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Source: Peterborough Examiner.

Jacob Rodenburg is looking out the large, south-facing central window of the Camp Kawartha Environmental Centre, an innovative zero-carbon building that can still claim some environmental “one-and-only” features seven years after it opened.

While those features make the building a showcase for green construction techniques, they are just packaging for the real purpose of the centre.

Rodenburg and the centre’s staff want to help develop a generation of environmentally aware citizens who feel comfortable with nature and protective of it. It’s all about stewardship, he says, and with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and research help from Trent University the recently put together an action plan for achieving that goal – Pathway to Stewardship: A Framework for Children and Youth.

“It’s a vision of how we as a community can sponsor stewardship together . . . it’s a co-ordinated effort involving schools and parents and everybody to foster stewardship,” Rodenburg says.

“We make the argument that kids are born biophiic, which means they are born loving nature. And there is a little window of time there, where if they have direct exposure on a regular basis then they tend to cultivate that love. But if they don’t, then the window shuts.” That window is opening in front us and we’re are about to get tossed out. Where we’re standing has become the middle of a song circle for 30 children enrolled in the Environmental Centre’s day camp.

Craig Brant, the centre manager, has his guitar ready and good-naturedly shoos us away. The interview moves outside.

The centre is on an acre of land on Pioneer Rd. at the south edge of Trent University. Trent provided the site at no cost, along with access to 200 acres of university owned natural space criss-crossed with trails.

It’s an offshoot of Camp Kawartha, a non-profit summer camp and year-round outdoor education facility on Clear Lake. Rodenburg is the executive director at Camp Kawartha. The Environment Centre was built by Fleming College students under the direction of Chris Magwood, Canada’s foremost straw bale construction expert who was a Fleming instructor at the time. Principal funding came from the Gainey Family Foundation.

Partnering with Trent was important, Rodenburg says, because of the link to its school of education. Teaching future teachers how to instill respect for the environment in their students is a key component of the centre’s mission.

“Student teachers come here, they learn about some of the techniques and strategies for environmental education. They even learn about sustainable living. And then those same students do a practicum, implementing some of the things they learned,” Rodenburg says.

“Then they get a certificate from both Trent and Camp Kawartha saying you’re an eco-mentor, go forth and take environmental education into the schools.”

There are also 30-odd programs students from elementary school to university can take at the centre during the school year. The programs are tailored to mesh with the school curriculum, not just science but history, leadership, recreation and the arts.

Home life is equally important for turning young children into lifelong environmental stewards, Rodenburg says.

“The average kid these days tend to spend around seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen. They are more apt to be able to name 100 corporate logos than be able to identify five things in nature.”

Parents can change that dynamic, Rodenburg suggests. Take children to the many green spaces in and around Peterborough. Create a planter box and grow some flowers and vegetables. Get a humming bird feeder. Put together a nature table that changes with the seasons. Kids can fill it up with what they find outdoors.

“And how you speak about nature is really important too,” he says. “A lot of parents will say, ‘Oh, yuck, put that down, that’s dirty.'” So what are you saying? Are you saying that nature’s dirty? If you start using the language of appreciation, and even of love and respect, that can mean a lot.”

Buildings, however sustainable, eventually crumble. Attitudes can last for generations.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner.