Eco Chats with Matt, or Something Like That

Episode 2: Food Security, a la Chicken

Welcome back to Eco Chats with Matt or Something Like That. Moving from spring into summer, EcoSuperior has shifted its focus a little bit. We have been waging an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of food security around town, including the right to healthy food, the importance of our connection to the foods that we eat, and the interconnected nature of food, environment and community. One of the most high profile elements of this campaign has been the push to change Thunder Bay by-laws regarding urban chickens. Currently, citizens of Thunder Bay are only allowed to have chickens on properties that are zoned “Rural”. In the interest of providing individuals and communities with more control over their own food security, and increasing environmental sustainability, we have been collaborating on a movement to make backyard chickens legal. On June 20th, City Council will be holding a public meeting at City Hall during which members of the public can provide input and opinions in order to discuss amending the by-law. At this meeting, Council will vote on whether to proceed with this initiative.


Food insecurity is a major issue in both the developing and developed world. In the developing world, we see the consequences of food insecurity much more starkly. According to the United Nations, 21 000 people per day die due to famine and malnutrition. That’s one person every 4 seconds. Combined with the fact that approximately 783 million people around the globe don’t have access to clean drinking water, the problem of food security and malnutrition on a global level is readily apparent. However, malnutrition and food security are also major problems close to home. In Canada, roughly 8% of households are food insecure, meaning that they do not have access to the variety or quantity of food necessary for healthy living due to lack of money. This number may not seem that large, but looking at the socio-economic factors that drive it, we get a much clearer picture of the severity of the issue. In Nunavut, about 35% of households are food insecure. 21% of households nationwide whose primary source of income is government benefits are also food insecure. Canadian single-parent households with children under the age of 18 have a food insecurity rating of about 22%. In Thunder Bay alone, we have almost 13% of people living below the poverty line, with close to 8500 households subsisting on government benefits. Basically, poor people are not able to access healthy food, and that is a huge problem.

Globally, the problem needs to be addressed by enormous policy change, and is often at the mercy of geo-political forces that regular people have very little power to sway in the short term; however many cities across North America have been finding ways to mitigate the problem of food insecurity on a local level. Access to nutritious, unprocessed food for low-income households is one key element in eliminating this problem. Many families simply cannot afford to spend the money on fresh produce and other high quality, nutritionally dense foods, especially if those families have several children. Allowing for a grchickens and dog.jpgeater diversity in food control options for families and communities will alleviate some of this burden, and with proper governance in the area of food security and urban agriculture, we can create an environment in which all members can thrive, not just those who can afford to foot the bill.

Allowing backyard chickens in urban areas of the city would be a great first step in working towards greater food security for low-income communities. It is true that for individual households, the cost of purchasing and maintaining chickens and the requisite equipment would be prohibitive for many people for the time being. However, by allowing backyard chickens as a part of our urban agricultural infrastructure, we open up the possibility for chickens to enter into our communities in a more dynamic way by allowing for a more robust and accessible urban agricultural framework on a communal level. For example, urban-garden-chickensmany areas of the city, including places with high densities of low-income households, have community gardens at which members of the local community can grow their own food. Including chickens as a part of those urban agricultural areas would bring the community together in a meaningful way and allow them further access to healthy food. It would also engage youth in recognizing the connection between where food comes from and how it gets on their dinner plate.

Thunder Bay has been moving in an increasingly progressive direction with regards to urban agriculture; drastically increasing the number of community gardens, supporting groups like Roots to Harvest who are dedicated to utilizing urban space for food production, allowing for urban farms, urban beekeeping and urban greenhouses, growing edible urban parkland, and encouraging schools to put in gardens in order to educate children on the importance of knowing their connection to food. Chickens are a part of this larger progressive movement. By taking this step, Thunder Bay would be sending a message that we recognize the importance of strong urban agricultural infrastructure, and are committed to expanding it in ways that can help with the issues of poverty and food insecurity.

If you are passionate about, or even just interested in, seeing urban chickens allowed in Thunder Bay, please contact your local city councillors and email Thora Cartlidge, Senior Planner, by June 20th, 2016 in order to have your comments included in the discussion at City Hall.

Thanks and Stay Green


Additional References

See for more information on national statistics regarding poverty and food security

Visit for more information on backyard chickens and a look at local facts and figures.

