hears “Wheat Kings”.

“Does your mother tell you things? Long, long when I’m gone?”

I hope Downie can take comfort in his legacy — he surely has given the world something that will never be forgotten.

Is Toronto Women’s Fashion Week just a side project?

Professional fashion designers of women’s clothing have been at a loss on where to show their clothing since Toronto Fashion Week announced its closing in July.

Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOM*) has stepped up to the plate, announcing a Toronto Women’s Fashion Week (TWFW) that will launch in February 2017. Details are to follow, but the event will most likely run twice a year in February and August alongside TOM*.

Previously, IMG Canada and IMG Fashion were running Toronto Fashion Week and shut it down due to a lack of financial support.  World MasterCard was the main sponsor for the event, and dropped out earlier this year. The organizers reported that the event also lacked local support in the fashion community. In turn, the event was criticized by the fashion community as being too late in the fashion season to attract buyers, not to mention it was poorly advertised. Having buyers at fashion runway events is essential for new designers looking to make a living and the annual event was failing to do so.

TOM* has a better reputation because of the way the event is planned. It includes parties, industry talks, and a lucrative prize for the top local designer, in addition to the runway shows. The event also includes a magazine that advertises the designers and wallpapers that advertise men’s fashion. The runway shows take place in the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

It is interesting that there is a fashion week dedicated to men, yet there isn’t already an event that focuses on women’s clothing in fashion. It also stands to question whether the women’s event will follow TOM* and stand in the shadows of the already established male-oriented event.

If a challenge of the fashion industry is the expense of having runway shows and fashion events, it seems that it would be easier to create one event that has both men and women’s clothing together. It would also blur the lines between acceptable gendered “men” and “women’s” clothing. In the fashion world, it appears that the concept of dividing genders still persists despite Toronto being known as a progressive city. It will be interesting to see how the women’s and men’s events are run, and if Toronto Women’s Fashion Week can gain the notoriety its male-counterpart has, or if it will be of secondary influence.

Media layoffs indicative of dangerous industry

A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star announced 52 new layoffs, including 26 people who were hired specifically for their tablet edition — a project that was supposed to transform the journalism industry for the better.

This announcement is only one in a series of job cuts that happened this year. It seems that every single media conglomerate — Rogers, TorStar, Bell Media, and PostMedia — has come to a point where they can’t afford to pay their writers. The journalism industry has always been precarious, but with the introduction of digital media, it seems to have lost control. No one knows what to do. The Toronto Star, for example, has said that despite the layoffs, it will continue to focus on maintaining a strong web and mobile service, as it is the future of news consumption. But, what does that mean? And how does this affect hard working journalists?

First of all, it increases the workload for journalists — without increasing the pay. For the same salary, reporters are now expected to do everything from layout to online production, in addition to interviewing and writing content. They are photographers, digital experts, and social media gurus. I saw a job posting the other day that asked candidates looking to apply for an entry-level reporting job if they were well-versed in Indesign and HTML, able to act as photographer and writer, and able to edit other reporter’s copy. Essentially, the candidate should be able to run the newspaper on their own.

With less staff, quality suffers. News is reported before facts are accurately checked, headlines are misspelled, and photos aren’t laid out properly. Things can get messy fast when one person is responsible for that much work.

The problem is that journalism is constantly changing, and instead of trying to deal with it patiently and with care, news publications are making industry-changing decisions based on the most current technologies available. People are consuming much more of their news on their mobile devices or their work computers than their tablets. Podcasts are becoming more popular and information packaging is now just as important as the content itself. But, what will be “in” 10 years from now and how will that affect how the news is consumed?

