Paul and Yvonne Day have planted more than 18,000 trees, enhanced wetlands and protected the Canagagigue Creek from runoff on their farm near Goldstone.
GOLDSTONE -- The great-great-grandson of a Drayton-area pioneer is healing scars his ancestors inflicted on the land more than 150 years ago.
For their efforts, Paul Day and his wife, Yvonne, were recently honoured by the Grand River Conservation Authority with one of five awards for environmental achievement.
It was in 1845 that Paul's ancestor, William Day, an Irish immigrant who had moved to Guelph in 1843, walked to Goldstone, east of Drayton.
He was in search of a new home and found Goldstone covered in hardwood forest. Five generations of Days would be raised there.
"The farm was carved out of the bush by my ancestors. . . . By the 1870s, the whole area had been denuded," Paul Day said.
At times, the family kept dairy and beef cattle, but now Day rents 80 of the 100 hectares to farmers who grow cereal and corn crops. The rest is in pasture, orchards and bush.
Day focuses his attention on his heritage apple orchard and extensive conservation efforts on and off the farm. He lived in Waterloo for much of his adult life, but always had an attachment to the bush.
"It was always my favourite place when I grew up. It was someplace I could escape to."
Day was a business teacher for 30 years, teaching marketing at Conestoga College, but he said he no longer believes some of the things he taught.
"In the business world today, there is pressure to maximize everything in terms that don't take into account the value of the environment that we are exploiting.
''Now I look more to sustainability."
Since 1973, with some help from government funding, the Days have planted 18,000 to 20,000 trees on the farm, created grass and tree buffers to prevent runoff into the Canagagigue Creek, fenced livestock away from the creek, dug a second pond and enhanced a wetland area on the property.
They moved back to the farm in 1986 and at the same time bought back a section of land that had been sold by the family 15 years earlier.
They've established a small nursery and use their two ponds to water newly planted trees.
Day claims, with pride, an 80 per cent survival rate for his newly planted trees, even during last year's drought.
He had a second well dug and rehabilitated an old windmill for power to pump water to the trees.
Day is also experimenting with butternut, heart and hazel nut trees planted along the Canagagigue Creek.
He hopes to harvest the nuts at some point, but in the meantime the trees stabilize the creek bank and help absorb nutrients that otherwise would be washed into the creek.
The same care and respect for nature is evident in the heritage apple orchard where he grows 25 to 30 species of apples, many of them now quite rare. Composted horse manure fertilizes the soil, and organic measures control pests.
One branch of the Canagagigue rises as a stream on the Day farm, joins with a second branch and then meanders south, eventually flowing into the Grand River.
The creek is contaminated by farm runoff north of Elmira and industrial chemicals as it flows through the Crompton Company site (formerly Uniroyal) among others in Elmira.
Day hopes to have property owners and community groups join a comprehensive rehabilitation scheme to restore the entire creek.
His motto about leaving things in better condition than he found them extends beyond the farm gate.
He was a founding member of the Wellington stewardship council about 10 years ago.The group commissioned a study that found the former Peel Township has less tree cover than anywhere else in Wellington County.
Tree cover is important because it provides habitat for wildlife and buffers for crops, and can increase yields by 15 to 20 per cent.
In that study, Peel Township, now amalgamated with Maryborough Township to become Mapleton, had seven or eight per cent tree cover compared to 15 per cent for the county, when it should have 25 per cent, Day said.
The findings led to the formation of another group, Trees for Peel.
With the support of a millennium grant, Trees for Peel published a book about the township history and the proceeds financed a tree-planting program.
Approximately 14,000 trees were planted under that program last year and funding is available for another 14,000 this year, Day said.
The stewardship council is now embarking on a project to establish a nursery that will provide seeds not available in commercial nurseries.
Day said the plan calls for school children to collect seeds and work with environmental and community groups on the project.
Day also works with the Wellington County Society for the Countryside, which offers workshops and lectures on how to enhance country properties in an environmentally savvy way.
And he's involved with initiatives of the Maitland Conservation Authority, encouraging citizens and landowners in resource management.
Yvonne Day recently opened a bed and breakfast business.
"We've had some people from the United States who really enjoy just taking a walk on the farm," Paul said. "It is something we can do to bridge the gap between urban and rural people."
FIVE AWARD WINNERS
The Grand River Conservation Authority recently honoured five individuals or groups for their efforts to improve the watershed.
Besides Paul and Yvonne Day, the winners include Chuck and Marcia Dew of Oxford County, Warren Stauch of Kitchener, McNeil Consumer Healthcare of Guelph and Mary Johnston Public School in Waterloo.
The Dews built a cattle crossing to keep livestock out of Kenney Creek; worked with the Brantford Steelheaders to remove debris from the creek; planted trees in a buffer strip, reduced the potential of manure runoff into the creek and practise sustainable forestry in the bush on their land.
Warren Stauch taught geography for 30 years in Waterloo Region and brought his lessons to life by taking students out to study the geography of the watershed. In retirement, his passion for the river and its history continues.
(Editor's note: A letter from Stauch is included in the Readers' Choice column on Page G2.)
McNeil Consumer Healthcare in Guelph reduced its water consumption by 79 per cent and wastewater by 88 per cent over a seven-year period.
The company, part of the Johnson and Johnson family of health-care companies, also cut solid waste by 77 per cent and reduced toxic chemical releases by 95 per cent in a nine-year period.
At Mary Johnston School, parents and children did extensive tree, shrub and wildflower plantings at the front of the school and established a buffer of trees between the school and neighbouring homes.
The plantings reduced rainfall runoff, increased groundwater infiltration and provided shade for students.