Moving on to greener – and quieter – pastures

Outgoing environment columnist Martina Rowley enjoys a quieter life at the Grand Valley Fall Fair. PHOTO: Martina Rowley

If it were April, you may have thought this were a joke: This is my farewell column.

I have moved. Flown the nest, moved to new pastures. While modern technology would, of course, allow me to continue writing and submitting this green column from a distance, Beaches–East York readers will do better with a writer who is still local and can observe and properly comment on local issues, groups, and persons.

For nearly five years, I have loved researching, collecting, interviewing and writing for this column and for you, readers. I enjoyed the comments I received on the paper’s online comment section, as well as supportive comments from friends and acquaintances. Now that I’ve moved to a small town northwest of Toronto, I want to focus my time and energy on joining existing groups and causes — perhaps newspapers — and creating new opportunities outside my new (and much quieter) doorstep.

Before I tell you to whom I am handing the writer’s baton, I want to do a quick recap of my five years as your columnist.

My topics ranged from very local ones to Canada-wide and global issues. I told you about local green heroes and champions for the environment who help make a difference in our neighbourhood through advocacy, education, and hands-on projects. They build rain-gardens, host eco fairs, and plant community gardens.

Others get solar panels on big roofs of public buildings. The most sizeable ones at Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Hiawatha Road, Beach Community Energy Co-Operative’s panels on Kew Beach Public School, and most recently the full solar array on the New United Church on Waverley Road.

From left, Greening Ward 32 volunteers Martina Rowley, Bruce Crofts, Grethe Jensen, Susan Ward, and Susan Crofts pick crab apples in Kew Gardens on Sept. 8, 2014 (not shown is volunteer Jordan Comerford). Carrying on a four-year tradition of harvesting local fruit that would otherwise go to waste, the group’s efforts yielded nearly four litres of crabapple jelly and sauce.
Photos courtesy Martina Rowley

You may have felt proud reading that Toronto boasts eight Blue Flag Beaches, several of them right here in the Beach neighbourhood. Not a bad feat, when across Canada there are 24 accredited beaches and four marinas.

Globally, I covered the sand wars (disappearing beaches that are being dug up to make concrete for the massive construction booms around the world), food waste, the environmental and economic impact of winter storms, and the effects of climate change on us.

In 2013, I reported on a presentation by the Toronto Environmental Alliance on the city’s report “Our Changing Climate – Local Effects and Preparedness”. Franz Hartman warned that we should get ready for “a hotter and wetter Toronto.”  I would say that this year’s lengthy and wet spring followed by the September heatwave proves the point that Hartman and the report were making.

The stories I had the most fun with? “Tap vs bottled: water facts and fiction” – a look at some facts and myths about our drinking water. It still makes me cringe when I see the massive plastic waste from buying bottled water. Toronto alone sends 100 million water bottles to landfills (says the Ontario Ministry of the Environment). Most of Canada’s tap water is so much safer and more regulated than the bottled kind. In 2010, only 6 per cent of bottled water factories were tested.

Food waste is one of my other big annoyances. In “Give lumpy fruit a second chance”, I highlighted the massive amount of food wasted in Canada and countries around the world. Although each month almost 900,000 Canadians rely on food banks, over $31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada every single year.

This little frog is just one example of the fauna and flora awaiting the intrepid park explorer at Tommy Thomson Park, also known as the Leslie Street Spit.
PHOTO: Martina Rowley

The column on The Beauty of Tommy Thompson Park, a.k.a. Leslie Street Spit, rolled off my keyboard. I love this manmade 5-kilometre long peninsula with its wonderful cycling/hiking path. It’s the perfect place to spot wildlife: from beautiful frogs or furry rabbits on the path, to owls in the trees, and colourful birds of varying sizes in flight.

It gave me great pleasure to look at the science and numbers of Christmas trees — fresh versus plastic. Comparing data sets for each option in life cycle analysis software showed that buying fresh trees from a 150km radius had less of an impact than buying a plastic tree from China and using it for its average six year lifespan. You would need to use your fake tree for 20 years to make it a better option over a fragrant fresh one. And I do love the wonderful scent from a real tree.

I leave you in capable and green hands. My friend, fellow volunteer, and former colleague for Live Green Toronto, Katie Fullerton, has many years of hands-on experience in environmental volunteering. She started and still organizes the annual and well-attended Scarborough Seedy Saturday every spring. And she has a green thumb herself, having turned her front lawn into a thriving and attractive flower and vegetable garden, and inspiring numerous neighbours to do the same. I’m sure that Katie will take great care of you.

This leaves me to say thank you to the editors of this paper, for giving me an outlet for my writing for nearly five years, and for always encouraging and printing my choice of topics. Thanks to all who read and enjoyed my columns. Maybe, in the near future, I will be able to sneak in a guest column and report on some eco findings from my new community of Orangeville. Auf Wiedersehen and au revoir!

Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator. Connect with her at





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