Hey everyone, and welcome! My name’s Sam and I work here at Common Good Solutions. I’m going to be letting you in on what’s going on with CGS and the social enterprise community. I’ll be talking about the kind of work we do, what we’re up to, and who we are! There’s quite the cast of characters here in the office, and I’ll do my best to eventually capture them all for you here. No, really. I’ve set out traps.
To inaugurate this blog, I’d like to give a recap of some of what happened in July, because it was a pretty full month for us. In relating events that we’ve been a part of, or the stories of those we’ve worked with, I hope to give you an idea of the kind of work we’re helping to make happen. Here at the office, we’re just one part of the story. It’s every last person involved who make up the larger picture that is social enterprise in Nova Scotia.
So. Let me start by saying that “Conference Week,” as it came to be known, was a wild one. There were more than a couple of lobster hangovers by the end of it, to say the least. All of us staff attended a couple of conferences--one in Sydney at Cape Breton University, and one on PEI: the Film, Food and Ideas Festival, Social Enterprise Youth Conference. I myself went to Cape Breton, to the Community Innovation and Social Enterprise Conference hosted by the wonderful Cape Breton University.
We in the Cape Breton contingent did more than just the conference (and I’m not talking about karaoke at the Sydney Legion, but that’s another story). On Tuesday of Conference Week, myself, Angela and (other) Sam loaded ourselves onto a coach bus filled with youth from across the province, bound for the Cape and a youth event focused on the application of social enterprise to localized community issues. We all attended the conference at CBU, but what we accomplished together before that was quite something.
We had picked up wonderful young people from Yarmouth, Annapolis Valley, Halifax, Paq’tnkek, Antigonish--all over the province--and after spending the night in residence at CBU, we headed up the road Wednesday morning to Glace Bay to join even more young folks and bright minds at the Undercurrent Youth Centre.
Arriving in style, and by style I mean careening through the tight streets of the small town in a giant coach bus (piloted by the ever-trusty Paul), the more than fifty of us crowded into the small gym that was the Centre. There we were met by Mike Kelloway from Bay it Forward, a Glace Bay organization concerned with local development through community collaboration. Check out their work through their Facebook group. To organize this event, Bay it Forward partnered with SENNS, the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia (visit their website www.senns.ca to learn about all that they are doing to build a supportive network across the province). Our role as the CGS team was to facilitate the day-long workshop.
Once inside, we were reunited with Chloe, Rebecca, and Colin, yet more CGS-ers who had been making the magic happen up in Cape Breton. Rebecca and Colin were leading the day’s sessions, and we began with ice-breakers, a form of “networking,” as Rebecca put it. It was, perhaps, a tame introduction to the kind of fast-paced networking some of those kids might be introduced to if they stick around the enterprise world. I flung a couple of business cards around, but mostly for the novelty of having business cards, which we had printed from Staples in the space of four hours the day before.
After shaking up the participants to get everyone sitting with people they didn’t already know, we got right into identifying the primary issues in our different communities. At the table I was facilitating, we had no two people from the same community, so there were a diversity of opinions on the problems facing each region.
Common themes emerged, however: we landed on youth boredom/engagement, food accessibility, and racism/gentrification as major issues across multiple regions. Identifying the problems was, relatively, the easy part. We can often see quite clearly the issues in our home communities.
Problems having been identified, we needed the tools to address them. After lunch, Colin and Rebecca equipped us by giving their presentation on Social Enterprise 101. For many of the participants, this was their first time hearing about social enterprise--about business ventures as a way of addressing social issues. Good thing, too, because then we met back in our groups to come up with socially enterprising ideas to address the problems we had identified together earlier.
The one my group developed was a community farming enterprise we hoped would address the problems we had identified: youth engagement, food security, and gentrification. The youth from across the province, be they from Yarmouth or the reserve in Paq’tnkek, had all said there were problems stemming from a lack of things for young people to do, and that often led to issues with mental health, and engagement with drugs and alcohol.
One participant in our group had an educational background in agriculture, and pointed out that gardening was proven to be correlated with a lower instance of mental illness, as well as being a great (and perhaps lucrative) way to spend your time. Another of our group living and working in the North End of Halifax pointed out that a product of gentrification, of pushing people out of their home communities into fringe areas, is often a lack of food security. In such cases, there may not be a grocery store within walking distance, and virtually no access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food.
Our green-thumbed member, being from a rural area that was not also an agricultural one, stated a concern that many places in Nova Scotia do not have soil that is fertile enough to grow crops. With the Annapolis Valley being one of the most verdant places in the country, it may be easy to forget that a lot of our province is rocky, with a very thin layer of topsoil.
An idea, flowing in a glowing stream of particles from the ten brains sitting around the table, began to take tangible form.
What if, we thought, there was a way to engage youth by producing fresh food for those who don’t have access to it, while providing a physical site that addresses the prevalence of mental illness? AND that actually turns a profit?
Now that sounds like a tall order. But you shoot for the moon, you may land on earth, and that’s what we were going for. Indeed, what we came up with was in fact earth--not in the ground, but in greenhouses. One greenhouse, to start, as a base of operations, but eventually with the capacity to create and offer smaller greenhouse kits to be set up in people’s yards, in schoolgrounds, on church properties--you name it.
One of the social aspects of this enterprise would be to offer employment opportunities for those people living with mental illness and who face barriers to employment, while providing a workplace where they may find some respite from their illness in a supportive community. Youth may also be employed or volunteer their time, especially in the establishment of the first central greenhouse. Free workshops and training sessions on growing food would be offered there by knowledgeable employees and volunteers.
Once goods start to be produced by the greenhouse, a market day would be established when they could be sold to generate profits to continue funding the enterprise and offering greenhouse kits for free to those who cannot afford them. The coolest part (in my opinion) would be the eventual capacity to assemble the moderately-sized greenhouse kits in places around a community, offering youth and anyone the chance to learn to grow their own food, and participate by selling produce from satellite market stands on the agreed-upon market day.
Just think. Fresh produce being offered, seasonally perhaps on a weekly basis, all around communities where it is needed the most, be they non-agricultural or marginalized by the march of blind progress.
Are all of the kinks worked out of this idea? Of course not. Do we actually know how it would get off the ground and make any money? No, not exactly. But is it possible? Yes, entirely.
Because a group of engaged youth met each other one day, brought their ideas and experience together, and in the space of a few short hours were able to develop a feasible social enterprise addressing various complex social issues. That isn’t where this process ends, of course, it’s only where it begins. But if this is the kind of idea that starts out of a single day’s work, then with dedication, funding, and a lot of heart, I have no doubt that much will come out of Nova Scotia’s youth.
That’s my opinion. Feel free to join me in it.
Written by: Sam Krueger
Sam Krueger is from Toronto and lives and writes in Halifax. He has spent the summer conducting research at Common Good Solutions HQ for the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, and is excited to bring a voice to the office, its people, and Nova Scotia’s social enterprise community.