SYC is recruiting ExComm members!

Call-out: Applications for the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Executive Committee 2016-2017

We are looking for dedicated, empowered and proactive youth leaders to apply for a seat on the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Executive Committee!

What is ExComm?

The Executive Committee (affectionately known as the ExComm) is SYC’s official decision-making body. Composed of 9 enthusiastic youth from across the country, the ExComm is responsible for shaping SYC’s direction, organizational governance and supporting the staff team. A minimum of one member is between the ages of 14-18 and all are under 30.

There are 8 seats available for the 2016-2017 term with 1 reserved for a youth between the ages of 14-18. The ExComm is an active board, so expect to devote anywhere from 2-4 hours a week to SYC activities. Most of our work is done through e-mail, conference calls and occasional events.

All ExComm members must be 30 years of age or younger at the time of applying. Under our new rules, ExComm members serve for two years. Half of the incoming members this year will serve for one-year terms however, to ensure staggered terms in future (term lengths will be determined by lot). No person can be appointed to the ExCom for more than three consecutive two-year terms.

We are particularly interested in diversifying the skill-set and perspectives within ExComm. If you have marketing, accounting, communications, graphic design, environmental policy, grassroots advocacy or finance experience you’d be a great asset to the team.

How to run for an ExComm position for the 2016-2017 term in 2 easy steps:

1. If you are not already a member, sign up for a Sierra Club Canada Foundation (SCCF) membership – youth category. This is a $25.00, tax deductible membership fee.

Please send your CV and a short bio (10-15 lines) to

Short-listed candidates will then be contacted for an interview. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, but we are looking to establish an Executive Committee for the 2016-2017 period as soon as possible!



Guest Post – Wakan Tanka



Wakan Tanka

Wakan Tanka, meaning in the First Nation Lakota Sioux language “Great Spirit” is a powerful documentary film which interweaves the voices of environmental and aboriginal elders with a captivating fictional story that will engage youth on climate change.

The fictional journey follows Zak, a 13 year-old boy, as he makes his way across a nightmarish cityscape to find his way to the safety of his grandparent‘s house. Zak‘s journey through the city represents the journey humankind would have to make in order to rebuild a deeper connection with nature.

Wakan Tanka has the potential to influence millions of young people through the networks of the environmental elders and experts involved in the project and the international bands contributing songs. Between the deep wisdom of these elders and the inspiring music, the film highlights the struggles we face if we continue on our current path and the many alternative pathways to a sustainable future.

In addition to a number of world-famous bands that have contributed their music, the following elders and experts have graciously volunteered their time and commitment to the Wakan Tanka project:

Dr. David Suzuki – Scientist, Environmentalist
Dr. James Hansen – Climatologist and Columbia University Adjunct Professor
Raffi Cavoukian – Singer, Author and Founder of Centre for Child Honouring
James Hoggan – Author of Climate Cover Up and co-founder of
Robert Bateman – Naturalist and Painter
Grandmother Agnes – Chair of the Thirteen Grandmothers
Dr. Pakki Chipps – Ethnobotanist, Author
Guy Dauncey – Climate Change Author and Advocate
Miles Richardson – Haida Gwaii Elder
Manley Little Brave – Sioux Elder
Makere Harawira – Waitaha Elder
Dan Jason – Author, Founder of the Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada
Bristol Foster – Scientist, and Filmmaker
Paul Dickinson – Chairman, Carbon Disclosure Project
Samuel Bullock – Permaculture Designer & Educator
Hwiemtun – Coast Salish Elder
Chickadee – Ojibway Elder

Wakan Tanka has been commissioned by the Institute for Sustainability Education & Action ( a charitable non-profit based in Canada in partnership with UK non-profit A Purpose for Life Foundation, and produced by Substantial Films, UK. ( .

We are in post-production now and only $60,000 from our goal. We’ve recently launched a fundraising Indie go go campaign.

Please donate today and spread the word on your social networks and in your communities. Together we can make a difference. Thank you so much!

Seed Saving at the University of Ottawa

Good things come in small packages. This saying has proven true many times, but was especially true at a seed saving workshop in late August.

Greta, from Greta's Organic Seeds taught a group of University of Ottawa Students and SYC staff  how to save seeds!

Greta, from Greta’s Organic Seeds taught a group of University of Ottawa Students and SYC staff how to save seeds!

