Archive for the 'business' Category

Bringin’ in the slops

By Tom Read

Usually, the slops are waiting for me just inside the kitchen back door at the Texada Island Inn. Today I lucked out when chef Elaine saw my arrival and met me halfway.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’ve just pulled up to the back door of Van Anda’s Texada Island Inn, right outside the restaurant kitchen. At home each day, we feed a small stream of kitchen scraps to our chickens and compost pile, but the volume of “table scraps” flowing from a restaurant kitchen seems like a river by comparison. I’m here at the Inn — known to locals as “the hotel” even though it also includes a restaurant and bar — to pick up the Friday slops.

One of the hotel’s excellent cooks, Elaine, saw my car pull in the driveway, and she brought today’s slops out of the kitchen to be loaded in the back of my car (photo). In return, I gave her a couple of clean buckets from a previous slops pick-up. I make sure to scrub the returning buckets with soap and hot water to comply with the stringent sanitation standards required in a commercial kitchen. Sometimes Linda and I will have dinner at the hotel, then I’ll go fetch the slops and we’ll head home. Of course, there’s never anything left over on my plate.

So why am I going to all this trouble, and burning a few extra litres of gasoline in the process? Answer: I’m retrieving slops from the hotel thrice weekly, all year, because the organic matter feeds our animals and our soil. Food-growing removes a certain amount of soil nutrients every year; if we don’t replenish those nutrients then our food-growing will eventually fail for want of soil fertility. Thus, a constant balance must be maintained between what we take away — harvests — and what we add to offset the soil nutrient depletion caused by those harvests.

Slops use is only one part of the balance. They’re a little heavy on tired lettuce, surplus French fries, deep-fried onion rings and mashed potatoes. So we’re fortunate that we have our own chicken and pig manure and that Texada is abundant in wild sources of soil amendments. Texadans also have access to some very effective commercial organic fertilizers that are sold across Canada but brewed right here on the island from imported ingredients.

The wild stuff includes seaweed (collect in fall only), nettle (collect before it forms seed-heads), nitrogen-fixing trees (Western Red Alder) and lots of maple and alder leaves. If you cut thistle tops before they form a seed-head then these widespread “weeds” also become a good input for the compost pile. How attitudes change! When we started our first garden after moving to Texada ten years ago, I tried in vain to remove all the nettles and thistles from our property — the hard way, by hand with a shovel and a hoe. Now I welcome these useful plants on the farm (but not directly in the garden beds).

But I digress, and must conclude by returning to the slops. It’s a privilege to be given those buckets. They help offset the cost of animal feed, even though I must carefully inspect the slop bucket contents just in case a bit of plastic should find its way there. That’s rare, but it happens. And sometimes I find meat scraps, which become dog treats. As for the travel costs — I’m usually able to combine slops pick-up with other errands, so what’s another stop along the way?  Plus, there’s a real satisfaction in keeping something of value out of the waste stream that would otherwise end up in a landfill at Cache Creek.

Now, if I could only get the hotel to add more seaweed-based items to the menu….

Growing opportunities

By Tom Read

Here's a photo I took today of some thriving White Russian Kale in our garden. We bought these plants as seedlings from Carolyn Heriot in August. This open-pollinated kale variety is very cold-hardy and we find it quite satisfying in salads, stir-fry and even pesto sauce!

Here's a photo I took today of some thriving White Russian Kale in our garden. We bought these plants as seedlings from Carolyn Heriot in August. This open-pollinated kale variety is very cold-hardy and we find it quite satisfying in salads, stir-fry and even pesto sauce!

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts here on the agricultural potential of Texada Island, based on a document just released by the Powell River Regional District (PRRD). Texada Island is Area D within the PRRD. In that previous post I mentioned several strengths that support the idea of a positive agricultural future for Texada, such as favourable climate, soil, water, and proximity to markets.

