Investing in a green future for La Peche, Quebec

avatar

by admin on August 25, 2010

By Christopher Minnes

What’s my vision for La Pêche? Citizens working together for sustainable economic development in the Outaouais while avoiding the costly mistakes of other urban areas.

The La Peche council plans for a 100-acre industrial park threaten this potential.

Our non-profit Outaouais Environmental Campus (known as Eco Echo) grew in response to the community’s desire for a shared green space and outdoor activity centre.

Established in 2008 by a dedicated group of volunteers, Eco Echo supports the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development (MDDEP) goal to “protect the environment and natural ecosystems for current and future generations” and “promote sustainable development”. In partnership with local businesses and the municipality, Eco Echo can help establish La Pêche as a regional leader for the new economy.

In 2001, I inherited the 160-acre farm that has been in my family since 1973. After five years of research and planning, Eco Echo began developing programs to prepare young people for the green jobs of the future.

We’re creating a regional educational centre, stimulating agricultural tourism and providing a location to welcome businesses committed to sustainable practices. We’re offering opportunities for local farmers to share their expertise while meeting a growing public demand for healthy, organic produce. We’re considering a community of affordable and healthy homes within walking distance of the Wakefield village.

In its first two seasons Eco Echo programs reached over 1,000 people. We held fruit-tree grafting and landscaping workshops, offered summer nature camps, welcomed outdoor groups and engaged families at lively community events. Last spring, a pilot project brought neighbours together to grow fresh fruit in the La Pêche Organic Community Orchard. This has potential for an expanded “pick your own” orchard to attract tourists and supply local markets.

Our planning and partnership development is starting to pay dividends, but there’s a catch. Representatives from the University of Ottawa want to develop programs and build an environmental learning centre to train West Quebec teachers and play host to educational conferences. Agrotop Holdings Ltd. wants to invest in a centre of regional excellence to demonstrate sustainable organic agriculture, but has postponed its decision to see if La Peche council supports Eco Echo’s mission.

I’ve seen this model working successfully, when I raised $15 million for a non-profit group called TreePeople for a cutting-edge environmental education centre. That conference centre and its teaching garden are a vibrant space where municipal officials, politicians, business leaders and volunteers solve community problems and connect with young people.

Eco Echo offers the same opportunity for residents of the Outaouais. Join other concerned citizens who want a healthy place to raise their kids. Share your knowledge and experience at Eco Echo!

Christopher Minnes is co-founder of the Outaouais Environmental Campus based in Wakefield.