Inside a Social Enterprise

What is a social enterprise?

Here in New Zealand there is no legislation determining what defines a social enterprise. For me it comes down to doing good while doing business. 

There is so much advice in online communities about how to start a social enterprise, and how to succeed, but a lot of it the advice is coming from people who haven't actually run a successful business themselves. 

I remember one particular meeting where I had business advisors telling me I essentially had to make a choice - to either make an impact in the realm of work experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities, or make an impact in the world of composting, Biodynamics and soil health. I sat there perplexed, unable to decide - it felt like asking me if I would rather be blind or deaf. Finally, in a state close to tears I chose contributing to environmental action over social wellbeing, and then felt immense grief at the thought of ditching my student training programme. 

Thankfully the advice ended with one session, and nobody else ever asked me to make that choice again! 

So what IS the business model?

Blue Borage offers educational workshops in the realm of composting, worm farming and edible gardening. These are priced high enough to subsidise the community outreach work, and are booked by community groups and corporate clients who engage with me to provide training to their people at a low cost to the end consumer. Examples of these: workplace edible garden workshops, learn to grow microgreens, seed starting parties, school holiday programmes, school composting lessons, Girl Guides badges, and inner city placemaking events. 

I also offer kitchen garden coaching, where I come and help you maintain your garden so that you can just do the bits you love, or gain the confidence to do more and more edible gardening, composting and worm farming with your kids. 

When we take on larger projects, a team will do the work, made up of students from a special needs school, university students, and graduates from my edible gardening workshops, who are mostly 'Steiner Mums' - like me enthusiastic about the benefits of Biodynamics in the home and workplace garden setting. 

There are online courses available, which helps me reach the people located too far for me to advise in person. Social media has been an incredible tool for capturing specific methods on video, and there is a closed Facebook group with continuously growing membership and engagement. 

Finally, I have a suburban homestead with living nursery where my most loyal clients are welcome to come and 'shop' in the garden, often filling a box with plants and cuttings to get straight home to their new abodes. It's a method of gardening that our grandparents would have used: plastic free, waste free, and supporting the local economy. 

How do you give back?

First and foremost is the work on soil health through composting: the study of Biodynamics and collaborative learning is crucial to helping this work be seen in mainstream urban agriculture. I started a Facebook group called 'Auckland Biodynamics' and try to demystify some of the practices as I learn about them myself. 

I participate in community groups such as the Urban Farmers Alliance, the Food Resilience Movement, For the Love of Bees and Social Enterprise Auckland. In my own part of Auckland I coordinate the Kai Whau project and oversee gardens at the Green Bay Community House, the Auckland Women's Centre and the Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School. Each of these communities play a substantial role in terms of showing the practical aspects of the other paid work I do in the community. 

I have maintained an ongoing relationship with a special needs school for over two years: OakTEC, the Tertiary Education Centre of Oaklynn Special School. When I began Blue Borage I was gardening with students three mornings a week: although just 6 hours of gardening, this actually took up 12 hours of my work week. This was generally unpaid work, and became unsustainable. 

I reduced it to two mornings a week, and then just one, sometimes that one morning a week only being a couple of times a month. The breakthrough came when the gardening for that last student  (Jade) turned into a formal role with a community organisation, which then led to interest from OrganicNZ magazine, and an article dedicated to our work. Jade is about to graduate from OakTEC and is all set to create her own microbusiness, thus continuing to learn with me in a sort of apprenticeship capacity. 

What's next?

The ultimate goal for me is to bring Biodynamic composting methods into mainstream gardening - both in the home garden and in a workplace edible garden setting. As more people resist plastic packaging, they will undoubtedly want to learn how to make their own soil. The green waste that is removed from home gardens and workplaces can start to remain on site, and the food waste that currently gets taken out of town to commercial facilities can be turned to nutrient dense soil for growing food very close to the source. 

Some people look at the climate crisis and experience a kind of debilitating anxiety. I wish more people would look at their own actions and those of their employers, and start making positive changes to our social structures: making soil, growing food, increasing the labour pool to do this work, and paying people well no matter what their role is in our food system. 

Stay in touch with our work

Would you like to keep in touch as this social enterprise grows and offers a growing variety of services? Here's a form to join the email list.


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