This week I’d like to follow up with a few thoughts about agricultural  opportunities, starting with a general statement from the PRRD report, entitled “Powell River Agricultural Plan — Economic Development Discussion Paper,” by consultant Gary Rolston.   Here’s a summary of the paper’s comment on agricultural opportunities for individuals:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to identify opportunities for individual operators without knowing the individual or the resources they have available to them. This has happened in the past. An “opportunity” is identified to a broad audience. Several people get into the business at the same time and the market is saturated before the first product is available for sale. Opportunities are created by people who have the ability to evaluate trends that suit the resources they have available and can have products available for market when demand is strong. [my emphasis]

The paper goes on to identify three possible “opportunities” for individuals in our region: developing an abattoir or food processing facility, creating value-added products from local produce, and starting a vineyard/winery. Hmm. If you’re interested in making value-added products, wouldn’t that require some kind of food processing facility? Would it be cost-effective for an individual to create such facilities?

As for making wine, I’ve noticed that our region, including Texada, already has affordable custom wine-making services available, and it’s not that difficult to ferment your own, either. Since wine is a discretionary food purchase (unlike, for example, vegetables, grains, and other food staples), and given the many imported wines I see for sale at Texada’s grocery stores, perhaps that market is a bit “saturated.”

So, are there any opportunities that don’t require a large up-front investment in processing facilities?

One possibility not mentioned in Rolston’s paper is growing winter salad greens and vegetables. As about fifty of us heard from Carolyn Heriot at a Texada Garden Club-sponsored workshop in August, almost all greens and vegetables are currently imported into our region during the cold months of the year. She lives near Victoria, and claims to have found a strong demand in her area for fresh local vegetables that can be grown and harvested all during the winter — because the imported stuff isn’t so fresh and is rather expensive as well. Carolyn is author of a best-selling BC coastal gardening book, A Year on The Garden Path, and also sells coastally-adapted seeds (see her website at http://earthfuture.com/gardenpath/Lectures.htm for more information).

Admittedly, our rural island isn’t quite as affluent as the urbanized Vancouver Island market that Carolyn sells to, but it would be a huge accomplishment if local farmers could meet Texada’s needs for fresh produce in the winter. We could also export fresh produce to Powell River if the cost of distribution and marketing could be kept reasonable.

Which brings up another type of opportunity: cooperation among local farmers and eaters in the financing and operation of local food processing facilities, including possibly an abattoir. Texada has few land-use regulations that would get in the way of setting up a small-scale food-processing facility. But do we have the entrepreneurial spirit and financial resources capable of competing with the industrial food system? And could we do it in a way that wouldn’t endanger the livelihoods of our neighbours who work in our local grocery stores?

Food for thought, as they say.

History

By Tom Read

Clarence Wood (left) and Dan Read discuss Texada history at an undisclosed old mine site on Texada Island.

Clarence Wood (left) and Dan Read discuss Texada history at an undisclosed old mine site on Texada Island.

Texada Island is generally known to possess a rich history, and yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed a brief, guided sojourn into our island’s past. Thanks to the generosity of local historian Clarence Wood, my father (visiting from St. Augustine, Florida) and I toured four old mine sites with Clarence, who provided a running commentary on each. Clarence also thoughtfully provided copies of old photos showing the very same mine sites as they appeared about a century ago.

We found remains of long-abandoned mining equipment and collected a few bits of colourful pyrite and iron-rich rock extracted long ago from various mines, and we used our imaginations to peer inside darkened old mine shafts that reach hundreds of feet underground. In the cool, bright sunshine of a late September morning, I felt the presence of all those working men who once built and operated these mines.

Human history on Texada goes back a lot further than its many old mines, of course. And mining wasn’t the only industry here a hundred years ago; forestry and agriculture also played important roles in the building of modern Texada. When I think about the history of this place, it helps me understand how much our island community today reflects the decisions and efforts of those who came before us. We have inherited a valuable infrastructure of buildings and transportation facilities from our history as a mining and forestry district, but we also still carry with us a less-obvious and not-so-beneficial status as a resource colony.

