The Strathcona Regional District (SRD) allots Cortes Island a budget of $25,000 to be dispersed among the island’s non profit sector. Up until this year, the Regional Director has accepted applications and passed them on to the SRD Board with a recommendation as to how the money should be divided. At the April 28th virtual community meeting, Regional Director Noba Anderson announced that Cortes Island’s non-profit sector would collectively decide what the recommendations should be. After that, the community meetings became a platform on which different organizations described their vision. The non-profit’s participatory budgeting process ended prior to Tuesday, May 26, when Adam McKenty and Loni Taylor explained what CCEDA is up to.
Their obvious sincerity, conveyed through facial expressions and body language, was visible to everyone attending the ZOOM conference.
This meeting was packed with words. Having questions and little opportunity to insert them into the flow of conversation, I used the chat box. Director Anderson rewarded my efforts by voicing most of them.
The Participatory Budgeting Process
She said that McKenty has been ‘bugging’ her to set up a participatory budgeting process for years. He has been fascinated with the potential, and limitations, of participatory democracy for much of the past decade.
“On Cortes, partly because of the context we exist in with the Regional District and the fact we are an island, we have ways that the island has figured out to work together. To me this step, or progress towards knowing how to be collective in making this kind of decision is a step towards a kind of sovereignty; the ability to use the wisdom of the island for the benefit of the island. There are a lot of smart and wise people here who can make these decisions as individuals, but there is also a legitimacy when you can democratize the process,” said McKenty.
He and Loni Taylor both had good things to say about the way Anderson has developed the process.
“I feel like the Grant in Aid networking culture that you’ve tried to instill has really taken off,” said Taylor.
“I thought it was a fantastic start. I am sure the design of the process will evolve, but I think in principle it is a thing to continue with. Part of it is allocating the funding, but a lot is just having these non-profits talking to each other about the programs that they are doing. To me, that is where the real value in this process appeared,” said McKenty.
The McKentys moved to Cortes in 2002 and were the island’s foremost musical family for many of the years that followed. Adam alludes to this heritage when he mentions ‘playing in a family folk band’ on cced.ca. This account also states:
“ … he brings a decade of local nonprofit board experience to CCEDA. When not following his fascination with regenerative economics, he runs a web development agency and the Collective Intelligence Network, co-directs the Foundation for Intentional Community, writes essays …”
Director Anderson describes Adam McKenty as Cortes Island’s “de facto Economic Development Officer.”
He has also been the President of the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA) since 2019.
Loni Taylor is one of the board members.
Many of us first heard of her through Cortes Island’s Lovefests (2017-19). Rick Bockner once described Loni Taylor as the dynamic member of the organizing trio, adding that he and Rex Weyler “are old farts full of inspiration and happy to do whatever.”
In her bio it says: “Loni Taylor has a lifelong mission of advocating for the arts and using education as a tool to improve socio-economics in her local community. Loni has worked as an educator of the arts and athletics on Cortes Island for the past three years, and has been pursuing a continued education in permaculture and homesteading. Her background in events management and community coordination support her desire to bring energy, action, and spirit to the CCEDA Board.”
CCEDA is an outgrowth of the old Cortes Island Business and Tourism Association (CIBATA).
Much of CCEDA’s platform – the need for affordable housing, support for value added manufacturing, food security, mechanisms for community investment – descends from the Local Economic Action Plan that CIBATA unveiled in February 2018.
In a recent interview, McKenty told De Clarke that CCEDA’s goal “is to put community well-being at the centre of economic development.”
The Community Investment Co-op
One of CCEDA’s ideas is a Cortes Investment Co-op, where Cortesians can invest money in local endeavours and hopefully make a profit. Securities regulations limit investments in the venture to $5,000 or less per person (other than for professional “accredited” investors). The Cortes non-profit sector recommended this venture be granted half of what it asked. I suspect this may be because most of us are not familiar with the concept, or whether it works.
McKenty said he has been studying this model, and communicating with the existing community investment co-ops on Salt Spring Island and in the Kootenays. A quick Google search revealed that these ventures launched in 2011 and 2018, respectively.
“Typically community investment co-ops will have an investment committee, composed of people familiar with running and starting up businesses, that will be able to do due diligence to vet proposals. Sometimes in addition to that there will be a partnership with a financial institution … There is a Financial Futures in Campbell River which we may be able to partner with, if we wanted another institution to do due diligence,” he explained.
The Track Record For Investment Co-ops?
“There is no guarantee, but because of the connection between the investors, co-op and people building these businesses, from what I’ve read the default rate is very, very, low.”
“Unfortunately it is a lot easier to find successes than failures, because failures tend to disappear … The investment track record from organizations I’ve seen and spoken to has been pretty solid. They do their due diligence effectively and haven’t had defaults. That’s the case with the two co-ops I’ve dealt with directly. The co-ops otherwise do not publish the fact they’ve had a default,” said McKenty.
“We still need to do more research into the failures and what happened. It has been pretty clear, from the people I’ve talked to, that the bottleneck is finding businesses to invest in.”
Director Anderson added, “That’s certainly my memory, speaking to the folks on Gabriola. There was an incredible appetite from the investor sector, especially as you can’t invest more than $5,000. For a lot of people, that is not a high risk amount.”
McKenty agreed, “I think it is likely to be that way on Cortes as well.”
McKenty hopes to know more about their timeline this week.
“I’m hoping we can be incorporating within a few months, but that is speculative on my part.”
“ … A lot of the background work that is recommended by the instruction manual from the Kootenays, we have done already with the LEAP report … So we are hoping we can skip some of that and we can take examples of co-ops from other islands, particularly where there is a similar context, put together the structure and be going pretty rapidly.”