The University of Ottawa Student Learning Garden and Sustainability Office welcomed Greta from Greta’s Organic Seeds to share her knowledge of saving seeds.

Greta shared knowledge and passed on skills of how to preserve the basis of most of human foods – seeds. 9 out of every 10 bite comes from a seed, and saving seeds promotes biodiversity and resilience in our food system. Moreover, saving a diversity of seeds can lead to some of the most colourful and flavourful plants, fruits and vegetables known!

Saving Tomato Seeds is easy and fun!  1. Find your favourite tomato  2. Squeeze out the juice and seeds into a glass jar  3. Add a bit of water and let the jar sit for 5 days 4. Pour out the juice and save the remaining seeds (at the bottom of the jar) 5. Place seeds on a plate to dry 6. Put seeds in a safe, dry place and plant them next season!

Saving Tomato Seeds is easy and fun!
1. Find your favourite tomato
2. Squeeze out the juice and seeds into a jar
3. Add a bit of water and let sit for 5 days
4. Pour out the juice and save the remaining seeds (at the bottom of the jar)
5. Place seeds on a plate to dry
6. Put seeds in a safe, dry place and plant them next season!

For more information, there are incredible organizations, networks and resources available to support seed savers across Canada. Check them out here:  The Seed Ambassadors Project, Seeds of Diversity, USC Canada

Grassy Narrows First Nations Demands an end to Clear-Cut Logging on Their Lands

Guest blog post by Maryam Adrangi, an awesome activist and former SYCer.

On July 31, members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation will head to the Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto and are calling on supporters to join them “in a walk for clean water and indigenous rights.” Two days before, on July 29, there will be a speaking event with Grassy Narrows Clan Mother Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, writer and activist Leanne Simpson, and Stephen Lewis. Here’s why:

It is shocking that neither Canada nor the province of Ontario have recognized even one case of mercury poisoning in the 50 years since the province allowed 10 tonnes of mercury to be dumped into the Wabigoon River, which provides numerous communities with water and fish. It is even more shocking that this river has never been cleaned up and continues to provide these communities with water and fish.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency advise that any spill larger than 2 tablespoons of mercury should be reported to the state environmental agency, and it is mandatory to call the National Response Center. But just north of the border, tonnes of mercury can be put into river systems with little concern about cleanup, remediation and human health – apparently. Citizens of Grassy Narrows, however, can’t afford to ignore mercury contamination.

Grassy Narrows, or Asubpeechoseewagong in Anishnaabe, is located in Treaty 3 territory in northern Ontario. It is one of the communities still facing the impacts of the Dryden pulp and paper mill’s reckless disposal of mercury more than a half century after the spill.
A 2012 report found that mercury impacted the health of 59% of the 160 people examined in Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations, both of which are located downstream from the paper mill. Even among people between the ages of 21 and 41, 44% of those tested have experienced health impacts from mercury poisoning.

The dangers of mercury poisoning made international headlines from Minamata, Japan, after the Chisso Corporation released large quantities of industrial wastewater into the water supply of a community that relied heavily on fishing to support its economy and local diet. Entire families developed a neurological disorder that impacts muscular coordination and can cause birth defects, now known as Minamata disease.

Japan formally apologized for allowing mercury disposal to devastate community health and the local economy, and Chisso was forced to financially compensate residents suffering from the disease as well as local fishing cooperatives for their losses.

A legacy of abuse – and resistance

Members of Grassy Narrows and White dog have been demanding similar forms of compensation for those diagnosed with some level of Minamata disease. The Mercury Disability Board in Canada, however, rejected 75% of those applicants who were diagnosed with the disease by Japanese experts. While disappointing, this outcome is not surprising to a community with a long history of colonially imposed residential schools, dams and logging – known to exacerbate mercury contamination in water systems.

In the 1990s, the provincial government opened up the region’s forests – home to numerous Indigenous communities, including Grassy Narrows – to clear-cut logging. Logging drove away wildlife and impacted trappers’ ability to fish and hunt on their lands, traditional activities which are legally protected through Treaties.

In 2000, three Grassy Narrows trappers – Joseph Fobister, Andrew Keewatin and Willie Keewatin – took legal action against the Province for violating their Aboriginal Treaty Rights. Their case dragged on and the community saw it needed to take stronger action. So in 2002, First Nation members set up what was to become one of the longest Indigenous blockades in Canadian history.