It’s true that a few local families, particularly the Beale family, built and operated mines on Texada. However, just as the provinces of ancient Rome were systematically exploited solely for the benefit of Roman aristocrats, Texada, and British Columbia itself, have a history of economic colonization by foreigners. For example, the mines we visited yesterday were originally built by Americans primarily to serve the American market. The metal ores and quick lime were shipped to the USA for further processing into what we now call “value-added products.”

Among the photos Clarence showed us yesterday was a posed shot of two well-dressed gentlemen standing in front of a recently-exposed rock face. These were the mine owners, come for a visit to their holdings on Texada Island. Locals provided the labour, and ultimately created a proud and strong community here, but they did it on an economic foundation provided by off-island capital investment and business management expertise, such as represented by the men in that photo.

Are there any lessons from our history that we might contemplate for our own future? Of the three quarries now operating on Texada, only one is effectively a local business. Very little value-added manufacturing occurs on Texada today, even compared to the early days of mining here. We might be grateful that the cement plants are located elsewhere, but what about other opportunities for making something useful from local resources? Do we have access to capital and business expertise locally, so that we might create a truly local economy?

History is not just about the past; it gives us our present and helps us think about our future.

Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer

By Tom Read

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy


Centennial Service has the best commercial location on Texada Island. Its prominent spot at the corner of Blubber Bay Rd and Gillies Bay Rd greets traffic flows coming in from the ferry, or travelling between Van Anda and Gillies Bay, making this a true corner gas station. Even the greenest first-time visitor just can’t miss it.

The owners, John and Linda, have lived on Texada much of their adult lives. I’ve observed the way they conduct business during my nine years living here, and I’d like to point out a few realities that visitors and Texadans alike should consider about our only local gas station.

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: Centennial is not really a commodity-selling business, like gas stops in the cities. For example, if you ask the city gas station attendant for directions, you might get a very brief, often uninformed answer, as in “I don’t live anywhere near here, sorry” while they shift their focus back to the long line-up waiting to buy junk food. Note that it’s an “attendant” you’re usually talking to, not an “owner” or someone who thinks and acts like an owner.

But if you ask John or Linda or Ian (whom I consider an honorary owner, given his dedication) for help, you get real, well-informed, interested help. This could include detailed directions (with a local map) if you’re lost, being a trusted drop-off point for an envelope or package for pickup by someone else later, or having the station opened up after hours so you can get gas if you’ve run out. That’s service, not commodity-selling.

Speaking of after-hours service, consider that in last winter’s snowfalls, our local gas station owners came in to work very early and stayed very late so that our intrepid highway maintenance guys, Al and Sy, could refuel the island’s snowplow/sand truck as often as needed to keep our roads open.

Yet this is a business where volume is everything. If you don’t sell “x” amount of gas each month, you’ll end up paying a higher wholesale rate than your competitors, who will eventually drive you out of business if people choose to buy their gas solely on the basis of price. Our Texada station really can’t offer the lowest prices in the region. It must contend with being off the beaten path for fuel distribution, so the owners often must pay more to bring gas and diesel here. Thus, we “regulars” typically pay a bit more per litre than the city people across the water do. But that’s ok for a loyal customer, because we know that the price spread on fuel between island and mainland isn’t price gouging, it’s just necessary to stay in business. And, believe me, this community really doesn’t want to lose this particular business.

Conclusion: there is just no way this gas station can survive without the loyal support of local people. My understanding is that Texada’s Centennial Service has about 75 such loyal customers who are keeping the station afloat, sometimes just barely. So where are all the other hundreds of vehicle owners who live on Texada buying their gas? Ah, here’s where the $5 customer comes in, pulling up to the pumps right now: “I’ll take $5 worth,” says the polite lady in the nice car, who has lived here a decade or two. “I just need enough to get to Powell River,” where, obviously, she will buy her fill of gas.