The business side of urban agriculture has a reputation as inaccessible to low income people. This article outlines ways that some European companies are making the industry more inclusive and cost-effective – Is Urban Farming Only for Rich Hipsters?

For more information on the importance of urban agriculture, check out Why We Should be Urban Farming – in this video, some urban farming pioneers discuss how they are reclaiming land in Chicago. Their problem is that Chicago has many of vacant lots and a high unemployment rate (sound familiar..?). Their solution? Use the lots to grow food and employ local people to manage the operations.


Eco Chats with Matt, or Something like That

Episode 1: Rain

A month in, and I’m already coming to realize that I know a lot less than I thought…

Welcome to Eco Chats with Matt or Something like That. My name’s Matt Spackman, and I’m the newest member of the Eco Superior team. As a newbie, I’m coming to realize that, despite my best efforts over the years, I know much less about our environmental impact


Yours Truly

and our role as environmental stewards than I had hoped. I’ve decided to start posting on our company blog about all of the new and interesting information I’m gleaning with regards to environmental awareness; I’m learning all sorts of new information about things like composting, community cleanup, invasive species and chemical by-products in our consumer goods. However, because of the big rain barrel sale we’ve been running recently, the main focus of the organization lately has been on rain barrels, and their contribution to storm water management. Storm water is an issue with which I had only a passing familiarity before starting here, but in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a crash course on the importance of managing runoff properly.


The Problemrain

Rain; it’s ubiquitous to almost all areas of the globe, and seen as both a blessing and a curse, depending on where you are and who you ask. However, the role of rain water in the world is starting to shift as climate change and urban development become more pressing and pervasive issues. Cities are especially susceptible to damage from rain water. Inadequate storm drainage infrastructure can increase pollutants in local waterways, precipitate millions of dollars in property damage, cause erosion of lakes and rivers, and increase surface water temperature in waterways creating inhospitable conditions for sensitive aquatic life.

When it rains, the water washes along all of our roadways, parking lots, roofs, lawns, vehicles, etc. As it does, it collects all sorts of gross things. If you see oistorm runoffl or other fluids that have leaked from a car onto a road or driveway, those chemicals are swept up by the water. If you have loose shingles or other detritus on your roof, it is collected by the rain. All of the cigarette butts, dirty tissues, fast food waste, and other litter on the streets are picked up by storm runoff. Any pesticides, herbicides or animal feces on lawns and parklands are swept up as well. All of these contaminants travel with the storm water as it flows towards storm sewers, and they all end up in the same place; our lakes and rivers. Traditionally, most cities didn’t treat their storm water, or treated it insufficiently, meaning that most of the water that flowed into the storm sewers ended up getting dumped into local waterways, along with all of the pollutants that were along for the ride. In addition, some older areas of urban centres have combined storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems. As a result, sanitary sewers can get backed up during periods of heavy rainfall, flooding basements and waterways with raw sewage, causing millions of dollars in property damage and big risks to human and environmental health.

The property damage is obvious. Flooding can result in damage to walls, flooring, roofing, personal effects, and even the foundation of houses. The environmental damage, however, can be more insidious. As rivers and streams fill up with all of this runoff, there can be a significant increase in soil erosion, as well as an increase in surface water temperature. As soil erodes and degrades, it can cause a shift in sediment levels along the effected waterways. Combined with the increase in temperature, local aquatic ecosystems become inhospitable to the aquatic life of the region. Aquatic life often needs very specific conditions in which to thrive, and even slight changes to its environment can cause enormous damage to these populations.

The Solutiongreen roof

Luckily, people and governments everywhere are becoming much more aware of the issues surrounding storm water management. As this awareness grows, so too do opportunities for upgrading infrastructure in a meaningful way. The new horizon for stormwater management is managing rain where it falls through green infrastructure. In nature, rain gets absorbed directly into the ground, preventing runoff and its associated problems.



Similarly, new techniques in managing rain water involve supplementing “grey” infrastructure like storm sewers with green alternatives, including rain gardens, permeable paving, bioswales, urban forests, green roofs, infiltration galleries, rain barrels and cisterns. These techniques are geared towards eliminating runoff and easing pressure on traditional infrastructure.



