Crop diversity declining as world’s large, industrial farms look more alike, researchers find

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VANCOUVER—Large, industrial farms around the world are starting to look more alike, and it’s putting both the environment and food security at risk, new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough has found.

Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.

Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.
Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.  (Max Whittaker / Toronto Star)

This is a concerning trend, said Jane Rabinowicz, a coexecutive director of USC Canada, a non-profit focused on agricultural biodiversity.

“It’s an indicator of vulnerability,” Rabinowicz said, because “the more diversity you have the more protected you are, for example, against a certain pest.”

These four crops, however, tend to be grown as large monocultures, where a single crop covers a large swath of land, often with high levels of chemicals harmful to the environment.

Adam Martin, an ecologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the lead author behind the study recently published in the journal PLOS One, agrees declining diversity is a problem.

“If the world’s farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops,” he said.

While the data Martin’s study used doesn’t show how much genetic variety there is within the types of crops planted — different varieties of corn, for example — he said previous research points to issues with a lack of diversity in genetic lineages as well.

There hasn’t been a mass loss of wheat, soybeans, rice or corn yet, Martin said.

But it could have catastrophic impacts if it happens. Those crops represent a major component of the calories consumed by people.

Martin’s study is based on an analysis of more than 50 years of data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which captured changes in the crops being grown in different regions between 1961 and 2014.

Though crop diversity is declining at a global scale, Martin found it has increased on a regional scale since the early ’60s — largely because more areas in the world started growing the same things.

In North America, for instance, 93 different crops are now grown on large industrial farms compared to 80 different crops in the ’60s, he said.

That finding is more consistent with the trend Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, has seen in Canada over the last few decades.

“If you take Western Canada, for instance, at one time it was predominantly wheat that was growing there. Now there’s a number of different crops,” Bonnett said.

Today, farmers may have a crop of wheat alongside peas, lentils or canola, he said.

"If the world's farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops," says Adam Martin, the lead author of a new study on crop diversity.
« If the world’s farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops, » says Adam Martin, the lead author of a new study on crop diversity.  (IVAN PISARENKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Bonnett added that farmers often try to switch up their crops on an annual basis because it helps improve soil quality and keep weeds under control. They’re also quick to adapt when a new crop variety comes out that may be less susceptible to problematic pests or diseases, he said.

But it’s on the smaller farms where most of the crop diversity lives, according to Rabinowicz.

That diversity has benefits for nutrition and the farm environment. Rabinowicz said diverse crops can attract different pollinators, for example.

She added that crop diversity isn’t just something to conserve; it is also created as new plant varieties are developed — work that farmers are actively doing today.

For a long time there has been a heavy focus on industrial farming, she said, but we are seeing the “cracks in that model.”

“We’ve seen impacts on human health, we’ve seen collapse of pollinator populations, we’ve seen environmental impacts,” she said.

For instance, there have been major concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide commonly applied to corn and soybean crops, on pollinators such as honeybees. Agricultural runoff has been cited as a major cause behind blue-green toxic algae in Lake Erie. And a years long research project by scientists in the U.S. has linked pesticides to health problems in the children of farm works, as reported by the New York Times.

Moving forward, Rabinowicz said, she wants to see more diversity, not just in crops but in the models of farming more broadly.

“Diversity is a good thing,” she said, calling it “the foundation of resilience in agriculture.”

Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank

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Halton police seek public’s help to find missing Burlington man – Hamilton

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Police are asking for the public’s help to find a missing Burlington man.

Halton Regional Police say Ivan Eskit, 67, was last seen leaving his home in the area of Guelph Line and Mountainside Drive in Burlington at around 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

Police say he doesn’t have his medication with him, which he requires daily, and his family is concerned about his well-being.


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Eskit is described as a five-foot-10 white man weighing 200 pounds who has slicked-back grey hair and a goatee. He was last seen wearing a brown shirt, jeans and a grey winter jacket.

Police add that he was last seen driving away in a dark blue 2008 Jeep Patriot four-door SUV with Ontario licence plate BCXV 073.

Eskit also had his two German shepherd dogs with him.


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Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Jared McLeod of the Burlington Criminal Investigations Bureau at 905-825-4747, ext. 2385, or the on-duty staff sergeant at ext. 2310.

Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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How Much Sugar Can You Reduce in Baking? I Baked BA’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies With Half the Sugar to Find Out | Healthyish

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I am a frequent, faithful baker, and, for better or worse, I treat recipes as gospel. A yellow cake recipe tells me to add two cups of sugar and I pour… and pour… and pour until I reach 400 grams, wincing all the way.

So learning that some of my friends deviate by simply omitting a fair amount of the sweet stuff when they bake left me both scandalized and intrigued. It was like that time in college when I found out all of my friends had fake IDs: Hey, you’re not following the rules! But wait, that WORKS?

I had always trusted that the particular amount of sugar was in there for, you know, good reason—and not just for the sweet taste. The more I learned about baking, the more I believed it. Sugar plays a role greater than sweetening, after all: It keeps baked goods tender (hygroscopic sugar attracts moisture, which makes it available to the flour and thereby contributes to a dessert’s soft, melting texture); it figures into proper spreading, browning, and aeration; and it extends shelf life. Why mess with chemistry when recipe developers have done the hard work work for me?

Well, because, try as I might to bury my head in the sand, even I am painfully aware of the growing list of compelling reasons to limit sugar intake and susceptible to the possibilities of a new year. Cutting it out completely is, uh, just not gonna happen, but what would happen if I trimmed a little sugar here and there? How much could I reduce before things went haywire?

Conventional wisdom told me not to dial back the sugar in a recipe by more than one-third (so, for every cup of sugar, you risk playing with fire if you venture below two-thirds cup), but I threw caution to the wind and went halfsies with Bon Appétit’s de facto best cookie, the Brown Butter and Toffee Chocolate Chip. I also made a batch according to the recipe so we could do a side-by-side test. This was science, after all.

I brought them both to the office and asked my colleagues, in a blind test, to tell me which they preferred (and what they thought the difference was). First, and most interestingly, not even one person was able to identify the variable. No one said, “This one is much sweeter”—the differences ran deeper than that. And even though plenty of people preferred the full-sugar cookie, no one said the half-sugar cookie was bad. Had they never met the fully-loaded cookie, they may never have missed it.

Which is not to say that the differences between the two cookies were small: Because the half-sugar cookie didn’t spread as much, it was more pleasing in appearance (fewer ripples), with a pillowy texture that verged on cakey. Most people said it was drier, and some found it a little salty. The darker, thinner full-sugar cookies were chewier in the middle, with lacy perimeters. They didn’t necessarily taste a whole lot sweeter but instead had a deeper, richer, more caramel-y flavor that was generally preferred.

But the opinion wasn’t unanimous. Some tasters, myself included, favored the half-sugar cookie to its full-sugar counterpart for its toasted oat flavor. Full disclosure: Both batches had a ton of bittersweet chocolate and chocolate-covered toffee, which definitely helped to even the playing field. Lesson one: If you’re going to cut the sugar dramatically, make sure you have an element of distraction, be that a sweet add-in (if not chocolate, dried fruit) or a topping, glaze, or decoration.

Fueled by the success of my first experiment in which not a soul complained about a cookie with the sugar slashed, I went on a half-sugar baking spree. In the same weekend, I made two batches of BA’s best banana bread in muffin form and two simple yellow cakes studded with frozen raspberries from the depths of my freezer. I was on a half-sugar high.

The results for the banana bread were as I would’ve expected: The reduced-sugar banana muffins were airier, spongier, drier, and, somehow, taller than their sugared up siblings, which were darker, shinier, and squidgier, with a tighter, more tender crumb. In terms of flavor, the full-sugar versions were more loudly BANANA! The sugar had enhanced, not masked, the fruit’s flavor. The half-sugar muffins, on the other hand, were tasty but a little flat, like when a rich stew is missing a tablespoon of vinegar or a brownie could use a sprinkle of salt. I was also able to make a greater number of muffins from the full-sugar batch: That might seem like an obvious result—a larger amount of sugar equals a larger volume of batter equals more muffins—but I was surprised nonetheless.

Banana Bread

Could BA’s best banana bread stand up to half the sugar?

Alex Lau

I tasted the two variations side by side with a friend who didn’t know that one was made with half the amount of sugar. He couldn’t pinpoint the difference between the two or give a definitive answer on which he preferred. He liked both! Lesson two: Sweet fruits and veg—I’m talking bananas, applesauce, sweet potato, dates—are your friend.

