A few months ago, islander Kahlil Baker was having a bad day. Things just weren’t going his way and to make matters worse, he had an incoming call from an Ottawa number. The only people who called him from Ottawa were from the government, invariably asking for money. So Baker didn’t pick up. He let the voicemail sit for a few days before finally clenching his teeth and listening to the message.
Turns out, it was a call from the government.
Last week, Governor General Julie Payette awarded Baker the Meritorious Service Cross (civil division) for his work with Taking Root, a reforestation organization he co-founded in 2007.
The award recognizes Canadian and foreign individuals’ meritorious acts.
“Everyone was pretty caught by surprise,” said Baker, who moved to Bowen in August. The other co-founders, Samuel Gervais, Laura Howard and Brooke van Mossel-Forrester, who live in Montreal where Taking Roots began, received the award as well.
“We never thought we’d get something from Canada as almost our work is international,” said Baker.
Baker then added that it’s nice that Canada is recognizing Canadians doing work abroad to combat climate change.
Taking Root is a non-profit organization that uses reforestation to fight climate change and poverty. Working primarily with farmers in Nicaragua, the organization incentivizes farmers to plant trees in underutilized parts of their farms. In a 2017 CBC documentary, Baker said that some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world were happening in Nicaragua and the forests’ biggest threats weren’t large companies but small-scale farmers just trying to scrape by. So the non-profit works with the farmers, helping them economically so the farmers in turn may help the environment.
Baker, who has a PhD in forest economics, is currently Taking Root’s executive director.
“With the support of partners and a local team in Nicaragua, Taking Root has [ since 2007] channeled over $3 million from global partners to 800 farming families in rural communities who are otherwise living on less than $2 a day. This work has created over 1,000 jobs per year for the local economy. Farmers have grown over three million trees on 2,500 hectares of their own land and participated in more than 10,000 farmer trainings. These trees will offset 550,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions of 119,000 cars,” reads a blog post on the organization’s website.
Baker says that as he was the western-most recipient at the ceremony, Bowen Island got a few special mentions as Payette described the geographical diversity of attendees.
Some other Meritorious Service Cross recipients included Shopify’s founder Tobias Lütke and Richard Howard Gimblett, a post-cold war naval historian.