Locally, the City of Thunder Bay is working on a 20-year action plan to revamp its storm water management infrastructure. For a look at what will be included, click here. They also have recommendations for residents that can help to mitigate some of the effects of storm runoff:

  • Plant a rain garden
  • Install a rain barrel or two
  • Dispose of hazardous waste at the City’s Household Hazardous Waste Depot
  • Do not wash automotive fluids into the storm sewer
  • Pick up after your pets
  • Clean up litter
  • Avoid the use of chemical fertilizers

How We can Help

As to how storm drainage and rain water relate to EcoSuperior, there are a few initiatives  we offer to help you become part of the solution to our stormwater woes. We currently have the City of Thunder Bay Residential Drainage Rebate Program, the City of Thunder Bay Rain Garden Rebate program, and we retail recycled rain barrels at a great price.

The Drainage Rebate Program is a program that homeowners can take advantage of when upgrading their home’s drainage infrastructure. City residents can apply for a rebate that covers a significant portion of project costs when adding a sump pump or a sewer back water valve. For more information, including eligibility and rebate allotments, visit


Rain Garden

The second initiative, the Rain Garden Rebate, is in place to incentivize the construction of rain gardens throughout the city. We offer workshops on the best ways to design and install your garden, along with information on getting money back for the project. We also offer booklets with this information at our office, which can be purchased for $5. You can find more details at


Finally, we have our rain barrels. Rain barrels are a cheap and easy way to help manage storm water runoff. They collect rain water from the eaves trough, storing it to be used around the house for watering gardens or lawns. Rain barrels help reduce your overall water usage, not to mention shrinking your water bill.  They also prevent runoff from your roof from joining with the rest of the storm water as it sweeps pollutants from our yards and roadways into neighbouring bodies of water, helping to mitigate some of the environmental impact caused by urban storm runoff. EcoSuperior offers rain barrels for $65, providing you with free garden water for the summer.

I hope that this post has been informative, and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, you can send us a message via our website

Thanks, and Stay Green


Personal Care Products

We asked Program Coordinator Lucie Lavoie to write about personal care products. Lucie is an expert on chemicals and health, and so we figured she would know a few good DIY recipes. But the lovely guest post that Lucie wrote turned out very differently. Lucie shared her own routine, which gives a great example of how to avoid toxic chemicals and use only products that are good for your health. Enjoy!

My colleague phoned to ask me to write something for the blog on DIY personal care products like shampoos and lotions.  I was quick to point out that she’d asked the wrong person because I use so few ‘products’ that my personal experience is quite slim.  I’m not what you’d call a ‘Make-it-yourself’ personal care product connoisseur.

‘Well, what do you use?’, she asked.  I was reluctant to respond because everyone uses a LOT of stuff when they are doing their grooming.  It’s almost embarrassing to reveal to anyone outside my close circle of friends that I use bar soap, toothpaste and vegetable oil—three items do it all for me!



“More details!’, she demanded.  Well, I just shampoo with water (I guess it’s not called shampooing then).  Every time I bathe, I make sure to massage my scalp very well to remove the dirt and grime.  No grease.  No smell.  No itching.  Nothing to give me allergies.  Once a month or so, I’ll use a non-toxic shampoo that I’ve found by checking out the ingredients at Environmental Working Group’s database. I’m still somewhat of a slave to convention but I refuse to use conditioner.

And toothpaste?  I tried baking soda mixed with a few drops of peppermint oil.  It was ok, but not very portable.  Again, I went for a conventional toothpaste, but made sure that all of the ingredients are non-toxic by checking them out at SkinDeep.  After all, some toothpaste contains microbeads (tiny beads of plastic) that not only get lodged under your gums, but wreak havoc on the Great Lakes because they go down the drain and are not entirely removed at the wastewater treatment plant.  So these microbeads end up in Lake Superior  where they can be eaten by birds, fish and other wildlife. Yuk!


The little blue dots are microbeads.


To round out my repertoire of ‘products’, I use a bar of vegetable-based glycerin soap.  No petroleum in my soap, thank you very much!  And no perfume, deodorants, preservatives, anti-bacterial products, detergents or colouring.  And when my skin gets dry—which doesn’t happen very often because the bar soap doesn’t dry it out—then I massage in olive oil infused with basil from my garden (and it’s good to eat too!)


Infuse olive oil with basil for an alternative to lotion that smells great.


So, I don’t have many DIY recipes for personal care products, but I do have some advice.  Simple is better for you and much cheaper.  And you will look and smell just as beautiful as ever!

Many Thunder Bay Residents Finding it Harder to Afford Healthy Food

 Kendal Donahue is the Program Coordinator for the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy. In this guest blog post, Kendal talks about the fact that food costs have gone up relative to income and that people on fixed incomes face difficulties in paying for food.