Does this hurt? Of course it does, especially for local business people who pride themselves on giving the community superb service that would be unheard of in a city. Local business people who care about their customers are treasures, the very foundation of our local economy.

Principles for creating a cooperative local economy

By David Parkinson

Horsetail

Horsetail, like all plants, finds the right niche and provides needed services to its local ecosystem. It does not force itself into a niche where it has no purpose.

Last week, I introduced the subject of designing cooperative local enterprises as one way to start boosting the resilience of this region. But the one big problem with working cooperatively is that many of us don’t have a lot of experience at working with a team of equals, brainstorming, compromising, and discussing our way from problem to solution. My feeling is that we’re going to have to get better at this, and quickly.

There are plenty of processes and methods out there for working better collaboratively. Many of these can be found in the business section of the bookstore or library, since this is the main place where people have sensed a need for making plans at the level of a community — a corporation or a working team being a community of a special kind. One of the few books of this type that I’ve read is Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging, which Giovanni Spezzacatena discussed briefly back in March. Block’s main idea is that meaningful change at the level of the community can happen only through conversations which open up a space within which ideas and hopes can emerge organically.

A little while ago, I was reading about permaculture, and it occurred to me that there are some real similarities between the Block-style approach to community development and the permaculture approach to creation and restoration of holistic natural systems. Permaculture is a design system developed initially by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. To go into great detail would take us too far afield for this short piece, but to me the core of permaculture is that it takes a systems view of agriculture and the human role in coaxing food from the earth. Rather than impose a technological brute-force solution to food production, as is done in commercial agriculture, the permaculture approach takes advantage of natural processes, using human labour to maximize positive outcomes and minimize negative ones. Humans move from being producers who impose their will on the earth to being facilitators of the earth’s natural inclination to be productive in a sustainable fashion.

I was reading about David Holmgren’s twelve principles of permaculture, and it struck me that — just as Peter Block’s principles of community development take a very non-hierarchical approach to unleashing the creative energy of a group of people — permaculture in a similar fashion is about observing and intervening very gently and respectfully into natural systems, with an eye to increasing their outputs for the benefit of humans and the other plants and creatures who participate in those natural systems. I’m always intrigued by theoretical systems or collections of principles which are specific enough to have applications in one area but general enough that they apply to other areas as well. So I decided to try to apply Holmgren’s twelve principles of permaculture design to the domain of community development. (Anyone interested in learning more about how these principles apply to the design of agricultural systems can learn more by starting here on Holmgren’s website.)

I. Observe and interact

Successful community development, meaning the creation of new groups working on new projects to benefit the community, is all about careful observation and interaction. Observation means looking at what the community has and what it needs, thinking about why those needs remain unmet, and looking everywhere for the pieces of the solution, even in unexpected places or marginalized people. Too often the same old people are in charge of the decision-making process, and this leads to an insular and stale process for coming up with solutions and new ideas. It’s critical to tap into the genius and passion of the folks who are usually outsiders to the planning process — unless, of course, you really do want more of the same. And observation means continually trying to see past the surface of the community and understand how things are held together at a more abstract level. Why is there more vandalism there than elsewhere? Why do people hang out in this park but never in that one? Why are so few people riding the bus?

II. Catch and store energy

In the world of permaculture design, this is about making sure that no energy is wasted, whether it comes from the sun, rain, wind, or wherever. Catching it is crucial, as is storing it, since storage means having energy even when it is not still forthcoming from its source. For example, rainwater stored in a pond can be used to drive a waterwheel even during a drought.

For our purposes, this principle is about making sure that, when the right people or resources show up, we need to recognize them, draw them into our project, and ensure that their creative energy is not wasted. This might mean getting better at recognizing talents and abilities in people which we don’t need at present but will need in the future.