The solution isn’t simple. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine what it is. Revenue is plummeting and the news organizations can’t keep up. Publications need to invest in online advertising and sponsorships — all of the things journalists despise — at least for now. As a journalist myself, I personally feel as if good journalism has to be publicly funded (and not just the CBC). By depending on private corporations, whose ultimate goal will always be to create revenue, news organizations will suffer. They will be forever in debt to declining ad spaces and subscription rates. If the public was willing to contribute and help subsidize part of the cost for informed news, then the goal of profit-making is replaced with that of simple story telling. Isn’t that what we want?

I realize that these solutions aren’t permanent, and that it places the onus on non-agencies to fund a whole profession. But at some point, society is going to have to make a choice. Should publications continue to cut staff and hope that the quality of information and news doesn’t decrease, or should we invest in our journalists? These corporations can spend money on good writers, editors, and producers — or they can spend money on new technology that will probably be out of date in a few years.

Which would you rather have?

Calgary Portable greenhouses may be future for local food

What if you could grow food year-round instead of being limited to spring and summer planting seasons?

Boks Farms Ltd., based out of Calgary, may have a solution to the limited growing seasons in Canada. By turning train shipping containers into portable greenhouses, the company is revolutionizing the way people think about food. The company is taking urban farming to a new level by making indoor greenhouses that can be run year-round.

Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

Owner Mark Van Engelen began Boks Farms after studying what other companies were doing worldwide in regards to indoor urban farming. He came up with a building strategy to fit the cold Canadian climate. “A few years ago, I decided I needed to do something to make the world a better place. One of my interests is food and another one is energy and biodiversity. This is my contribution to the food system, to do something local,” Van Engelen says. “Urban farming has a two or three month growing season and the rest is canned. We want to help Calgary and Canada grow as well and eventually free food for people in need.”

So how exactly does a greenhouse made out of a shipping container work?

According to Head of Operations, Ben Pearson, it is a step-by-step process. “After taking a shipping container, we retrofit it with materials and insulate it so that it doesn’t have any moisture to effectively create a four-season container,” Pearson says. “For ventilation, we have one intake at the front and one outtake at the back so that air is constantly in circulation and moving.” The units are also outfitted with an air conditioner and heater to control the temperature. The containers use LED lights, but will move to solar panelling in the fall, explained Pearson. This will make the container 100 per cent portable and off-the-grid.

Boks Farms is providing food grown in the greenhouse containers to local restaurants, including Calgary favourites Mercato, Wildrose Brewery, and the Coup. The company is also launching in Edmonton next summer. Van Engelen offers homemade greens, mushrooms and herbs to these restaurants and hopes to expand the business to more remote northern communities as well. “What I envision in the future is to replicate this model up north. With all the materials, we would be helping people have access to fresh food year-round,” Van Engelen says. “We would provide a form of consulting and help build the local systems.”

Van Engelen hopes the company will become a local systems food provider as well as a greenhouse educator. Originally in the environmental consulting business, the entrepreneur also founded an educational company called Earth Educators that helps organizations measure their environmental impact and develop strategies to be more sustainable. He hopes to fuse the teaching aspect of this non-profit to Boks Farms, and help remote communities learn how to sustain local indoor farms in the portable greenhouses year-round.

 

Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

The shipping containers used to make the greenhouses are also sustainable and promote the recycled use of environmental materials. By re-using old shipping containers and refurbishing them, it uses a product that would otherwise sit unused in a train shipping yard for decades.Van Engelen hopes to have the shipping containers completely off the grid soon, and only needs to get solar energy installed in the containers for that to happen. “From an energy perspective, getting off the grid is important,” Van Engelen says. “We are using LEDs where it makes sense. My key thing now is to use solar. It doesn’t use that much, and soon we should be able to be 100 per cent renewable.”

It is commendable to see such an environmentally-progressive initiative being launched in Calgary, a city often known for embracing fossil fuels instead of crunchy granola. By providing an opportunity for local indoor urban farming, it gives Calgarians an opportunity to enjoy local produce year-round and support the sustainable farming of food that could help thousands. It will be enjoyable to see where the company goes next, and I look forward to trying fresh herbs grown year-round.