“Food is becoming harder to afford for low income people,” was the resounding message from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit’s (TBDHU) recently released Cost of a Nutritious Food Basket survey. The annual Cost of a Nutritious Food Basket survey consists of visiting 5 grocery stores in the city and 1 store in the district to price 67 food items—such as fresh produce, milk and meat—to determine the lowest available price for healthy food at the grocery store.

Read more at Thunder Bay Food Strategy.

Hardy Northern Cycling: What to Wear

This is the second of four blog posts about winter cycling in Thunder Bay. A previous post introduced winter cycling. Future posts will discuss Equipment and Maintenance and Techniques. To download all four posts as a booklet, go here.

Cold and Wet Weather

Dressing appropriately in cooler weather is crucial for an enjoyable ride. The main problem, contrary to popular belief, is not keeping warm, but keeping cool. Cycling is an aerobic activity, which means that your body produces heat much more than when walking. Most first-time, all-weather cyclists overdress.

If you are slightly cool when you step outside, you’re probably dressed properly. You don’t need cycling-specific clothes; just wear thin layers to reduce bulk.

In cold weather, the most important areas to consider are head, hands and feet. These areas are more susceptible to the cold and are vulnerable to frostbite. Be careful with glasses, watches, and zippers. Metal objects touching your skin can cause frostbite.

The most critical aspect of appropriate dress is clothing that maintains your visibility. Visibility on roads is reduced in rainy conditions and winter days are short. To maintain visibility:

  • Wear reflective clothing
  • Wear bright yellow, orange, or white
  • Install bicycle reflectors and lights


Essential Clothing: Head

If your feet are cold, put on a hat.

Between 50% and 65% of your body heat is lost through the head, so it is essential to keep it covered. To conserve body heat:

  • Wear thin, lightweight, wind-resistant toques, headbands, or balaclavas under your helmet
  • Avoid hoods: they restrict peripheral vision
  • Buy a winter-specific cycling helmet
  • Use sunglasses, ski goggles, safety goggles to protect your eyes
  • Tape over the vents on your helmet: or buy a helmet cover
  • Wear a scarf to cover your neck and face
  • Cover your ears



Because hands are stationary, they are very susceptible to cold weather. Warm hands have the dexterity to control the bicycle. To keep your hands warm, remember:

  • Mitts are warmer than gloves – Ski mitts are perfect
  • Use layers of thin mitts rather than one pair of heavy mitts
  • Try two layers – an outer layer of wind resistant mitts and an inner layer of gloves that allow for dexterity
  • ‘Lobster Mitts’ offer the dexterity of gloves and the warmth of mitts.



Warm, dry feet are essential, so wear water resistant, warm footwear to ensure comfort. Some examples include:

  • Warm hiking boots, winter boots, or neoprene booties
  • Wool or fleece socks (not cotton)
  • Avoid pedals with clips, cages, or straps
  • Plastic bags over socks and inside shoes to keep your feet dry
  • Waterproof shoe-covers protect your feet in all conditions.



Keeping your upper body warm is relatively easy. In fact, to keep cool, you’ll want several layers, so choose a jacket that is both waterproof and breathable. Avoid materials made with cotton, as they hold moisture against your skin. Your outer jacket or a shell should be long so it won’t ride up and expose your torso to drafts. It should also be large enough to allow for layers underneath.

Here are some general tips:

  • Have a wicking material next to your skin (base layer)
  • Dress according to the weather: temperature, precipitation, and winds
  • Your shell should be a bright colour and should have reflective piping
  • Underarm zippers allow for better temperature regulation
  • Articulated elbows and shoulders provide a comfortable reach



Your legs are easy to keep warm – they’re doing all the work, but be sure to protect your knees! Knees are vulnerable to cold, and have little padding.

Working cold joints can cause damage. Keep your legs dry and protected from the wind. As an outer layer, materials like denim should be avoided because they retain moisture and don’t insulate. Keep in mind:

  • Waterproof and breathable outer shell pants are best
  • A thermal mid-layer (fleece or wool)
  • Moisture wicking base layer
  • Loose-fitting pants with a warm base layer works for most weather
  • Keep your pant legs tucked in and wear a reflective ankle strap



Radon: Has your home been tested?

You can’t see it or smell it, but radon may be seeping into your home.

Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer in Canada–it causes more lung cancer deaths than secondhand smoke! When uranium breaks down in soil, it creates the radioactive gas radon, which can enter your house through foundation cracks, sump pits, water sources…basically, anywhere your home comes into contact with the ground. Here are some ways that radon can enter your house.

radon house

Why does radon pose a danger in your house (or workplace or school), but it’s not a danger outside? The low air pressure in buildings draws in the radon. Think about what happens if you hold an empty cup underwater. The water tries to come over the top of the cup: it wants to get in. The air pressure in your home draws radon in in the same way that water would enter through a hole in the cup. After radon has been drawn in, it gets trapped and accumulates indoors.

Radon accounts for 16%of lung cancer deaths in Canadians. And the news is worse for smokers exposed to radon, who have a one in three chance of developing lung cancer, as opposed to a one in ten chance for a smoker not exposed to radon. A never-smoker exposed to high levels of radon has a one in 20 chance of developing lung cancer.

 lung cancer risk stat

A recent study by Health Canada estimates that 12-14% of Thunder Bay homes—twice the national average—have high levels of radon. Both old and new homes are at risk, and the only way to know whether your home has the soil gas is to test for it. Residents who spend at least four hours a day in a lower-level or basement living area are most likely to have high exposure. Exposure is greatest in winter, when Canadians spend more time indoors and homes are kept airtight .

The good news is that testing is easy and inexpensive. Long-term tests give the most accurate results and cost $35. We sell radon test kits at our office at 562 Red River Road (Red River & Hill), or they are available on our website. While many homeowners set up test kits themselves, hiring a measurement professional is another good option. You can find a professional here.

AccuStar upright

One example of a long-term test kit.

If your home tests high (above 200 Bq/m3), contact a certified mitigation professional through the Canadian Radiation Proficiency Program’s website. Although there are currently no professionals based out of Thunder Bay, Cenlo Enterprises (based out of Sault Ste Marie) and RadonMatters (based out of Winnipeg) are both serving the Thunder Bay area.

The most common and effective mitigation option is an Active Soil Depressurization (ASD) system, which typically reduces radon levels by 90% or more. ASD systems have a similar cost as other home repairs, such as a new furnace.

Mitigation photo close cropped high res

A model of an Active Soil Depressurization (ASD) system.

For more information on radon, visit Health Canada’s website or pick up literature and test kits at our office.


DIY Gift Bag (makes 1 bag, approx 5″ x 2.75″)

Gift Bag

Who doesn’t love crafting? Learning to make something from scratch brings up some of our fondest memories of being a kid. So as we help spread the word that store-bought wrapping paper is not recyclable, we offer easy and innovative solutions that are accessible for creative-types of all levels. Here’s one of our easiest and most popular green gift solutions: a DIY gift bag.

You will need

2 sheets of newspaper (maps, comic pages, and similar paper also work well)

Glue stick

Ribbon, string, or raffia

Stiffer paper or card stock (cereal box works well)

Step 1

Stack two pieces of newspaper on top of each other. Cut out a rectangle that is 15.5” wide by 8.25” tall. Place the part of the paper that you intend for the outside face-down.

Step 1

Step 2

Fold along the dotted lines as indicated in the photo, creating 5 rectangles across and a fold on the top and bottom.

Step 2

Step 3

Cut two pieces of card stock 4.25” x 1”. Glue them on the widest two panels, just under the top fold. This will help keep the rim of the bag sturdy. Glue the top flap down along the length of the bag, covering the card stock. Since the bag is two-ply, you’ll need to glue both flap pieces down one at a time.

Step 3

Step 4

Put glue on the outside of the 0.5 inch tab on the end of your rectangle and bring the left-most panel over to form the body of the bag. Align the cut edge of the panel with the folded edge of the flap. Be sure to glue down the outermost sheet of newspaper as well.

Step 5

At the bottom of your bag, fold the sides inward as if you were wrapping a present and secure by putting glue on both flaps and folding them inward. Sit the bag upright and press down from the inside.

Step 5

Step 6

Cut a piece of card stock 4” x 2.5” and glue it to the bottom of the bag on the inside. This will make the bag sturdy. Punch holes in the sides of the bag. Put ribbon or string through and tie a knot so it doesn’t slip out.

Gift Bag

This waste reduction program is funded by the City of Thunder Bay and delivered by EcoSuperior Environmental Programs.