“Even 11-year-olds can make a difference”

Zoë and Edie repping eco-friendly lunches.

If Candice Milroy or Daniel Mellen forget to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, they’ll wheel the cart directly to their car and unload the groceries, item by item, into the trunk. The two are dedicated environmentalists, yes, but — more to the point — they know coming home with plastic bags would land them in the doghouse with their daughters.

“They’d lose their marbles,” says Candice, of Zoë, 11, and Edie, 9. “They’re really passionate about the environment.”

In fact, says Candice, 43, her daughters have expanded their focus beyond plastic bags to food packaging, urging their parents to avoid as much of it as possible. “If my parents — their grandparents — suggest taking them out to McDonald’s, they’re the ones to say, ‘We are not eating that food; it’s not healthy.’ Or they won’t go to restaurants in town that still give out plastic straws.”

Edie and Zoë.

The girls come by their passion honestly: their parents met while tree-planting and still work hard today to minimize their impact on the earth. For example, they plant a huge vegetable garden each summer and try to eat as much locally as possible — including fresh eggs from their backyard chickens. They’re careful to choose greener cleaning products and energy-efficient light bulbs and buy as much as possible second-hand. And Candice, a teacher, leads the Green Team at Langton Public School in Fenelon Falls, Ontario, where she teaches and where Zoë and Edie are in grades 6 and 4.

Of course, the girls are members of the Green Team. Zoë, in fact, is a founding member, along with two of her friends. They started it as a way to find solutions to the amount of trash on the schoolyard. The group began under the supervision of a different teacher; when she left, Candice, who had just moved to the school, agreed to take over.

“As a parent, I try to encourage my kids to be leaders and to pursue their passions,” she says. “But it’s so much better if it doesn’t come from me. If I had said to Zoë, ‘You should create a Green Team,’ it wouldn’t have the same effect. It’s much more powerful when it comes from them.”

Rollin’ around.

That said, Candice is delighted to help out with the team, whose numbers have swollen from 25 to 70 since she came on board. Among other activities, the group has brought in a composter, created wildflower “seed balls,” and built six raised garden beds on school property — five that grow food and one for native wildflower species that support pollinators at the school, which has been designated a “bee school.”

Candice encourages others teachers at the school to use the gardens in their lessons plans. The produce is donated to a local food bank. In the summer, volunteer Green Team families help tend the gardens and deliver the food; in the fall, Candice and her students walk to the food bank to donate the vegetables. “And there were kids in my class who said, ‘I know where the food bank is — my family uses it.’ It is definitely a community effort.”

This past Earth Day, the Green Team took to the streets of Fenelon Falls — population 1800 — to encourage local businesses and restaurants to reduce their use of plastic bags and other products. Several vendors agreed to make the switch to paper bags from plastic or to stop using plastic straws. At the town’s recent Santa Day celebrations, several restaurants decided to offer free coffee to patrons who brought their own cups. The idea, says Candice, came from the students, who spoke to business owners independently.

Candice and Zoë.

“They can see positive things happen because of their actions. They can see themselves as activists. And that’s what you want for your kids: to be able not only to see injustice in the world but also that even as 11-year-olds, they can make a difference in the world, that they’re not powerless. In the face of these big problems and world issues that their generation faces, they see that they can create change in our small place in the world, and maybe they’ll be able to create change on a larger scale one day as well.”

For her efforts, Candice was named the City of Kawartha Lakes Environment Advisory Committee 2017 Environmental Hero. But she thinks the credit is due to the students on the Green Team. She’s thrilled to be a part of this group of intrepid kids, and the mom of two of them. And she’s equally thrilled to see how the community has come together to support them and each other, in ways large and small.

“It’s exciting,” she says. “I don’t remember feeling like that as an 11-year-old. I see a certain seriousness to these kids that hurts my heart a little bit because they live in a world where they do have to care more than we did. But they also have more power and more knowledge about what they consume and what they’re capable of. I don’t think it’s easy, but I’m so proud of them.”

SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.

The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us.

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