But when it came to the yellow cake, the difference in quality was more apparent. Because there was significantly less batter to maneuver with the half-sugar cake, I had a hard time incorporating all the ingredients evenly. The half-sugar cake had spots of cooked egg white (not quite as gross as it sounds) and it was also about two-thirds the height of the full-sugar cake. It was squat and decidedly not sweet, with an egginess that reminded me of clafoutis and a mochi-like gumminess. It wouldn’t pass as a birthday cake, but I still found strangely satisfying about it. The full sugar cake was a different beast: fluffy, light, sweet, classic. Lesson three: When there isn’t much else to mask the lack of sugar—this cake was just flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and leaveners—its absence becomes much more obvious.

As a reward for his duties, my friend went home with a large portion of the full-sugar cake—he opted out of the half-sugar one, which was okay with me: I ate it all week.

All in all, the half-sugar desserts were much tastier than I had expected. Instead of being met with fire and brimstone, I was faced with baked goods that were a little drier and a little less flavorful. It didn’t seem like the end of the world. Now I’m not going to go totally nuts: Some recipes, like meringue, ice cream, and candy depend on sugar for their integrity, while others, like delicate cakes, suffer noticeably. But will I leave out some of the sugar the next time I’m making loaf cake, chunky cookies, or fruit crumble.

As long as I don’t have the full-sugar version to make it look bad, I don’t think anyone will mind.

Halve the sugar! Or not:

0417-Brown-Butter-Toffee-ChocolateChip Cookie-group.jpg

Using chocolate wafers instead of chips is a cookie game-changer. They spread as they melt, creating thin pockets of chocolate in each layer, and stay much softer at room temperature.

SEE RECIPE

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Canada to host Lima group Feb. 4 in effort to find solution to Venezuela crisis

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Canada will host members of the Lima group of South and Central American countries next Monday in an effort to find a resolution to the turmoil in Venezuela, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said today.

The move comes days after Canada recognized Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader, as interim president of the country and rejected Nicolas Maduro’s government as autocratic and illegitimate.

Guaido, the democratically elected leader of the opposition in Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president last week.

« Since August 2017, Canada has been working closely as a member of the Lima group, which is comprised of over a dozen Latin American countries and the Caribbean, to address the Venezuelan crisis, » Freeland said.

« The Maduro regime relinquished any remaining legitimacy when it seized power through fraudulent and undemocratic elections on May 20, 2018. We now call upon Nicolas Maduro to cede power to the National Assembly, the only remaining democratically elected institution in Venezuela, in line with that country’s constitution. »

The Lima group was formed in the summer of 2017 and includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Saint Lucia.

Canada has hosted the group for meetings before, including a ministerial level meeting in October of 2017.

Election deadline

Freeland also said that Canada — along with Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru — referred the ongoing human rights abuses and squashing of dissent in Venezuela to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office for investigation in September.

She also noted that the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain also stated over the weekend that they, too, recognize Guaido and would continue to do so unless free and democratic elections are held in the country by Saturday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says that Canada will host a meeting of the Lima Group, in Ottawa on February 4th, to discuss the ongoing situation in Venezuela. 1:45

The move to recognize Guaido by these European powers followed similar recognition by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia last week.

Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey and Russia, among others, have not followed suit and continue to back Maduro as the rightful president, accusing the U.S. and others of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

A major oil producer, Venezuela has been wracked by hyper-inflation, food shortages and intense crime since Maduro came to power in 2013. Maduro’s government accuses the U.S. and others of launching an « economic war » against Venezuela, blaming it for most of the country’s problems.

Maduro, who was first elected president in 2013 by a thin margin following the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez, is deeply unpopular.

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 to another term in office following a widely boycotted election last year that many foreign governments described as a fraudulent. His government accuses Guaido of staging a coup and has threatened him with jail.

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Winnipeg man arrested after Ontario police find $800K worth of cocaine during traffic stop

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The cocaine was found during a traffic stop on Highway 17 near Dryden, Ont., Friday, police said.

Officers found 8 kg of drug after vehicle pulled over on Highway 17 near Dryden, police say

Ontario police have arrested a Winnipeg man after officers found eight kilograms of cocaine during a traffic stop near Dryden, Ont., Friday. (CBC)

A Winnipeg man is facing drug charges after police say they found hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine during a traffic stop in northwestern Ontario Friday.

Ontario Provincial Police say they pulled the vehicle over around 11 a.m. on Highway 17, east of Dryden, for Highway Traffic Act offences.

During the stop, police found eight kilograms of cocaine, with an approximate street value of $800,000.

