I got the supreme compliment Oct. 21 at the second annual Tri-Valley Conservation Awards Gala held in the spectacular meeting room in Almonteís Old Town Hall.
I was inadvertently referred to as a farmer when being called up for one of the awards. I never have been a farmer, but I probably should have been going by the way I admire that particular calling.
I walked around the awards reception for the rest of the evening with a swollen head, not so much because I won the individual category for environmental contributions, but because I was mistaken for a farmer.
"Sorry we called you a farmer," someone apologized. "We know youíre not one. It was a slip of the tongue."
"Shhh!," I retorted hoping none of the strangers in the room overheard me being outed. "Iíve been called much, much worse."
The gala was launched as a way of recognizing the volunteer environmental contributions of residents in a vast part of Eastern Ontario, including the City of Ottawa. It covers territory managed by South Nation Conservation based at Finch, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority based at Manotick, and Mississippi Valley Conservation based at Lanark Village.
"I donít envy the judges," said Russell Township mayor Ken Hill, who attended in his capacity as SNC chairman, of the difficult task of selecting two finalists in seven categories: Primary School; Intermediate/High School; Agriculture; Community Groups; Individuals; Businesses; and Municipalities.
First-place finishers received commemorative paddles, compliments of Mountain Equipment Co-Op, while those in second place got framed certificates.
This wannabe farmer won a paddle for his many years as a "keen representative of the agricultural and conservation community" through his reporting and other activities, including membership on SNCís communications committee and the Raisin-South Nation Source Protection Committee.
Iíve got to say that the old clichť about people being surprised to be nominated for just doing their jobs and didnít think anybody was noticing is absolutely true. Thatís exactly how I felt. And it was reward enough simply to be nominated by my old pal Barclay Cormack, never mind actually winning.
On top of that, to be in the same one-two company of finalists with Lindley McPhail... that made it even more special. Russell and District Historical Society president McPhail was understated as a "doer" who beautifies parks and works closely with young people to instill environmental values and good stewardship.
A "steward of the earth", sheís largely responsible for the new dry stone bridge in Russell Villageís MacDougall Park built using an age-old mortar-less technique incorporating farm field granite to form a fitting monument to our pioneer past.
There were some genuine farmers and farm related activities that won big at the gala, including Stanlee Farms of Avonmore which grabbed a paddle, while Oak Valley Pioneer Park volunteers in the Winchester area earned a certificate.
Stanlee owners Jim and Nancy Wert were cited as exemplary leaders in on-farm Best Management Practices, providing a legacy in family land stewardship going back to 1864. The Werts offer regular tours of their 400-Holstein operation and lead by example in their community.
The Oak Valley crew was singled out for transforming over close to 30 years a neglected parcel of land into a thriving arboretum, public park, and educational facility specializing in nut trees.
Under "Business", Lafleche Environmental was runner up for its work in implementing at Moose Creek the most environmentally sustainable and economically durable waste management practices from around the world in its state-of-the-art landfill site.
In only two short years, the Tri-Valley Conservation Awards have rightly put the spotlight on farmers and other primarily rural residents of Eastern Ontario striving to make this part of the world a better place, one step at a time.
And, say Gala organizers, they do it with little or no fanfare... unless, of course, they happen to have their own newspaper column.