Reflecting on 30 years of Community-Based Research
By Mystaya Touw
The U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research has a rich, 30-year history in Haliburton County. Although they are located in a small storefront office in downtown Minden, a lot of people don’t know that they are there.
Behind their front door lies a small office space, a few dedicated staff, and a proven ability to make a difference. What you do not see from a glance at their office are their multiple community partners, connections to students and faculty at Trent University and Fleming College, their national and international connections, all the research they have facilitated over the years, and all the possibilities U-Links represents.
U-Links is a non-profit community-based initiative that was born out of existing community-campus partnerships dating back to 1989. These involved work placements and the now-retired bioregionalism course at Trent University. Around the same time, community-based research partnerships were also growing between Trent and its home community of Peterborough through the efforts of Trent Centre for Community-Based Education – today the Trent Community Research Centre (TCRC).
The TCRC has been internalized at Trent University and focused on the Peterborough area, and U-Links remains independent of Trent, rooted in the community as a program of the Haliburton County Community Co-operative. Today, U-Links facilitates research between Trent University and Fleming College and local community organizations in Haliburton County. Research projects span environmental, economic, social, and cultural areas of study and are presented annually in March at the Celebration of Research event in Minden.
U-Links helps local community organizations to develop research project proposals based on community needs that are then promoted to students and staff at Trent University and Fleming College. Most of the projects are aimed at senior undergraduate students, but some can be matched as graduate projects. Projects are then completed by the students for academic credit under the supervision of faculty, the community host organization, and U-Links staff.
Project highlights from this past academic year (2018-2019) include the Calcium Decline, Impacts and Potential Mitigation Efforts in Kawagama Lake project completed by Trent University Environmental Science students under the supervision of Dr. Shaun Watmough, and the Municipality of Dysart’s Plastics Reduction Challenge project completed by Fleming College students under instructor Phil Jensen.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for both land and water ecosystems. Its availability and abundance are affected by acid rain, timber harvesting, and forest regrowth. The calcium decline project was completed for the Kawagama Lake Cottagers’ Association (KLCA) by Trent School of the Environment students. The resulting report, complete with high-quality original graphics, details the current state of calcium in Kawagama Lake, probable causes for decline, and some interventions the KLCA could consider in more detail moving forward.
KLCA vice-president and fisheries chair Adam Pifko said the lake association has “been able to leverage this information to improve communications with our members on this issue and provide additional guidance on what individual property owners can do in the short term to address this issue.” They also look forward to working with U-Links in the future on follow up projects investigating long-term, larger scale interventions.
Mallory Bishop, environmental co-ordinator for the Municipality of Dysart et al, said students from Fleming College’s Sustainable Waste Management Program created a comprehensive report in 2019 for their Plastics Reduction Challenge research proposal that “was extremely well-received in the community and provided a detailed roadmap in our efforts to reduce single-use plastic in our municipality.”
Their report included research on consumer behaviour, potential education and communication strategies for single-use plastic reduction and provided recommendations for a potential plastic water bottle ban in municipal spaces. These recommendations were well-informed by lessons learned and best practices from other communities, including Bayfield, a community that has been deemed “plastic-free.”
Interest from the Plastics Reduction Challenge Report also resulted in an invitation from the Municipal Waste Association for Bishop and U-Links program coordinator Amanda Duncombe-Lee to speak about the project and municipal/university partnerships at the Municipal Waste Association workshop in Lindsay on Oct. 22.
Past U-Links community-based research projects have also been instrumental in supporting the efforts of local organizations such as Abbey Gardens and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. Over the years multiple projects have been completed through Abbey Gardens including two composting projects, accompanied by a demonstration site on the Abbey Gardens property.
The first project, completed in 2012, was the Abbey Gardens Waste Management project that investigated the potential for diverting organic waste from Haliburton County to Abbey Gardens to be composted. This was followed by the Options for Composting at Abbey Gardens project in 2013 that researched options for composting systems and recommended a project plan. Students also worked on projects to develop educational signage, trail maps, and event plans for Abbey Gardens.
Last year, the HKPR health unit undertook three research projects relating to the mental health impacts of climate change and a policy scan to review current municipal policies within the district.
An exciting project for U-Links this coming year is the commencement of the Benthos Biomonitoring Project.
The pilot project addresses the increasing need from local lake associations for benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring, which refers to the systematic collection, identification, and analysis of small aquatic animals that live on the bottom of water bodies. The biodiversity of the collected samples is then analyzed and used to provide information about lake health.
The project is a growing initiative U-Links has been developing with six local lake associations and faculty and students from Trent University’s School of the Environment and the School of Environmental and Natural Resources Studies at Fleming College. U-Links plans to expand the project to several more lakes in the spring and welcomes inquiries from interested lake associations.
Other project highlights for this fall include the Investigation into Plastic Consumption and Alternatives project hosted by the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market Association, which will investigate current plastic use at the markets as well as opportunities and barriers for single-use plastic reduction, and the Youth Retention and Engagement in Minden Hills project which builds on a local community consultation done with U-Links and the Township of Minden Hills last spring. The latter study will examine factors contributing to youth out-migration in the county as well as existing and potential strategies for youth retention.
For more information about the U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research and their projects, please visit their website (ulinks.ca). If you have a research idea that you think U-Links can help with, contact Amanda Duncombe-Lee, program coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note project ideas for the 2020 winter academic term can be proposed before the new year.