Written by Veronica Tunzi
Sustainability has become a trendy buzzword over recent years, and many businesses are working towards become more environmentally sustainable, and in turn, more socially responsible. When faced with the challenge of increasing sustainability, it may seem like we need to take on monumental tasks to make a difference. But like most things in life, every small step has an impact, and collectively, those small steps can amount to something big.
As individuals, and as a business, we value environmental sustainability because we care about our planet as well as the lives of humans around the world who are affected by climate change. During the past several months, Fancy Farmerettes has had the privilege of taking part in the Norfolk Sustainability Leaders Program, which has offered an environmental assessment of our property, mentorship, workshops, social gatherings, and goal-setting opportunities to help us develop environmental, social, and economic priorities. In a few short months, we’ve learned that environmental sustainability goes hand-in-hand with social sustainability, and together they can positively impact our economic viability.
In working with Green Economy London and the Long Point Biosphere, we’ve identified practices and processes we already have in place that support sustainable living. While we thought we weren’t doing enough, we soon realized that we’re actually doing quite a lot! Here’s a brief snapshot of what we have to celebrate.
Maintaining a small apiary
Beekeeping allows us to provide local, unpasteurized honey to our community. Outside of concerns that non-domestic honey can be cut with rice or sugar syrups, importing honey from outside of Canada requires freight and transportation that comes with high CO2 Our honey often goes from our hands right into the hands of the consumer.
Additionally, within our beekeeping practice, we try to maintain as natural processes as possible. Treatment for pests and disease, such as varroa mites, American Foul Brood, and Nosema, have become an unfortunate but necessary part of beekeeping in Ontario. By using as many natural treatments as available, we keep our apiary green.
We are also very proud to say that we only use eco-friendly plant-based paint to protect our wooden ware from the elements. While this paint may be more expensive than traditional acrylic paint, using it ensures no-VOCs. We like to know that our bees can safely land on one of our hives without being exposed to potentially toxic substances.
Expanding our apiary
Pollinating & Native Gardens
As much as we love beekeeping, honey bees are native to Europe, and they cannot replace the value of native North American bees. So in addition to maintaining an apiary of bees that can help to pollinate local crops, we are building pollinating gardens on our property. With flowering plants like phlox, echinacea, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, lavender, and salvia, our pollinating gardens help to support a variety of native bees, butterflies, and other insects, which we need to maintain biodiversity.
Within our garden spaces, we place high priority on native plants, shrubs, and trees, which grow easily because they are accustomed to our climate and soil. Native plants typically require less watering, and they provide food and habitat for native insects, birds, and other wildlife.
Water saving measures are not only easy to implement, but they are both environmentally and financially beneficial. One of the first things we did when we moved to this property a few years ago was put in rain barrels near the downspouts of our house, garage, and chicken coop. We use these stores to water our gardens, which reduces consumption of well water.
Although we don’t have acres to roam, our micro farm provides us with plenty of home-grown food, even in a rather small plot. We grow all of our fruit and vegetables naturally—no sprays, no chemicals. We amend our soil with our own compost (mix of chicken manure, food scraps, leaves, and hemp hurd) as well as worm castings. Growing our own fruit and vegetables eliminates transportation of food, and we also sell excess produce to our community, contribute to the local food movement.
Home energy audit
Last year, we invested in a home energy audit. For a few hundred dollars, we were able to identify what parts of our home are contributing to energy savings; in fact, we learned that our windows and doors (which we thought we might need to replace) are doing a great job! We also learned where to invest to create a more eco-friendly and cost-effective home. Adding insulation to the attic and purchasing a heat pump are on our list of things to do!
Since we started raising chickens a few years ago, we have tried several types of animal bedding in our coop and run. By far, the best bedding we have used to date is hemp hurd, which also happens to be a sustainable product. Hemp is a drought resistant crop that is grown without pesticides or herbicides. It also has a quick growing cycle that allows it to be harvested and replanted, unlike trees, which take years, if not decades, to grow.
The downside to this awesome crop is that it is currently mainly grown in Western Canada, which means we have been trucking skids of hemp halfway across the country to meet the needs of consumers in Ontario. To minimize the detrimental effects of this transportation, we work with other businesses to split one delivery from Western Canada to Ontario. Although not a perfect solution to this complex problem, shared delivery does minimize C02 emissions. Our eventual dream is to source hemp that is grown and processed in Ontario, although the industry has not sufficiently developed here to make that possible just yet.
And one dream—a net zero chicken coop
Our current chicken coop is wired with electricity, which certainly comes in handy to run fans in the summer and heated water bases and twinkle lights in the winter. In the future, we would love to install solar panels on our chicken coop so that all energy needed in the coop comes from a renewable resource. This net zero goal is small, attainable, yet still powerful. If we can attain the funds to complete this project, it can be completed rather easily with big rewards.
We have many lofty goals moving forward. Maybe one day our tractor will run on biofuel, our driveway will be paved in porous aggregate, and our house will boast a solar panel roof. In the meantime, we ground ourselves in the knowledge that the small steps we are taking today are already making a difference.