III. Obtain a yield

This is a big one for me, because I interpret this principle as stating that no activity should fail to produce some kind of reward or benefit to someone. Basically, this means no free labour. It means that even if volunteers are doing the work, their time and labour must be returned to them somehow. And even a small return is better than nothing.

I’ve been involved in a few planning processes which treated the volunteers from the community in an atrocious manner. And so these volunteers trickled away and the collective energy dissipated. Each time this happens the process loses the input of the community, and the community loses a sense of engagement in the process and whatever comes from it.

No one should be expected to work collaboratively on some project without ongoing rewards for their contribution. Sometimes it’s hard to do this, but this is one of the problems that must be addressed at the very early stages of any planning process. Failure to do so means creating a process which does not engage ongoing support and attract talented and enthusiastic collaborators.

IV. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

This one seems like pretty much a no-brainer, but it’s amazing to me how often a conversation about some new project will go off the rails early on and never recover. We live in a culture which finds it very hard to critically examine ourselves and our work. Everyone wants to celebrate their successes, but no one wants to learn from failure, even though failure is extremely informative. And if you don’t recognize when something is not working, then you can’t correct it. The longer it goes uncorrected, the worse the situation becomes.

A conversation leading towards a new vision or a new enterprise must be able to incorporate feedback at all times. It must be open to criticism from within and without. Everything must remain provisional and open to change as long as possible. Plans and methods will change, especially in the beginning, so we need to be ready to abandon preconceptions and change course quickly.

V. Use and value renewable resources and services

The meaning of this principle is clear enough in the domain of permaculture. In the realm of community development, I take it to be saying that we need to find sources of funding and labour which we can rely on to continue. One-time-only or startup funding is dangerous because — if the planning is not careful — it creates a need for more funding. Soon your community effort is devoting too many of its resources and time towards finding more money, and neglecting its primary mission.

I am not saying that one should never seek or accept outside funding. But too often money is seen as the universal cure-all for what are not really financial problems. Failure to observe one or more of the other principles of community development will likely lead to a situation in which only money can push things forward — because you are working against systems you should be working in concert with, or your volunteers are burning out, or you are wasting money needlessly elsewhere. As much as the planning and implementation can be done on a shoestring, so much the better.

VI. Produce no waste

Waste in the context of collaborative planning and creating new community projects can mean anything from wasted time to wasted labour to wasted good will. It’s not entirely clear how waste in the non-physical sense can be used as the input to some other process, but we should be aware of opportunities to apply our excess resources to other related projects in the community.

VII. Design from patterns to details

When entering into a planning process, it is important to stand as far back from the problem to be tackled, or the enterprise to be created, as is possible. The solution can be sketched out from this very high level before the details are filled in. And because the enterprise is being created through an iterative and ongoing series of conversations, the big picture and the minor details can be constantly revisited and rethought.

It’s not uncommon to find yourself well into some kind of planning process or series of meetings and to realize that at no time has the group had a chance to stand back from the solution they are supposed to be working on so as to name it, comprehend it, and talk about it to one another. This means that there is no genuine consensus among the group as to what they are really doing, and the end result of that is frustration when the unspoken assumptions turn out not to be shared by everyone.

A vision statement is a way of stating the whole pattern from the beginning.

VIII. Integrate rather than segregate

This is the very essence of collaborative work: the notion of pulling effort together to generate synergy. It takes wisdom and careful observation to see how various people and resources can be brought together to create a whole which is more than the sum of its parts, but failing to do so wastes effort and creates frustration.

Processes which are modeled on competitive and individualistic planning tend to pit people against each other, if subtly. As a society, we are not very adept at creating truly open spaces which bring people in and give them the tools they need to excel both as individuals and as members of a collaborative enterprise. We need to work hard at this and create our own models as we go.

IX. Use small and slow solutions

Everyone wants a big bang for the buck right away. But oversized and needlessly ambitious plans can burn people out and create false hopes. It’s better to succeed in small things, to continually re-evaluate and expand from there, than to wear ourselves out reaching for too much right away. Small and slow-building solutions allow for continual feedback and re-evaluation, and make it easier to generate some kind of payback in the early stages of development.

