By: Kelsea Deblois, Dalhousie ESS Intern, 2016.
The social organizational underpinnings of community gardens and urban farms give rise to a range of social processes, including social connections, reciprocity, mutual trust, collective decision-making, civic engagement and community building, all important processes associated with improving individual health and strengthening neighborhoods. All of these aspects are present and growing at Common Roots.
Social enterprise can be defined as a project that is consciously designed with a social purpose in mind that is considered just as important as the financial purpose of the project. From the lens of sustainability, social enterprise matters because it aims to redesign our economic system, rather than merely making better choices to be fulfilled in limited time frames (Thomas, 2010). This applies to community gardens and urban farms in their nature. The social aspect of sustainability in this sense poses the questions does the enterprise provide a service or product that the community needs? Does it support community development and creative fulfillment of the individual? At Common Roots the answer to these questions is an unwavering yes. These questions can be further explored by discussing the associated impacts with urban farms insofar as social return on investment and community well-being.
Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a stakeholder-driven cost-benefit analysis methodology, which is recognized and endorsed internationally as a means of assessing full value for money. The method helps organizations manage the intangible, hard to measure economic, social, and environmental value they create. Rather than simply focusing on cost savings or outputs, the methodology takes into account the full range of impacts that matter to key stakeholders (EAC, 2016). The Food Action Committee (FAC) of the Ecology Action Centre is a collection of concerned citizens, farmers, gardeners, activists, academics, students, professionals, and friends who work collaboratively with the EAC to tackle food related issues in Nova Scotia and beyond. Recently FAC has conducted a SROI on Our Food – Cape Breton, a multi-year program focused on connecting with stakeholders across the island, assessing the status of food security, and providing hands-on support and guidance for creating positive food environments in Cape Breton (EAC, 2016).
The overarching goal is to strengthen communities’ relationships to food by building positive food environments: the physical and social spaces that help to normalize healthy eating by making it easier to grow, sell, and eat good food. By supporting local producers, educating eaters, and influencing food policy change, the intent of the project is to actively involve people in creating a more equitable and sustainable food system (EAC, 2016). With similar goals and impact areas as those applicable to Common Roots, the SROI for Our Food – Cape Breton can provide insight in quantifying CRUF’s work and value. The study organized involved stakeholders into 3 groups to assess the outcomes: food collaborators, garden leaders and OF-CB participants. The outcomes assessed included: increased awareness of food security, increased access to healthy foods, more coordinated action to create positive food environments, increased competence, increased optimism about the future, increased meaning and sense of purpose, increased confidence, and increased trust and feeling of belonging (EAC, 2016). The SROI Ratio, based on the data acquired, shows the social value gained for every dollar invested and is determined by dividing the total value of benefits generated by OF-CB. The resulting SROI ratio is $2.00 : $1:00. For every $1 invested in Our Food – Cape Breton, there is $2 gained in bene t to stakeholders. In other words, Our Food – Cape Breton generates twice as much value as it costs (EAC, 2016).
Community building is a process, just as farming and gardening are natural processes. Around every well-established community garden has developed a strong network of people, a social ecology made up of many linked individuals (Thomas, 2010). Community gardens and urban farms are characterized by this diversity of different groups of people working together toward a common good. At Common Roots, the diversity of volunteers and visitors to the garden is vast, contributing to a stronger shared sense of community well-being and resiliency.