A 29-year-old Winnipeg man is charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine and trafficking cocaine.

He remains in police custody.

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Pet detective called in to help find missing Kingston dog – Kingston

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On New Year’s Eve a Kingston couple dropped off their German shepherd and Aussie border collie mix, Leo, at Thousand Islands Dog Resort before spending the night in Montreal.

When Alex Choiniere and Alicia Fleet arrived back in the Limestone city, they anticipated reuniting with their one-and-half-year old pup. Unfortunately for the couple, Leo was nowhere to be found.

“I’ve never had my dog in boarding before, so I kinda trusted it — you put your dog in boarding for 48 hours, you kind of expect him to be there when you get back. But that’s not the case,” said Choiniere.


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After four days of searching and no sign of Leo, Friday came with great optimism for the couple. Phone calls and Facebook messages began pouring in saying a dog that matches Leo’s description was spotted in a wooded area near the kennel.

According to the owner of Thousand Islands Dog Resort, Leo managed to unlock a gate and escape.

“The dog was trying to jump over the fence and he hit it and it popped open and he was gone,” said Dave Sly, the owner of Thousand Island Dog Resort.


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On January 2, when the news broke on Global Kingston that Leo had been missing for more than 24 hours, Lost Paws Inc., a federally registered community organization and missing dog response team, reached out to the couple and wanted to help in the search.

One of the detectives for Lost Paws Inc. is Dana Dimitroff, and she told Global news that there are a few mistakes dog owners make when searching for their lost pet.

“A lot of people think when they see a lost dog that they should call out to them and that’s the wrong thing to do,” says Dimitroff.

“When the pet is in panic mode, usually during the first 24 hours of being missing, you should get low to the ground, avoid eye contact, turn sideways to make yourself less of a threat to the dog and softly encourage the dog to you.”


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Lost Paws Inc. has been guiding Alex and his girlfriend through the search with tips to draw Leo from hiding, like spreading peanut butter on trees and placing drops of beef and chicken broth mixed with garlic around the area the pet was last seen.

The recent snowfall in the Kingston area has aided in the search as the volunteers, detectives and the couple has been able to follow tracks.

The search has come at a price for Choiniere, who recently started a new job and has had to take off work. But says he is committed to reuniting with his best friend and is preparing to spend nights in the woods until Leo is found.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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For now, optimism is hard to find in Western Canada’s natural gas business

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Shell Canada made one of the biggest moves of 2018 in the natural gas industry by deciding to move ahead with a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export facility on B.C.’s coast.

Construction is underway, but patience is needed since it will take five years to construct. Until then, the industry seems stuck with low prices, a lack of spare export pipeline space, and stagnant demand.

Shell leads the consortium behind LNG Canada, the planned export facility in B.C. 

« The mood is definitely one of excitement [about LNG], » said Rej Tetreault, general manager of natural gas projects for Shell Canada. « It’s a bit muted because the current market is very low and that’s curtailing our own short term activities. »

Tetreault overseas the Groundbirch​ natural gas operation near Fort St. John, in northeast B.C. The company has 500 wells in the area that produce natural gas. Even though Shell is spending billions of dollars to construct the LNG terminal, in the interim, the company is limiting costs on producing natural gas.

Over the next two years, no new wells will be drilled. As a result, production will drop by about 15 per cent because of natural declines.

« We don’t plan on being active in the next couple of years because we don’t feel the need to be active, » said Tetreault.

The planned liquified natural gas export facility in B.C. by LNG Canada, one of the largest industrial projects ever undertaken in Canada, is a joint venture between Shell, PetroChina, KOGAS and Mitsubishi Corporation. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)

For much of the past year, prices in Alberta have been less than two dollars per million British Thermal Units. In 2014, prices were over five dollars.

« It’s still a big challenge out there [for natural gas producers], » said Martin King, a commodities analyst with GMP FirstEnergy. « I think they’re kind of hanging on with their fingernails. »

Similar to the oil industry, there is a backlog of natural gas in Western Canada because of export pipeline constraints. For those companies able to ship their gas to the U.S., they are receiving more than twice the price than in Alberta.

While the industry waits for the LNG plant to be built, King said companies have to « batten down the hatches. »

Natural gas prices have trended down since 2008.

Mainly through technological innovation, companies have been able to slash costs considerably in recent years. Shell, for instance, said it has cut expenses at its natural gas operations by 40 per cent over the last five years, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent since 2015.

Tourmaline Oil has frozen its natural gas production at 2017 levels and has tried to diversify its transportation options to sell into several different markets in North America. Still, a lack of pipelines is hurting both its oil and gas divisions.

« It’s the most challenging time that I’ve ever seen in the Canadian oil and gas sector by a long shot, » said Mike Rose, the company’s CEO. « I personally spend a lot of time with the staff trying to keep everybody happy. »

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Toronto police find body believed to be missing 45-year-old woman Stella Wong

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Toronto police have found a body they believe to be a 45-year-old woman who went missing Sunday evening in a wooded area in East York.

Stella Wong was last seen while hiking with a male friend on Crothers Woods Trail near Redway Rd., south of Eglinton Ave. E. and Laird Dr. at 7 p.m., when they somehow got separated, Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook said.

Police believe they found the body of 45-year-old Stella Wong who was last seen on Crothers Woods Trail in East York, south of Eglinton Ave. E. and Laird Dr., on Sunday evening.
Police believe they found the body of 45-year-old Stella Wong who was last seen on Crothers Woods Trail in East York, south of Eglinton Ave. E. and Laird Dr., on Sunday evening.  (Toronto Police Service)

Wong’s friend then reported her missing, police said.

The body was found shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, Det. Anthony Paoletta told reporters at the scene. The identity hasn’t been confirmed, but Paoletta said police believe it’s Wong’s body.

“Based on the description we have of the woman and the clothing, we believe it is Stella Wong,” Douglas-Cook told the Star.

Douglas-Cook said the identity can’t be confirmed until next of kin identify her.

Douglas-Cook said they have no evidence of foul play at this time and there were no obvious signs of trauma to the body. However, she said it’s still early in the investigation.

“The investigation is ongoing and we will have to determine if the death was caused by foul play or if it was an accident,” she said.

Police remove the body of a woman who they believe is Stella Wong along the lower Don Trail near Don Mills Rd. on Monday. Police had been looking for the 45-year-old woman after she was reported missing in the area on Sunday night.
Police remove the body of a woman who they believe is Stella Wong along the lower Don Trail near Don Mills Rd. on Monday. Police had been looking for the 45-year-old woman after she was reported missing in the area on Sunday night.  (Andrew Francis Wallace)

The discovery was made as police were conducting a high-level search, with the help of drones and the canine unit.

“A Level 3 search is the highest level of concern. We have brought in additional officers and resources to the area,” Douglas-Cook said before news of the body’s discovery.

Wong is 5-foot-5, has a slim build, and was last seen wearing a purple coat, black leggings and brown boots.

“We’re concerned for her safety, because it’s cold out and she was last spotted in a wooded area at night,” Douglas-Cook said earlier in the morning.

Temperatures fell to a low of -4 C overnight.

Claire Floody is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @claire_floody

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She started a program to help newcomers make connections. It helped hundreds find jobs

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HALIFAX—Thirty years into a successful business career, Robyn Webb can still empathize with those who are just starting out.

Her soft voice becomes a bit sombre when she talks about the social and financial pressure on the jobless and underemployed — people who may have families to support, or student debt looming over them.

Though it’s been decades since she faced a job hunt herself, she conjures the stress of it easily because every day she works with people who are in the thick of it.

For the past 14 years, Webb has worked for an economic development organization, the Halifax Partnership.

In the beginning, her clients were Halifax business owners. By virtue of the city’s middling size, many of those businesses were small, and Webb would help them plan and grow. Each business seemed to have its own unique needs, but one thing they all shared was the difficulty in finding the right people to fill their jobs.

“Over the years, no matter whether the economy was doing really well or not so great, one of the top three issues facing all businesses was finding the right talent,” she says.

But Webb knew the talent was available and looking — sometimes desperately — to fill those very spots. It was as if both sides were grasping around in the same dark room and Webb simply thought to flick on the light.

In 2009, she spearheaded the creation of a program that introduces job-hunters to people in their industry, starting with a group she believed was in most need of introduction: immigrants.

Now making those connections is the centre of Webb’s work, and she says helping individuals build the foundations of their careers is what gives her job meaning.

Since its inception, the Halifax Connector Program has helped more than 1,000 people find jobs in Halifax, and organizations in other cities have taken notice. Webb’s model has now been implemented in 35 communities across Canada, working with almost 5,000 newcomers.

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Webb has shared her program with groups from Sweden and Switzerland, and earlier this year saw the launch of the Pittsburgh Connector Program in the United States.