One area where we are seeing this principle applied is in the diverse and fast-growing area of urban agriculture, where many people are working on a small scale to develop techniques for producing food in urban spaces like backyards and abandoned properties. Generally, these begin as one-person operations and are highly experimental at first while the correct set of techniques and procedures is hammered out. Presumably these experimental and low-budget enterprises are generating a corps of technically accomplished urban farmers who can continue to expand their operation, codify the ways or working which make the most sense to their community and climate, and bring more people into their enterprise as needed.

X. Use and value diversity

One way to avoid groupthink is to invite and include a diverse set of people in your planning. Too often, collaborative projects fall into a kind of rut because the same people keep showing up with the same ideas. It’s essential to create a welcoming environment so that people who have not been part of the process can easily find a way in and feel as though they can contribute. A lot of this goes back to creating a process which is critical and self-reflexive, since an uncritical group process does not allow for newcomers whose ideas might seem far out or whose troublesome questions don’t have easy answers.

It’s not easy to keep trying to include the sort of people who might have good reasons for not being involved in the process you’re creating. All the more reason for doing so whenever possible.

XI. Use edges and value the marginal

Holmgren uses the proverb “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path” to illustrate this principle. In permaculture, edges are of special importance because we often find particularly exuberant and productive ecosystems at the boundaries between two ecological zones. I take this principle, as it applies to collaborative planning for community development, to mean that we should constantly think about hidden places where there might be opportunities for creative new projects at the edges between ‘zones’ in our surroundings. For example, what might flourish on the edge between day-care centres and composting? Between mass transit and education? Between low-cost housing and unemployed people? This principle urges us to look harder at the places we often ignore and to see edges between two connected domains where we might otherwise see them as completely separated from each other.

XII. Creatively use and respond to change

I interpret this principle as similar to Principle IV (“Apply self-regulation and accept feedback”) only on a larger scale, the scale of societal change. We are in a time of increasing turbulence, most of it so far in the economy but more of it to be increasingly in society in general, how we work and live together with our families and with other people, and how we organize ourselves at the community level to provide for our basic and not-so-basic needs and wants. As the systems which define our society undergo these changes, we will need to stay flexible and look for opportunities to provide goods and services in ways that might not have worked well in the past.

I believe that any cooperative effort to create a new project or to change the environment or culture of some place would do well to think about applying principles like these. It’s good to have some kind of mission or vision statement or goals to work towards, but it’s probably more valuable in the long run to have a set of principles which guide the ongoing process of getting from here to there, whatever that might mean. Goals and visions can always be rethought and reworked, but a collaborative process for community development which operates under weak principles or none at all is destined to waste a lot of time and energy.

The cooperative local economy

By David Parkinson

We use the word 'weed' for plants which interfere with our plans for nature.

We use the word 'weed' for plants which interfere with our plans.

‘Tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it,
And that’s what gets results.

(Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young)

Last week’s column was about creating a stronger local food economy, something which I spend a good deal of time thinking about (and being engaged in). And now that we have a newly-formed Transition effort starting up in Powell River, I hope that we’ll see renewed efforts to start new projects which help move us in the direction of regional self-reliance.

It’s not hard to sit around a table and brainstorm ideas for projects which would help this region adapt to peak oil, climate chaos, and the economic uncertainty that is hitting us now and showing no signs of abating. Car-sharing, carpooling, or ride-sharing networks; backyard gardening cooperatives; municipal composting; local media collectives; neighbourhood potluck and child-minding groups; campaigns to raise awareness of shopping locally; cob-building workshops; micro-hydro and wind power; barter and free exchange networks; and on and on. Ask someone who is hip to the challenges we face and you will get any number of good suggestions of how we can become more resilient, less dependent on fossil fuels and imported goods, and stronger as a community. There is no shortage of good ideas. But so far not a lot of them being implemented.

