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In early 2011, while visiting our relatives’ farm near Melancthon in Dufferin County, Ont., my wife and I learned about the now infamous “mega quarry” proposal tabled by The Highland Companies, which were looking to turn the area’s rolling hills into one of the largest open-pit excavation sites in North America. This project involved drilling a pit deeper than Niagara Falls beneath the area’s fertile farmland, and permanently disrupting the source water for five pristine rivers.
My wife Blaine and I decided that this could not happen on our watch, and we took on a role as volunteer strategists for opponents of the mega quarry. Conversations with neighbours, the farmers of Mulmur and Melancthon who had not sold their land to the Highland Companies, revealed a tale of David versus Goliath. Potato farmer Dale Rutledge showed us woodlots that the quarry proponents had carved up to circumvent laws preventing complete woodlot removal. Fifth generation farmers, Ralph and Mary Lynn Armstrong, had been approached and encouraged to “retire to Florida” by people wishing to buy their farm under the guise of creating a giant potato farm.
Not being traditional “activists,” we formed a rabble-rousing group of communicators, all volunteers, and called ourselves the Comm Comm (Communications Committee). From early 2011 onward, we met several times a month to plot what were essentially marketing strategies to create a movement to appeal to everyone who valued food and water.
Highland was backed by a $25-billion hedge fund and had hired a multi-national PR agency. We, by contrast, were a handful of people sitting around the kitchen table, with no funding, trying to fit in an ambitious campaign between the realities of work and family life.
What we did have was imagination and audacity. My wife is a social media strategist and marketer. I am a producer, film-maker and photographer. We understand how to tell stories. Our group also included journalists, artists and other collaborators.
We photographed Hollywood celebrities, chefs, musicians, Olympians, all posing with “Stop the Quarry” signs. American media picked up our photos of local farmers who had disrobed and posed for the camera. During the Academy Awards, we launched an online campaign to highlight the achievements of our movement, and presented a golden “Tater” award to deserving volunteers. “Artists Against the Mega Quarry” mounted exhibits around the city to raise profile for the cause.
For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/23/jason-van-bruggen-how-the-war-against-the-mega-quarry-was-won/