Speaking tours, rallies, educational campaigns and petitions have all helped the community gain widespread support for its court case and blockade. In the meantime, Grassy Nations has successfully forced numerous companies to stay off its territory. Forestry giant Abitibi-Bowater surrendered its forestry license in 2008 and large-scale clear-cuts have stopped, for now. Domtar, the largest office paper producer in North America, and Boise Inc. have committed not to source wood from Grassy Narrows’s traditional territory.

Fighting to Keep Their Forests

But the community’s fight is far from over. The high-profile case known as Keewatin v. Ontario (Natural Resources) was originally closed in 2011 when Ontario Superior Court Justice Sanderson ruled in favor of the community, saying that Aboriginal Treaty rights to hunt and trap supersede the Province’s rights to resources on the Nation’s land. But the Province has continued to develop a 10-year Management Plan for logging in the Whisky Jack Forest where Grassy Narrows is located, in disregard of the ruling.

The fight is once again heating up. Now that the case is out of the courts, members of the community have hit the streets. At the end of July, members of Grassy Narrows will take their demands for justice to the Provincial legislature for the 4th biannual River Run.

At the River Run in 2012, Kathleen Wynne, then the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, spoke with community members and said publicly that she would visit the community, promising to rebuild Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows. Now Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of the Province and Grassy Narrows is calling on her to cancel new plans for clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows territory and to protect the water.

To get involved, lend support or find out more about Grassy Narrows and the upcoming River Run, visit here.

A longer version of this post can be found here.

Student Stories from the Field!

Melanie on her way to the BC Food Systems Network

Melanie on her way to the BC Food Systems Network

SYC’s student leaders inspire us every day. And it turns out, they are inspired too! The following is a reflection from UNBC’s Campus Food Strategy Group Coordinator and a local food hero! 

Melanie’s Reflections: 

My name is Melanie Anderson, and I have been involved in the Campus Food Strategy Project since January 2014 at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, B.C. My experience working with Sierra Youth Coalition and Meal Exchange has been amazing and their continual support has driven a vast majority of the positive changes surrounding food at my University Campus. 


Recently, from June 26th to June 29th I was fortunate enough to attend the 16th annual BC Food Systems gathering in Sorrento with Nitha Karanja, the Healthy Communities Coordinator at UNBC. Though I am currently living in Prince George, I am originally from Ontario, so I have not had the opportunity to travel much around British Columbia. When the opportunity arose to drive through B.C. to a food network gathering I was delighted to partake in the experience.


The focus of this years gathering was Revisiting our Roots: Honouring Our Bio-Cultural Heritage. The three day program featured informative workshops, interactive sessions, and discussions on various topics including, Indigenous land and food systems, farms, and and water protection, seed saving, GMO awareness, year of the Family Farm, and biodiversity. 


As it was my first time attending the annual BC food systems gathering it was great to meet and interact with the key players involved with food issues in B.C. Overall I enjoyed the experience and the new relationships I have built will help me further my work at UNBC. Next year the gathering is being held in the North, so myself along with the other CFSG coordinator are eager to be involved with the planning and possibly even running a session of our own surrounding food systems in Northern B.C. As a Campus Food Strategy Coordinator I am excited to share my knowledge and past experiences while working on food initiatives in the North. 

Edible Campuses

Summer is a time to get outside, to dig our toes into the soil and be amazed, once again, at the amazing colours of pollinators and plants. SYC has the great fortune of supporting 11 campuses across the country with their campus gardens! 

Image Read the full post »

Back in the Saddle!

This week is Bike to Work Week, and I have a confession to make. Today is my first day ever biking to work.

I know! I know! I work for an environmental organization! We are in an office building that has bike parking AND showers for cyclists. Trust me – I’m all for sustainable transportation, I love cycling, and I grew up riding my bike all over Toronto. I was a Tour Leader on the MS Society bike tours by age 12. But then in high school, I got arthritis and I had to give up cycling for a long time.

My arthritis has been under control for a while now, and all the excitement around Bike to Work Week this year was the final push I needed to get back in the saddle. It turns out it was a great idea. I live in Ottawa, pretty close to downtown, and work at the Sierra Club Canada Foundation office next to the Rideau Centre. It was a straightforward ride in traffic, felt about a million times faster than taking the bus, and felt way more efficient than walking. That old expression “like riding a bike” exists for a reason. It’s a skill you never really lose, and even if it gets rusty, it comes back to you really quickly.

