Heather Johnstone jokes that leaving her early career as an anthropologist on British Columbia’s Northwest coast to become a farmer was simply “a transition from one career working in the dirt to another.”
Three years ago, Johnstone’s passion for rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty took her down yet another career path, that of the social entrepreneur. In her current role as manager of the Edible Garden Project at the North Shore Neighbourhood House, she is one of three finalists competitively selected to pitch their mission-based business at Enterprising Non Profit’s Fifth Annual Social Enterprise Heroes event.
The event takes place at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts Centre on March 27th—officially Social Enterprise Day in British Columbia—capping off a full day dedicated to social enterprise in BC. [See our previous article about the event here.]
Speaking in front of a public audience while pitching a panel of four judges for prizes, Johnstone will discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by the Edible Garden Project’s Loutet Farm, a half-acre urban farm on public farmland now entering its third growing season. The farm project was founded as a partnership between the North Shore Neighbourhood House, the City of North Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.
Johnstone calls Loutet Farm “a living experiment for the participating municipalities.” Funds generated through the sale of the farm’s produce are directed back into its operations, while creating “green-collar” jobs for local residents. In addition, the farm offers a range of courses centered on sustainable food production for both adults and children, and engages the local community in farm activities.
Like the other two finalists, leading up to the event Johnstone has been paired with a business mentor, with whom she’ll be carefully reviewing the farm’s business plan. She is hoping through the process to receive advice on setting up appropriate business systems to help meet her team’s goal of having the farm be sustainably self-sustaining within five years.
With a few years of management experience under her belt now, Johnstone appreciates that the “art” of business can be a very creative process, especially when it comes to allocating scarce resources. “The limitation we’re faced with is the size of the [farm] site. We don’t have any more land, and we’re well on our way to reaching production capacity.” With her fellow finalists, Johnstone will look to the panel of judges—the Social Enterprise Heroes—to help her guide her enterprise through its next phase of growth.
Presented by JDQ Associates, Junxion, and KPMG, the Social Enterprise Heroes event is an annual celebration that has attracted new sponsors including ASQ and TELUS. Vancity Community Foundation also continues to support the event with a grant available to one of the successful enterprises. The evening will be emceed by Derek Gent, Executive Director of Vancity Community Foundation, and Faye Wightman, President and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation. Learn more at www.socialenterpriseheroes.ca