She calls it “intentional networking.” While the ultimate goal is to find jobs for the job-hunters — or “connectees,” as Webb calls them — she doesn’t actually put them in touch with people who are hiring. Webb recruits industry insiders, or “connectors,” who can offer frank advice and direction.

“What we wanted them to do is just to have a connection, have a cup of coffee with a newcomer from the same industry, and let them learn a little bit about the industry: what the upcoming needs are, how do they fit into that, where are the opportunities?”

“And then the most important thing is that each connector that becomes part of the program agrees to provide three referrals into their business network. Then the connectee meets with those three and has the very same experience. So before long, that person now has 12 people looking for them, keeping an eye open for them, and seeing if there are opportunities coming up that they can connect them to.”

Connectors help newcomers navigate the job market in a new place with an unfamiliar culture. Webb says it can be especially hard for immigrants to find work, not because they’re unqualified, but because they don’t have access to the so-called “hidden” job market.

“A lot of (small businesses) don’t have an HR person,” Webb explains. “So how do they mitigate the risk when they’re hiring? It’s by picking up the phone and phoning a trusted person that they know and saying, ‘Do you know anybody?’”

If newcomers only know other newcomers, and perhaps some staff or volunteers at immigrant settlement organizations, then job prospects may seem scarce.

Recognizing that, Webb reached out to staff at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), the city’s largest immigrant settlement agency, and asked them to recommend people to be the program’s first participants.

They found 34 people who were “job ready,” which to Webb means their English is at a professional level and they have a post-secondary education.

She then sought out 34 professionals and matched them up.

“The very first connections that we made, we were very selective as to making sure the connectors that we brought on would be really dedicated to … making those three referrals, because that’s the key; we only make one match, so we really need to make sure that that person is engaged,” she says.

Webb attributes the program’s success to that careful scouting and preparation of connectors.

And almost a decade later, it seems to still be in practice, according to one connectee.

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Abinaya Rajendran moved to Canada from India in September 2017. After a couple of months in Toronto — the only city in Canada she and her husband had any acquaintances (a couple of friends) — her husband landed a job in Halifax and they moved.

Although Rajendran’s resumé boasted a master’s degree in engineering and a few years of work experience from back home, she struggled to land a job in construction — her chosen field.

She submitted applications and dropped off resumés, unsolicited, but didn’t get any interest. It was perplexing to her because back in Chennai, India, that simple process was all it took.

“I got a call, I had an interview, and then I was selected and I got the job,” she says of her last job-hunting experience. “The majority of the jobs (in India) are, if there’s a job, it’s posted online and then you apply and you get the job.”

But credentials didn’t seem to be enough in Canada.

She applied to the Halifax Connector Program in early 2018 and was matched with a local engineer. As promised, that first connection spun off into more.

“It took some time, but I think having met these people I’m much more confident in my job search … because I know what a Canadian employer is looking for,” she says.

Rajendran is still looking for a full-time job, but in the meantime she’s on a short-term work placement in her industry until early 2019, and she’s training herself on software that’s regularly used by engineering firms in Canada.

She says she’s hopeful about finding something permanent in the near future, crediting her optimism to her connectors.

“They’re very accommodating. They respond and they really want to help you. So that’s something that’s really encouraging for a new person, for an immigrant. I think that’s important, that you know that there is a support system here,” she says.

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Born and raised in Dartmouth, N.S., Webb speaks tenderly about the city of lakes where she also watched her kids grow up and paddle for sport.

But the depth of that fondness was cemented earlier, when she left for a short time in the early 1980s. She was newly graduated and moved to Lethbridge where her husband was going to school. Despite the business degree to her name, she struggled to find work.

It was a relief to return home to Nova Scotia after a year, where she started her career in earnest and put down roots.

She says that over the years she’s been offered jobs in other cities, but always turns them down.

It’s atypical for Maritimers to resist moving west. In the past few years, only an influx of international immigration has prevented Nova Scotia’s population from decreasing.

Webb says in a city like Halifax, in a province like Nova Scotia, where the population is aging and many industries are desperate for skilled workers, someone has to show people it’s viable to stay before they’re tempted to try their luck in another part of the country.

There’s a “small window” to attach people to the city, according to Webb, before necessity or ambition pull them away. She’s made it a personal mission to attach as many people as possible to her hometown by settling them into meaningful work.

With the initial success of the program for immigrants, Webb started thinking about how other groups could fit into her mandate.

