Fuser Laura Thorne looks at four local organizations – Urban Roots London, Growing Chefs! Ontario, On The Move Organics, and FoodFund – who have a positive impact on access to fresh food, sustainability, and healthy eating in the Forest City.
Social enterprises or socially-motivated ventures are set up similarly to traditional businesses to earn revenue by providing products or services, but with a twist. In addition to bringing in revenue, these enterprises also aim to make a positive social, cultural, community, or environmental impact. Whether for-profit or nonprofit, social enterprises are solving problems through their ventures
A common focus among social enterprises in London is food. Social enterprises such as Urban Roots London, Growing Chefs! Ontario, On The Move Organics, and FoodFund are helping to increase access to healthy food, healthy eating education, and sustainable food practices throughout the city.
Developing Sustainable Urban Agriculture
As more people become interested in the origins of their food, urban agriculture — the practice of growing and distributing food in nonrural settings — is becoming increasingly popular. Urban Roots London’s urban farm serves as an opportunity for city dwellers to learn about and engage with farming and sustainable food production practices while also providing affordable local produce to Londoners.
Food insecurity — a lack of reliable access to affordable, healthy fresh food — is a persistent issue in London. There also exists a disconnect between growing food and those who purchase and consume it. Mariam Waliji, a Director on Urban Roots London’s Board, appreciates how the farm allows people of all ages to connect to the land and understand the process for growing their own food.
“It’s incredible being able to teach people what it actually means to eat healthily and sustainably,” says Waliji. “Farming is such an unfamiliar concept, in this day and age, that growing food is something that seems really foreign to a lot of people, particularly kids. And it’s not, it’s something you can literally do in your backyard.”
Urban Roots’ distributes their produce using a “model of thirds.” They donate one-third of the harvest to local community organizations such as My Sister’s Place and the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre. Another third is sold at affordable prices to local enterprises such as Edgar & Joe’s Cafe and Growing Chefs, at their semiweekly farm gate sales, or neighbourhood-focused pop-ups. They sell the final third wholesale to local restaurants and resellers.
Urban Roots London has either donated or sold almost 19 thousand pounds of produce since 2017. Guided by their vision of an accessible, sustainable food system, Urban Roots commits to equitably distributing healthy food through donations or discounted rates.
A Focus on Healthy Eating
Growing Chefs! Ontario brings chefs, growers, educators, and community members together to develop and deliver healthy food education programs for children and youth. Adapted from the Growing Chefs! program founded in 2006 in Vancouver, BC, Growing Chefs! Ontario aims to get kids excited about healthy food. By doing so, they are building and maintaining a healthy, empowered community engaged with the local food system.
For Co-Founder and Executive Director Andrew Fleet, Growing Chefs! is about helping young people gain an appreciation for food and connect with food in a positive way. “Our food system is so fragile, and we take it for granted and don’t understand it,” says Fleet. “But food is like art and music and sport – it transcends language and culture, and yet at the same time, helps to define culture. It is one of the great unifiers in the world, and people instinctively want to connect with their food.”
A charitable organization, Growing Chefs! Ontario generates over 55% of its income through its social enterprise ventures, including The Beet Café, Events at Growing Chefs! HQ, and Know Your Roots Summer Camp. The revenue from these initiatives helps to offset the costs of the educational programs offered by Growing Chefs!
Bringing Healthy, Sustainable Food Home
In the past six months, grocery delivery services have seen immense interest, thanks to COVID-19. And in London, there are options that provide healthy food while making a positive impact on the community.
Founded in Old East Village in 2008, On The Move Organics (OTMO)’s mission is to deliver sustainable food and strengthen community. Due to their hands-on approach to sourcing food from local farmers and producers, OTMO offers a large selection of healthy local organic food while contributing to a sustainable local food system. As an environmentally-focused social enterprise, OTMO puts the earth first, “not because it’s more profitable, but because we are aware of the climate emergency and the destructive nature of the conventional food system, and we want to work for change.” Their commitment includes their mandate to source from local, organic, and small-scale producers, decreasing waste in packaged foods, maintaining a compost program, and utilizing sustainable delivery methods, including by bicycle.
Similarly, FoodFund was established in 2018 to counteract excessive waste in the food system. After witnessing a large grocery chain throwing out mass amounts of food, founder Divyansh Ojha asked himself, “Why do 1 in 8 Canadians struggle to put food on the table when millions of pounds of it is thrown away ruthlessly?” Ojha partners with local farmers and suppliers to buy produce at a discount that is surplus or has superficial imperfections. The fruits and vegetables are sold and delivered weekly in harvest boxes. In addition, FoodFund works with its partners to donate produce to those in need. Through its enterprise, FoodFund reduces food waste while also increasing the accessibility of healthy produce for those in the area.
Why Social Enterprises?
Social enterprises are working to solve a social, environmental, or community problem. Providing revenue-generating products or services is a creative way to fundraise and ensure sustainability while also making an impact. Growing Chefs’ Fleet says he can see more nonprofits explore social enterprises further as a means to support their work.
Social enterprises are also working together to support each other. For example, chefs from Growing Chefs! Ontario and Rebel Remedy will be preparing Urban Roots London’s annual Harvest Dinner. The fundraiser, happening on Sunday, September 27, allows Urban Roots to continue to meet the community’s changing and growing needs in terms of food security, poverty, and accessibility.
Social enterprises aren’t just do-gooders: they measure their success by social impact indicators as well as profit. And Urban Roots London’s Waliji wants more enterprises to ask themselves how they can positively impact their community. “When your organization is focused on more than just a profit margin and has an intent to support the community that you’re in, it’s just as valuable as making revenue or being financially viable. It’s important to think about how you can support your community as a business, and how can you run your business to do so?”
Learn more about local social enterprises and the supports that exist through the Pillar Nonprofit Network here.
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Feature photo courtesy of Urban Roots London