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Lynn Oliphant The Craik Sustainable Living Project
|Photo: Green Party of Canada|
The Craik Sustainable Living Project
Sustainable Living, 2005
Beneficiary: Saskatchewan Eco Network, $5,000 award
"Canada is poised to be a leader in sustainability. If it can't
happen here, it can't happen anywhere."
A retired professor, a raptor expert, a bluegrass musician,
a Green Party candidate, a specialist in straw-bale house
construction — Lynn Oliphant is many things. To the
citizens of Craik, Sask., however, he's the man who's helping
save their town.
A zoologist by training, Oliphant came to the University
of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon from the United States in 1971
to teach at its veterinary medicine college. He arrived with
strong ideas on the environmental challenges facing the human
community, and these only intensified over his 28-year career.
But Oliphant's long-term involvement in a peregrine-falcon
recovery program proved to be the turning point. "I realized
that you cannot fix environmental ills in isolation," he
says. "No amount of single-species rescue can address the
harm we do day to day. There's only one species we need to
manage — the human species. Before human impact, everything
else was taking care of itself."
Reducing that impact became Oliphant's mission. In the late
1990s, he and a few likeminded people formed the Prairie
Institute for Human Ecology PIHE) and began to share and
explore ideas on sustainability that had been deemed too
radical for the university lecture hall.
The PIHE message resonated with the people of Craik. Like
other rural communities, the town was in decline due to drought,
low grain prices and a livestock-industry crisis. "Rural
communities die because of economic leaks," says Oliphant. "First
the money goes, and then the people follow."
Tiny Craik, however, is not prepared to go quietly. Under
Oliphant's guidance, the town is reinventing itself as a
sustainable, alternative community. Straw-bale housing, low-input
greenhouse food production, community-supported gardens and
energy-efficient retrofits are all on the agenda. The year-old
557-square-metre Eco-centre, with restaurant and meeting
rooms, is the town's hot spot for education and demonstrations
on sustainability. Upcoming: an eco-housing development,
an environmentally friendly golf course and hemp cultivation
and production for a Vancouver company called Hemptown Clothing
"Canada is poised to be a leader in sustainability," Oliphant
says. "We're well educated. It's still roomy here, and we
have tremendous resources. If sustainability can't happen
here, it can't happen anywhere."