New graduates are often in a similar position to newcomers: unattached, and eagerly looking for work. So within a year of launching the immigrant stream of the connector program, Webb invited international graduates to join.

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Within a couple more years, a third stream was added for local graduates.

Bo Qin says without Webb’s program, it isn’t likely she would still be in Halifax.

She came here from China to study internetworking. After completing a master’s degree in 2016, she had all the right qualifications on paper — just like Rajendran — but soon found herself working part-time as a restaurant server.

“I just dropped resumés online and even dropped paper resumés in a company at the front desk, but it didn’t work,” she says.

As months went by, she started getting anxious.

A year had already passed since she graduated and Qin worried if she couldn’t find a job before her three-year work permit expired, she’d have to return to China.

Qin grew up in Shanghai — a city of about 24 million people — and says its vast size, the size of companies there and the fast pace of work and life were unappealing to her. “I prefer Halifax,” she says.

It was ISANS — the immigrant settlement agency — that referred Qin to the connector program last year.

Her first connector worked for a cybersecurity consultancy firm and recommended Qin sign up for a program to learn more computer languages. While she was in the midst of those studies this spring, the company her connector worked for started hiring.

Qin was thrilled to receive a call — and a job offer.

Ignoring for a moment the year of waiting and worrying, Qin’s hiring seems about as easy as can be — no cover letter, no formal interview, just a plum offer. But it was only because of the connection she’d made, and she doesn’t forget that.

Webb says the sooner one can start networking, the better. Which is why she’s now working on accepting immigrants into the program before they even arrive in Canada.

“When they get off the plane, they probably have three people to follow up with,” she says.

As Webb continues to push the boundaries of the program (next on the horizon is a connector app), more and more communities are taking notice.

She now spends a good amount of her time sharing the process nationally and internationally because she knows the challenges she sees in Halifax are universal.

This is the last of the Star’s Changemakers series profiling 12 Canadians who are making our lives better.

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter focusing on education. Follow her on Twitter: @tarynalgrant

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A Good Rugelach Recipe Is Hard To Find, So We Made One

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When I think about rugelach, I think about something my grandmother said about me at my grandfather’s memorial service. We were standing over his grave, and she was giving him reports on all of his grandchildren. When she got to me (age 12), she said, “When Julia is good, she is very, very good. And when she is bad, she is very, very bad.” The same goes for most Jewish baked goods, but it’s particularly true of rugelach. (And if you want more explanation on what my grandmother was talking about with that one-liner, I’ll just be over here working on my memoir.)

Good rugelach are made from tender, flaky pastry. They have textural contrast: soft dough playing against the crunch of finely chopped nuts rolled inside. They’re evenly cooked—toasty and golden all the way through. The absolute best rugelach have a filling that spills out just enough to form a lacy edge surrounding the cookie, like the finest, thinnest smash burger.

Bad rugelach is dry and pasty. And yet it’s also simultaneously burnt and greasy. It tastes like it was made sometime during the last world war. And worst of all, it looks basically identical to a good rugelach. You won’t know the truth until you’ve taken a bite, and it’s far too late.

So, I was curious how my colleague, definitely-not-a-member-of-the-Tribe-senior-food-editor Chris Morocco, would unleash his unerring exactitude on this iconic Jewish deli cookie. Turns out, he made a few key modifications to ensure that his rugelach, which are not just any rugelach but the cover stars of the Bon Appétit December issue, would land in the “good” camp—and then some.

One: He adds a hit of orange zest and (this is key) a full teaspoon of salt to the raspberry jam-and-walnut filling, giving it the seasoning it rarely receives.

Two: Rather than rolling each rugelach into its own mini croissant shape, Chris makes one big log, then slices off triangular rectangles (a mathematical impossibility, I know). This makes for a speedier process and a more evenly rolled cookie, which ensures that the center will bake through.

Now, all of this was going fine until I got to the third and final modification in Chris’s recipe, which was to top the rugelach with blitzed freeze-dried strawberries, which give the cookies the sparkly red luster that makes them look and feel so, you know, holiday-ish.

I question what the rabbis would say about this. I also question where one buys freeze-dried strawberries. I also, to be completely honest, tried my hardest not to F up this recipe but also to complete it during actual Hannukah. So please, no one tell Chris, but I made these without the freeze-dried strawberries. And they were very, very good.

Get the recipe:

raspberry-rugelach-03.jpg

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