The more I think about transition planning, the more I believe that we need to see a large number of experimental projects happening. Some will succeed and others will fail. They cannot all be funded by government dollars or money from foundations and charitable organizations. Nor can they all run entirely on the goodwill and time of volunteers. We need to find ways to create small businesses out of these solutions to various problems; but we should also be creating businesses which balance entrepreneurial risk and foresight against a strong commitment to the people and the values of the surrounding community. A local economy which supplies local needs and keeps jobs and wealth in the region will also need to do its part to reduce social inequities and to provide solutions to systemic problems like poverty, food insecurity, insufficient affordable housing, the lack of a living wage, and so on. These problems are the inevitable result of an economy which places profits above all other considerations, and the sooner we stop pretending otherwise the better.

It seems clear to me that the best solutions to the challenges we face will emerge from genuinely collaborative, collectively-designed and -managed, community owned enterprises. Cooperatives provide a good way to create businesses that satisfy needs which individuals find hard to satisfy on their own, and they have the advantage that they are well recognized in provincial and federal business law. But some of the projects we might want to work on are too loose and informal for all of the hoop-jumping and legalities of a formal incorporation. There are no one-size-fits-all structures for getting people to work together so that everyone benefits.

No matter how we formalize an understanding among individuals which involves property, money, labour, rights, obligations, and regulations, we first have to get to the point of working out what it is we’re trying to accomplish and how we intend to go about it. When this is done in order to attract start-up capital it’s called a business plan, and might emerge from a collaborative process of:

  • brainstorming in free-flowing conversation;
  • identifying an unmet need in the community;
  • thinking about how we might harness cooperative energy to solve the problem we identify;
  • solving various problems of start-up costs, dealing with regulations and other legal impediments;
  • enlisting the support of people who need the planned goods/service (potential customers, collaborators, or members of a cooperative);
  • defining how those who contribute their labour and knowledge can be adequately rewarded (whether in the form of money, equity, goods, shares, etc.).

There will always be individuals with an entrepreneurial bent who are talented at identifying business opportunities and figuring out how to apply money and resources to a problem in order to find a solution which will return a profit on money invested. But as for the rest of us, we might have to get involved in cooperative business ventures with other people. And this means having to collaborate effectively, to learn how to weigh different alternatives and figure out what is possible and what is impossible, to figure out what the steps are in solving a problem and which are of a higher priority than which others, and so on.

Lately, I am witnessing a number of processes which are intended to be collaborative and cooperative. For the most part, they are not succeeding as they might. In some cases, they are downright counterproductive. Why is this? As a society, we are pretty good at identifying what we want to do, but we often struggle with how to go about accomplishing the goals we identify. (What we want to do is very often stupid or pointless or toxic, but the goal is at least clear.) Entrepreneurial management strikes me as fairly uncomplicated: do whatever it takes within the limits of the law (more or less) to make your money make more money. All other considerations are subordinate to the prime directive, profit. But cooperative management and business development entail other considerations, since they reflect a community of interests and often have a socially responsible orientation; e.g., the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

We’re going to have to become better at working collaboratively in many ways as we adjust to the post-peak economy in which more of our needs will need to be met locally. I want to work together with other people to cobble together appropriate solutions to problems in the local market, and I want people to receive proper pay for their contributions to meeting the needs of the community. I want to be able to participate in cooperative decision-making in the common interest. I want to be part of starting up enterprises which can support the local economy, train and employ people in useful and necessary activities, and generate wealth which remains in the community. I imagine that many others feel the same way, but don’t know how to start collaborating (and on what?).

In next week’s conclusion of this piece, I will sketch out how we might learn a thing or twelve from David Holmgren’s principles of permaculture about creating an effective collaborative design and planning process which we can use for starting cooperatives and other small businesses in the region.


Post facto

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