I chose to ride through downtown traffic because I’m experienced, but if you’re not, and want to give it a try, Ottawa has lots of bike paths that are perfect for beginners. Just make sure you have a bell and reflectors, and if you plan to be out near or after dark, you’ll need lights too. You can find more info on cycling in Ontario here.

I really can’t recommend it enough – and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I’m not an athletic person, I’m not in the best of shape (though admittedly I’m not in really bad shape either), and I have arthritis. If I can do it, you probably can too! It feels good – both because you’re being active, and because you’re doing something good for the environment.


Safe travels!
Gabriela Rappell
SYC Director

Protect the Poles, Protect the Planet

Guest blog by Leah Davidson, Act for Antarctica Campaign

In 2011, I received a scholarship to travel to the Antarctic with a Canadian-based organization called Students on Ice, which takes high school students to the Polar Regions on educational expeditions. For two weeks, I conducted science experiments, listened to lectures from polar experts, studied animal behaviours, and fell absolutely in love with this beautiful continent.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

Why is Antarctica so important?

  • Antarctica is a fascinating ecosystem containing valuable natural resources, including 70% of Earth’s fresh water. Antarctica is also an environment of extremes, as the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on the planet. It represents one of the last true wilderness areas, where animals approach humans without fear and you feel completely distanced from modern civilization.
  • Devoted to peace and science, Antarctica is a rare symbol of international cooperation. According to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, it is illegal to hunt, fish, mine, and pollute on Antarctic territory. Today, around 50 countries have ratified this treaty and agreed to protect the continent.
  • Antarctica is affected by climate change. Due to Antarctica’s geographic location, the temperature is rising at several times the rate of the global average. When we visited Palmer Station, one of the American research bases, the scientists explained that the Adelie penguin population in the area has plummeted and warmer-water species, like Gentoos and fur seals, have taken its place.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

What can you do?

While watching humpback whales glide through perfectly reflective water and our ship pass tabular icebergs illuminated by the glow of the sun, I started to recognize the transformational effect of natural beauty. After returning home to Sherbrooke, Canada, I put together an arts-based anthology called Antarctica: To Be Inspired with the photography and writing of the students and staff on the expedition. My friends and I have also partnered with eco-friendly companies to launch a campaign called Act for Antarctica. We are donating copies of this book to schools and youth groups and giving multimedia presentations, with the hope of educating 1000 youth about Antarctica and motivating them to undertake environmental acts. Acts could include conservation projects, lifestyle changes or awareness events. By sharing these acts via our website and social media outlets, we hope to convey the message that ecosystems are interconnected; therefore, everything you do on a local level contributes to the preservation of Antarctica for generations to come.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

From Farm to Hydro-Cooler to Box to Plate

Fresh CarrotsBy Sarah Archibald – SYC’s Campus Food Systems Project Coordinator

When we speak of the food system, we often use the sayings “farm to plate” or “field to fork”. Most of the time, we miss out on some key parts of the food systems when we forget to use terms like “modified atmosphere to box” or “ground to hydro-cooling station”.

Excuse me, modified hydro-what?

Let’s start at the beginning… Most of our food begins its life in the form of a seed or spore, it grows in the ground, or in trees and is often harvested by farmers and farm workers. This food can be directly sold on site or at farmers markets. However, most of the food we eat goes through a few more steps before reaching our plates.

Last week, as SYC’s Campus Food Systems Project Coordinator, I joined Toronto’s largest distributor of fruits and vegetables, Bamford’s Produce, on a tour of some of the lesser known aspects of the food system — the packing, cooling, and storing of food.

Though it was tough to wake up at 5:30 am, I realized that this was probably a sleep-in for most farmers and distributors! We met our Bamford’s Produce hosts at York University and were joined by York’s Nutrition Team, Farmers Market Coordinator, ARAMARKs VP Health and Wellness, the Food Service Manager, Communications Manager, two passionate chefs, and a staff member. As we drove to the first site, we had great conversations about our food knowledge and values including why we care about food and local food systems.  Our different perspectives: ecological, health, nutrition, cooking, and economics demonstrated how incredibly diverse food is!

Carrots are washed, cooled and sorted depending on size and packed for supermarkets and kitchens.

