One particular example of a social enterprise that I thought might be relevant is Farmbound. As a result of a permaculture design course project in early 2015, Jaye Coward and Mirielle Gourlay decided to connect local farmers in the Okanagan region of British Columbia (BC), Canada, with organic produce to a small town where Jaye’s sister lived in northern BC. The project was such a success that they realized they could connect local organic farms from the Okanagan valley to small communities that would not otherwise have access to such food, such as interior north BC. They started Farmbound.ca in April, 2015, which works as a distributor, connecting customers to farmers through direct customer purchases. Jaye started a for-profit company previously (in natural products such as skin care), as well as co-founded a not-for-profit community food co-op; both which had marginal success. She’s a determined and knowledgeable individual who works hard at what she does.
Farmbound.ca works as a for-profit social enterprise. Busy individuals or families in faraway regions such as northern BC learn about Farmbound typically though customer networking and social media. Customers purchase food by going on-line to Farmbound.ca and pre-ordering varied ‘boxes’ of produce and other products. Products are almost entirely organic and from the Okanagan region; however, to diversify their offerings, they ship in some product from other regions (such as the US). The shipped product is not always organic (to meet the demand, typically in winter when local produce is at a minimum), in part due to fact that once it crosses the border it loses its organic certification due to international trade regulations. Farmbound’s risks are minimal, as they have few assets and they only order what the customer purchases, thus bringing them to a cash-flow positive state. All risks are on taken by the company.
The key thing that impressed me after interviewing Jaye about Farmbound and her social enterprise was her spirit of entrepreneurism. Jaye found and met a need through Farmbound, and really believes that connecting people who would otherwise not have access to organic goods was one way that she could support the practice of sustainability. Here are some key ways she’s doing that:
- Local economic benefit by supporting local farmers. Local farmers have only a few avenues to sell their product (farmers markets, some wholesale). Farmbound is able to give them large orders for each item allowing them to focus on growth and expansion. Most farmers have more land than they can farm.
- Supporting families to eat healthier and try more foods. Farmbound offers healthy selections in their food boxes, which come with a “surprise” food. The most common positive feedback is that customers enjoy this unique novelty. Typically, people tend to buy the same 10 things from the grocery store. The Farmbound boxes push their boundaries and get them to try new things.
- Supporting the buy local movement. By setting a great example, other locals are encouraged to also buy from local farmers.
- Connecting people with their food source. By going from farmer to customer, people get to know the farms and local produce production.
- Local events. Farmbound supports different events in the communities they service. For example, they’re putting on a fundraiser for the North Peace SPCA (through Farm Bound sales), and a Holiday Barter fest (a cashless event open to the public where people bring their art, gifts, canning, services etc to the event for trading only. As no cash is allowed and it gives people the opportunity to share among themselves without spending any money.
Through social enterprise we can indeed support the practice of sustainability. For more information, contact, Farmbound.ca
– Mike Unrau