The concept of the social enterprise is not a new one, but more importantly it is how many non-profit groups are evolving to best achieve their goals. They are tackling major issues such as poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, addiction and more by creating a sustainable enterprise that accomplishes the desired outcomes and becomes self-perpetuating without constant need for what is traditionally called ‘charity’.
According to the social enterprise council of Canada “social enterprises are community-based businesses that sell goods or services in the market place to achieve a social, cultural and/or environmental purpose; they reinvest their profits to maximize their social mission.” Operation Come Home is one such organization which has taken up this challenge and transformed the lives of many of the at-risk youth they work with. What is quickly becoming the most successful and sustainable aspects of their organization are their diverse social enterprises of which FarmWorks and FoodWorks in particular speak to our food literacy project. Listen to our podcast with Director of Programs and Services at Operation Come Home, Lynda Franc explaining how these programs work and to Mike, one of the youth working in the FoodWorks program.
At FarmWorks, six youth are employed and learning about food, farming and agriculture by working on a half-acre organic farm in partnership with Just Food. Here they grow and harvest vegetables which are then sold through community supported agriculture (CSA) member shares throughout the growing season. They participate in all aspects of the enterprise; from the organic certification process to installing irrigation and delivering the shares. This opportunity allows them to develop a new skillset leading to future jobs or give them meaningful work while they consider further education. What developed next was a way to use the fresh produce grown on the farm by transforming it into gourmet meals created by FoodWorks. This collaboration with the Causeway Work Centre resulted in hiring youth to work in their commercial kitchen and produce healthy and seasonal meals led by Chef and Kitchen Manager Mitchell Warner. Initially meals were intended for seniors living on their own or anyone who is at risk of losing their independence but has since opened its scope to include anyone within their 5km delivery radius, and the service keeps growing. Each meal costs $8.00 and is delivered up to three days a week. In the summer, the meals are delivered by bicycle and during the winter by Virtu Car and Beau’s All Natural Brewery delivery service; however they are always in need of more volunteers.
Although providing access to good, affordable food and a personal interaction is essential to the program, for the youth working in the kitchen the chance to learn real techniques and skills which they can take with them is invaluable. Working with the chef to prepare menu plans, creating the meals and marketing and delivering are all part of the job.
The well-met goals of FarmWorks and FoodWorks is to provide access to healthy, affordable food and to employ and offer social support to homeless and at-risk youth. What goes deeper are the community ties they have created, not only with partnering organizations but with individuals who knowingly choose their services to perpetuate the pay-it-forward attitude that social enterprises engender.
You can visit the Operation Come Home website to find out about their month long reality campaign to bring awareness to youth homelessness in Ottawa, and join us at the Poor Chef’s Competition where we will be entertained by five of Ottawa’s top chefs who will compete to create a meal using only $3.15, often the reality of many homeless youth. This event highlights the difficulty of preparing a nutritious, tasty meal with such a limited budget.