Aside from fostering business ventures, it is not yet clear what role the co-op would have in this process. McKenty discusses a number of possibilities in the podcast above. They might introduce investors to companies, or even become a venture that local residents can invest through. This has yet to be determined.
McKenty asks the community at large, “What interesting products and services could we realize on the island?”
Cortes Island’s next business initiative could be commercial greenhouses. CCEDA knows how much produce the Cortes Natural Food Co-op needs and how much of that comes from off island.
Taylor adds, “There are a handful of entrepreneurs on the island that have some really amazing passion and drive around greenhouses. I would love to help enable those come to fruition. We are talking about two types of greenhouses on Cortes. One is the hoophouse, which is much more common to extend the early and late season for a couple of months, but those are not year round greenhouses and they are usually made of plastic which usually does not last for more than a couple of years. That’s a great option for some growers and a great option to get started now … It is a smaller investment and you are still going to see good results but the long time thing, that will take more money and investment, is year round greenhouses. They do not require a lot in this climate and can produce year round produce.”
Heating is not required for the staples we grow on Cortes, though it will be if you wish to have a tropical greenhouse.
Some other potential initiatives: a shared shop; an artisan web platform for Cortes products; value added marketing.
Resilient Enterprise Training Series
Another of CCEDA’s ventures, Resilient Enterprise Training Series, kicked off with an online bookkeeping workshop on Saturday, May 30.
Jenny Hartwick taught the half day course in which viewers were taught:
- Basics of double entry bookkeeping
- Managing cash flow, profit and loss, and balance sheets
- Software, from Excel to Quickbooks
- Tips on compliant employment, taxes, and more
“This is like the narrow end of the wedge for the resilient enterprise training program. There are still [upcoming] programs that are very much in demand,” said McKenty. “In the bigger picture, we want to use this to foster what some people are calling the entrepreneur ecosystem. We want to help people at whatever stage they are at in starting businesses or social enterprises on the island.”
Some of the upcoming workshops are: selling artisan products online (Thursday, June 4); branding; business planning etc.
CCEDA also intends to schedule some fun events to help foster the entrepreneurial culture.
McKenty asks the community at large, “What interesting products and services could we realize on the island?”
To learn more about CCEDA and the Resilient Enterprise Training series, see http://cced.ca/entrepreneurship-and-business-planning-training/
CCEDA’s 2.5 Acres
McKenty says the community will decide what it wants to do with the 2.5 acres CCEDA owns in Mansons Landing.
“I’ve seen some amazing examples in other communities: … shared office space and studios, retail and gardens: the ideas are abundant. In the short term, there has been discussion about how to expand the Friday market from the outdoor market area across … to the commercial property … We had considered aiming to develop that quite quickly, but it slowed down because of a need to develop access for vendors.”
“In the short term, we are hoping to host some physically distanced work bees to finish up the clean up, there is still some piles of wood and debris. We want to build some trails, build some signage and get the community onto the property a little. To get a sense of what there is and what it could be …”
Grant Writer: The Fruit Tree Project
“We are trying to implement a lot of projects very quickly and in many cases the projects would be amenable to grant funding from different sources,” says McKenty
McKenty added, “We have some very supportive contacts with grant agencies, that have seen the LEAP report, are excited by what we are doing and are joining our working group calls.”
Loni Taylor is currently doing the bulk of CCEDA’s grant writing.
In a previous virtual community conference, she mentioned the need to find people who can help harvest the thousands of pounds of apples, as well as produce, that are left to rot every year. Since then, she has learned that every major city in BC – Vancouver, Richmond, Victoria – has a ‘fruit tree project.
“Closer to us, Campbell River has had a successful Fruit Tree Project. So I have been able to access those models and that is helping to create an application for a grant,” she said.
CCEDA also received a small grant from the SRD Delivers project, to study how a food delivery business would work on Cortes during COVID.
“We found that families really want deliveries of fresh produce. That’s great because they are making meals for large groups of people. They are going to be able to prepare that food, but there are elderly people, or single people, that are not necessarily going to need a whole box full of fresh produce. They are preparing meals for one person. Giving them a prepared meal is a lot more helpful. Frozen meals is a good option, especially with the VIHA regulations” said Taylor.
“We are well on our way to figuring out what system is going to work well for Cortes. It will most likely employ people who are already in that effort in some capacity.”
Food Security Coordinator
One of the projects that CCEDA put forward for a small Grant in Aid was hiring a Food Security Coordinator. Taylor appears to be already filling that role unofficially, and reports that she had been in “pretty tight communication” with Tamara McPhail of Linnaea Farm.
Taylor also reached out to the greater community about community gardens.
“We have found space for everyone who is actively looking for space to garden. They have been united with a garden plot somewhere. If there are still people looking for a garden space, please contact me and I will help unite you with a garden.”
What should people who want to sell produce grow?
“Root vegetables are definitely the way to go right now: … potatoes …. in really large quantities … if there was a place to grow 600 pounds a week, there would be a place to provide them to the community … carrots.”
She added there will be a plant sale and swap at the next two Mansons Friday Markets. (One of which has already occurred.) All proceeds go to the Cortes Island Women’s Centre.
The Needs & Offerings Job Board
McKenty ads, “We have repeatedly heard that there is a need for a job board for Cortes … This is something that has emerged out of community demand. It will probably be a project that we will try to build and then find a way to spin off, community ownership likely.”
The other component is a sharing platform for skills and things.
CCEDA has a number of working groups up and running and is looking for volunteers.
To Lean More about anything mentioned above:
- View CCEDA’s website http://cced.ca/
- There is an online contact form on the website
- Email CEEDA at email@example.com
Top photo credit: Apples by Michele Dorsey Walfred via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)