Heather Reid speaks at a launch event for the Regional Centre of Expertise for Sustainability Education. The event was held at Fleming College in Haliburton. Reid was representing Abbey Gardens. From left Barrie Martin Jim Blake Reid Emily Parish and Ted Brandon. /JENN WATT Staff

Centre aims to advance sustainability education

By Jenn Watt

Published June 13 2017

The Highlands has a long history of environmental education. Partnerships throughout Haliburton County and into Peterborough and the Kawartha regions had led to the success of several programs including the sustainable building program at Fleming College U-Links Centre for Community Based Research and the proliferation of outdoor education centres.

Inclusion in the Regional Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Education a United Nations designation is an indicator of the strength of the current programming in Haliburton County said Jane Gray sustainability policy and education advisor for the regional centre.

Gray led a launch event at Fleming College in Haliburton on Wednesday June 7 which featured representatives of several of the area’s environmental initiatives.

“You’re testing sustainability education right here in the community in ways that can be applied provincially nationally or even internationally” Gray told the audience.

Regions around the world applied to be designated centres of expertise. One-hundred-fifty-four were selected around the world eight in Canada three in Ontario.

This region was selected because of its strong partnerships and high ratio of environmental education centres and programs she said.

The centre received Trillium funding to get started and Gray anticipates funding will come from partner organizations in the years to come. She told the Echo that the plan isn’t to create a new organization it’s about strengthening the network and sharing the work done in this region with the world.

Presenting at Wednesday’s launch were Ted Brandon recently retired training officer from Fleming College; Heather Reid operations director at Abbey Gardens; Emily Parish a student environmentalist from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School; Barrie Martin owner of Yours Outdoors; and Jim Blake co-chair of U-Links Centre for Community Based Research.

Each panellist gave the audience a taste of the broad networks that already exist in the region and their accomplishments.

Brandon presented the list of 13 buildings created through Fleming’s sustainable building program starting with the 4Cs Lily Ann and food bank in 2005.

Student builders learn the fundamentals of sustainable building while the client gets a less expensive facility he said. While some of the early buildings had a “hobbit-y” feel to them the more recent builds are nearly indistinguishable from structures around them.

Brandon showed a photo of a house they built in Peterborough with Habitat for Humanity. Aside from the solar panels on the roof it fit in architecturally with the other homes around it.

Other buildings in the Haliburton Highlands created by the college program include the food hub at Abbey Gardens Haliburton Solar and Wind (also at Abbey Gardens) Kinark Outdoor Living Centre Nature’s Place and the Wilberforce library branch.

Innovation is also happening at the high school Parish told the group. Through the Eco Team and outdoor education class students are co-ordinating traditional environmental actions such as garbage collection and assisting with the children’s water festival and newer concepts such as cellphone charging stations.

During Martin’s presentation he stressed the importance of outdoor education to teaching sustainability. There are at least six year-round outdoor learning centres and 20 camps in the county he said and noted the legacy of the Bark Lake Leadership Centre and the Frost Centre.

He said tourism can play a role in helping people connect to the natural world and said many of the local operators are dedicated to sustainable tourism.

Blake expanded on U-Links’ history noting its origins came from academics seeking a way to make global issues into local action. Work done through U-Links has included studies on lake health the social determinants of health rural transportation aging well species at risk leek moths and turtle mortality among others. Residents of the county can see the results of that work in area programming and organizations.

Reid used the recent creation of an Enchanted Forest to illustrate the work being done at Abbey Gardens. The play area for children created with repurposed materials not only gives kids something fun to do but introduces them to nature.

“It creates that space where people can enjoy nature and make that heart connection that they then can carry through the rest of their lives and into adulthood” she said.

Abbey Gardens hosts school classes as well as homeschool groups teaching about the garden environment and local ecology. Like her fellow panellists Reid was able to point to several partnerships that have strengthened the results of her organization’s programming – a key component to success.

“We have so many strong partnerships in Haliburton that are already working and if we can take that to an international and national stage that’s pretty exciting. We have the goods and now we have the stage” she said.

Over the next year the regional centre will be creating working groups and holding workshops developing a governance structure and action plan Gray said.

Objectives for the centre include “implementing age-appropriate sustainability education frameworks in formal and informal settings across the region” according to a slide presented on Wednesday. It is a goal of the organization to infuse sustainability into all educational programming not just environmental studies.