Carrots are washed, cooled and sorted depending on size and packed for supermarkets and kitchens.

We arrived at Bradford Produce to the smell of fresh carrots, soil, and wafts of fresh onions. Bradford Produce is a farmer-owned packing and storage facility. Having a cooperatively owned packing and storage facility allows farmers to share machines and collectively gain health and safety certifications that facilitate their food to be sold to grocery stores, Universities, and other institutions.  There are over 100 local farms that send their soil-covered carrots to be washed, sized, and packaged at Bradford’s facility. The cool temperatures and methods used at this facility, including hydro-cooling (essentially washing right away with cool water), will extend the shelf life of the carrots and keep them fresh until at least April 2014.

Sarah Archibald and Chef Abdel are excited to cook up local carrots through the school year!

Sarah Archibald and Chef Abdel are excited to cook up local carrots through the school year!

For our next stop we made our way just south of Georgian Bay – where some of the best apples in Canada are grown! This area, known as the Beaver Valley, has a microclimate that is perfect for apple production: a cool spring which delays apple blossom formation and a warmer fall which helps in maximum growth of apples. Here is where Bay Growers, a packing facility, processes and stores thousands of apples throughout the fall.  Thousands of apples are stored in rooms with only 2% oxygen so that they stay fresh so that we can enjoy local apples throughout the year.

The tour was an amazing opportunity to see the innovations in the food systems and options for farmers to join together to have their products ready for local supermarkets and institutions. However, there is still a long way to go for these systems to be deemed “sustainable”.  It was clear that consumer perception drives apple production, as apples with even small blemishes are not deemed good enough for normal consumption and are turned into juice. Moreover, the processors waxed every apple as they said “this is what consumers want”. The Campus Food Systems Project aims to educate consumers, especially students, about the food system so that we can understand why blemishes occur and which may one day result in our apples not being waxed and being produced with many fewer pesticides. Though going to your farmers market is an amazing option for asking how your food was produced, it isn’t an option for everyone. Distributors play an essential role in bringing food from field to fork and we’re excited that Bamford Produce and their partners focus on supporting local farmers, providing educational opportunities. They were so excited about SYC’s initiatives and hope that our generation of consumers can help drive sustainable food systems.

New Interns at SYC!

Hello everyone! We are Nejc and Hrvoje, two new interns at SYC, staying here until the end of November. We came to Canada as part of the “Thinking Canada” study tour and internship programme funded by the EU. The aim of the tour was to provide students with an understanding of EU-Canada relations and the complex diversity of Canada itself. We visited six cities – Ottawa, Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria – where we met with various private and public institutions, government bodies, think tanks and NGOs. Some of the topics covered include Canada’s cultural diversity (the English/French relationship, First Nations and multiculturalism), political issues (federalism, regionalism, and the role of government), the environment (including old-growth forests and Arctic issues), urban issues and economic issues (business, finance, trade). We are both very lucky and excited to be working with the team!

A little about our backgrounds:

NejcI am Nejc (pronounced Nates) from Slovenia, currently finishing my Master’s degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Ljubljana, where I focused on Canadian and American studies, as well as cultural theory during my studies abroad. Coming from a rural background and a family of hikers (which is very Slovenian) and a few vegetarians (which is not), I have always had an appreciation for the environment. That interest grew as I started taking sustainability and climate courses through Coursera’s online platform, and I am now increasingly drawn to the challenges of sustainable transport and the infrastructure required. Combining the environmental with my geekier side, I will be working on building the Sustainable Campuses database, updating the SYC website, and helping with various other tasks.

HrvojeI’m Hrvoje (pronounced: her-vo-yeh) and I come from Croatia where I study English Language and Literature, and Sociology at the University of Zagreb. I’m really interested in society in general, but more specifically in the solutions to problems we (still) face- inequality, poverty, environmental issues, all sorts of discrimination, politically disengaged youth etc.  I am particularly interested in LGBT rights, racial discrimination, and multicultural issues, that’s why I’m looking forward to working on the anti-oppression policy of SYC. Hopefully I’ll be able to develop it more by connecting all the mentioned topics through the concept of environmental justice (I’ve always preferred the bigger picture). I firmly believe that sustainability and equity are inseparable, and that treating them as unrelated entities is incomplete and counterproductive. If you have any ideas, suggestions or simply feel passionate about anti-oppression issues, please contact me at: