2020 Eco Scholars

For the 2020 Eco-Scholar program, applicants were asked to answer two questions.

In the first question they were asked to outline their ‘eco’ activities, hobbies, education and experience.

In the second question, we asked how organic agriculture can mitigate climate change.

Below are the winners and excerpts from their applications.

Aidan Brushett, Wildlife Biology and Conservation – University of Guelph

Through a lifelong passion for nature, spending time in the wilderness, and education and advocacy work, I live by the idea that “my life is my message”.
My work with the Town of Whitby city council led to adoption of a municipal pollinator conservation strategy and gained Whitby recognition as Canada’s tenth official Bee City.

At present, I am chairing a steering committee to coordinate my second Eco-Summit, an event bringing 150 students from both local school boards to the UofG campus for a day of action planning.

Organic agriculture is recognized by peer-reviewed literature, the UN, and NGOs globally as a valuable tool to mitigate climate change across a diversity of perspectives.

Best management practices influence biogeochemical cycling, nutrient flux, and GHG emissions. Practices such as no-till and organic fertilizer use can sequester carbon and nitrogen, improve water retention and resist erosion, and dramatically increase soil organic matter.

There are also many socioeconomic factors that contribute to integrative climate mitigation. For instance, organic operations have a higher female employment rate. Growing gender equality is a strongly supported component of equitable climate action. They also build more resilient, adaptive agroecosystems to help farmers adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

Organic agriculture provides a holistic way to confront climate change with significant potential to redefine human food systems and their relationship to nature.

Maginda Magendrathajan, Master of Climate Change – University of Waterloo

Throughout my life, my appreciation for the earth has gradually morphed into a passion to protect it.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I worked for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s National Agroclimate Information Service for three years.

I learned a lot about Canada’s agricultural sector and the challenges that farmers face as a result of weather and climate impacts.

My work also fed my interest in climate-related issues and impressed upon me the time-sensitive nature of climate change.

I am currently pursuing a Master of Climate Change degree at the University of Waterloo to learn more about real world solutions for climate concerns in the agricultural sector.

Globally, the agricultural sector accounts for 19-29% of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, when people think about climate change mitigation, they tend to focus on switching to renewable energy sources or building green infrastructure, not organic farming.

Studies show that organic agriculture is significantly less carbon intensive than traditional farming while providing farmers with the resilience to overcome climate impacts. Carbon sequestration methods such as crop rotation and composting are also key parts of organic farming and can play an important role in climate change mitigation.

Overall, organic farms tend to be less energy-intensive than traditional farms and use regionally adapted seeds that typically fare better during extreme weather events. Thus, organic agriculture provides a sustainable alternative for feeding the world in a low-carbon economy.

Destinee Penney, Master of Development Practice and Sustainability – University of Waterloo

My passion for International Development grew as I became more aware of the true injustices this world possessed so I decided to enter into the field of development as a career & life purpose.

As a student, the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals became the basis for a lot of my research in understanding the approaches to achieve the pronounced global targets. Today, as a young woman, I continue to follow my passion for International Development through sustainable solutions & approaches.

My education embodies my passion for development & the environment, with specialized focus towards sustainable applications.

In 2014 I traveled to Nicaragua to assist in the construction of a school and daycare center. In 2016 I held an internship in India, in partnership with Parul University, where I began to explore concepts and approaches to sustainability.

Within my undergraduate degree, I travelled to Jamaica and became actively involved in learning more about sustainability and its relationship with International Development.

The time to make conscientious efforts towards a new sustainable paradigm is now.

As a possible solution to climate change, the idea of organic agriculture is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative practice in regards to food security & healthy food systems. The potential of organic agriculture can be found within many of it’s encompassed practices, resulting in significant environmental, economic & social benefits.

Essentially, the idea of sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.

As such, the idea to mitigate & become particularly resilient against increasing climate changing conditions & adaptive to alternative solutions (such as organic farming) is essential for rethinking food productive systems for transformative sustainable change.

Matt Soltys, Arts and Science – University of Guelph

Throughout my adult life I have sought ways to unite environmental and social justice, and to foster a healthier ecological culture.

I’m interested in how different movements intersect, and I’m equally invested in building alternatives, raising my two children, and taking action.

Hosting an environmental & social justice radio show from 2005-2010 allowed me to constantly learn from Indigenous leaders, scientists, scholars, and activists, and earned me participation in the first annual International Youth Summit as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2005.

I’ve spent years running food security projects, trying to be an ally to Indigenous-led land struggles, and contesting reckless developments in Guelph.

Through it all my hands have always been in the soil. I’ve been studying & practicing permaculture since 2005, spent several years as a small-scale heirloom garlic farmer, turned my urban lot into a food forest, and last year I worked as the orchardist at Ignatius Farm.

Organic farming’s reliance on non-fossil fuel-based inputs is important as well, and I see this aligned with the global movement for fossil fuel divestment. Given the extent to which climate change threatens farmers’ livelihoods, I think the organic agriculture movement uniting with the divestment movement would be a very powerful alliance.

Haidi Wu, International Baccalaureate Program – Halton District School Board

I started volunteering with Burlington Green and Royal Botanical Gardens in 2016.

Currently I’m on a team of Ontario Nature Youth Council members spearheading a campaign called Bringing On Biodiversity, in which ambassadors across Ontario are given the tools to bring active engagement with ecology to their own community. I’m also on the Burlington Green Youth Leadership council.

Next we want to implement a biodiversity campaign in Burlington in partnership with the Bruce Trail Conservancy and Royal Botanical Gardens YES Alliance.

Organic agriculture mitigates climate change by being in harmony with the ecology as a whole. By eliminating the harmful ecological impacts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (eg. pollution), we are conserving ecosystems so that they can continue sequestering carbon and providing genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.

Biodiversity is our best defense against climate change. Diverse gene pools can better withstand changing climates, while diverse ecosystems can regulate our climate and mitigate the risk for extreme events such as flooding, drought and erosion.

Lost biodiversity can never be brought back, so it isn’t enough to reduce emissions— we can’t live on a barren planet.

We must mitigate climate change by being in harmony with the ecosystems earth has provided us and working to protect and restore them.