Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pushing Forward with 100 Hands

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on developing a career in the sustainable food movement. "Pushing Forward" was organized by Food Forward Advocacy Alliance, a food system advocacy group based out of Toronto working with the public, politicians, and those involved in the food sector to strengthen the city's food movement. The workshop doubled as a fundraiser, with proceeds supporting Food Forward's work and programming.

Eglinton Park Heritage Garden

The goal of the event was to provide interactive sessions for people interested in getting a meaningful job or starting a social enterprise in the food or environmental sector. The day was structured around a series of educational talks delivered by speakers whose enthusiasm for their work was infectious. The 50 workshop participants (that's where the 100 hands in my title came from) heard four great success stories:

Chris Wong, co-founder of Young Urban Farmers (helping residents grow their own food in the city) and its non-profit sibling CSA, told us about the importance of being passionate and having a can-do spirit when trying to make it as an entrepreneur. He pointed out that starting a business often brings about a fear of failure, but that this fear can be transformed into motivation because the worst case scenario is spending the rest of one's life regretting never having tried.

Anne Freeman, coordinator of the Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market and the Greenbelt Farmers' Market Network, explained the myriad of details involved in creating and operating farmers' markets and other small food business start-ups. In addition to passion and drive, she underscored the need for planning and cost analysis before venturing into business. Anne also provided great tips and directed us to useful resources, including the Toronto Food Strategy project / Food Connections and Toronto Public Health food handler training courses.

Melissa Shin, Managing Editor for Corporate Knights Magazine (a.k.a. the "magazine for clean capitalism", showcasing the leaders and losers of the corporate world with respect to their environmental and social impacts), spoke about facing adversity with passion and being gutsy enough to do what you love. She remarked that while we may not want corporations to run the world, they current do; so it's necessary to work with them to achieve our goals.

Nogah Kornberg, Executive Director of Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada (a hub for connections, education, and support for young people in social enterprise), remarked that as a high school teacher, she has often been asked by students how to choose between pursuing a career that interests them vs. one that pays the bills. Outraged that youth are convinced these are mutually exclusive concepts, Nogah became a big proponent of social enterprise: working towards meeting social and economic goals simultaneously.

Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market

After these four informative talks, we moved on to the more interactive portion of the day. In order to take advantage of the great wealth of knowledge present in the room, Nogah invited five workshop participants to briefly outline their ideas for pushing the sustainable food movement forward. The rest of us created little groups around these "masterminds" and furthered their ideas through feedback, questions, and the raising of problems that needed solving. It was incredible how in ten short minutes, one person's vision was boosted by eight brains coming at the idea from a variety of perspectives. I sat with a driver for FoodShare's Good Food Box program who wants to distribute healthy snack packs to convenience stores in food deserts, and our group came up with lots of suggestions to improve the feasibility of his idea.

Finally, although I could not stay for the post-event social at a nearby pub (serving local beers, naturally), I had a chance to chat with Food Forward volunteer Michelle Gruda (whose blog you should read). We talked about how exciting it was to hear from people who have been able to pursue careers they love, but agreed that the missing piece is knowing how to turn an idea into a successful business. Between the two of us, we were easily able to identify areas that desperately need change and come up with half a dozen objectives, but how do these concepts become detailed proposals?

In the coming weeks and months I hope to devote more time and energy to answering this question, and with some luck I will find myself working on a project and keeping you up to speed on my progress through this blog!

Photo credit: Eglinton Park Heritage Garden - Toronto Community Garden Network ; Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market - The Friends of Riverdale Farm.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Andrea! Great post to sum up a great event. Look forward to doing some more chatting and brainstorming about translating all of the great energy and creativity around these issues into meaningful action!