“I’m going to start by saying,” begins Veronik, “that I’m going to give this honor of having had this idea to someone else.” That someone else is Brian Saul, Veronik’s business partner and the Creative Director of Fluid Creative, a branding and marketing agency in Vancouver that specializes in working with Canadian natural food brands.
Veronik continues: “The story is he was working with a number of small-to-medium sized food businesses that had those kind of progressive values of either believing in organic and being certified, or deciding to do procurement in a totally different way.”
“He found himself, as a marketing and branding professional, realizing that those people needed so much more support than what they were getting. Brian was, I think, inherently becoming this connector between all those natural food brands that were all craving a better business management approach.”
With this awareness that far more than just marketing support was needed, Feeding Growth was born.
Feeding Growth: Bringing Food Entrepreneurs Together
And this is what Feeding Growth does, it brings together food entrepreneurs who want to make the world different and want to make sure that transpires in the way they do business.
The Feeding Growth community, therefore, was not created with a preconceived notion that this burgeoning local industry knowingly needed wide-ranging business support, but with a classic lightbulb moment. It was, according to Veronik, “super smart of Brian.” All of these food brands were craving a community with whom they could share experiences and learn from that offered “better business management approaches, support and training.”
Having mapped out his idea for a full-scale business support community, Brian approached the financial cooperative Vancity, a local banking institution that believes in investing and supporting good causes and socially responsible businesses.
Vancity recognized its value and in 2015 Feeding Growth began life as a partnership between the bank, Fluid Creative and another founding partner, Theo Lamb of Cicada Consulting, who is no longer actively involved.
“There are other organizations out there representing the needs of food companies,” says Veronik, “like the Small Scale Food Processors Association, The BC Food Processors Association, but there didn’t seem to be anything to necessarily draw together food businesses that had a social or environmental mandate as a big part of their business.
“And this is what Feeding Growth does, it brings together food entrepreneurs who want to make the world different and want to make sure that transpires in the way they do business.”
Procuring local, ethical or organic products, or being committed to hiring from under-represented demographics are examples Veronik gives of fundamental shifts in management practices; practices, ultimately, that put environmental and social concerns above the primary pursuit of profit.
Sowing The Seeds Of Change At The UBC Farm
Veronik participated in Feeding Growth’s first cohort. She was (and still is) working for the University of British Columbia’s Centre For Sustainable Food Systems (more commonly known as the UBC Farm), and at the time of signing up for the Feeding Growth program had a business idea. Though this idea seems to have remained conceptual (for now, at least), she stayed in touch with Brian and the team after her course had ended. “I thought it was awesome,” she says. Fittingly, it would not be long before they returned to Veronik with a proposal.
“It’s not part of Vancity’s mandate to be an educator, nor did Brian have time to be the educator so they approached my workplace and I, and part of the mandate of the farm is to advance sustainable food systems, which includes food businesses and food social enterprises, and that’s my background, which is agribusiness. It seemed like a pretty good to marriage to bring the three organizations together and my workplace became the managing partner, the one that makes things run, and I meet with Brian and Vancity regularly to discuss the future of Feeding Growth.”
The serendipitous nature of this partnership has been elevated by the inclusion of UBC. Having been germinated by Brian at Fluid Creative, then funded and supported by Vancity, the addition of an educational establishment with its own farm and student body requiring work experience opportunities has been a perfect fit.
…one of the biggest challenges right now in food processing is that labour is hard to come by.
“As part of the rest of my job at UBC I run this internship program for students to get work experience in food. I hear from my Feeding Growth workplaces that they are craving labour that is willing to learn, one of the biggest challenges right now in food processing is that labour is hard to come by. This maybe not the sort of labour students can offer, but let’s create an internship program for students and that’s happening now.
“There are all these education programs at the UBC Farm—training, education, workshops—we were able to extend that to food entrepreneurs in the Lower Mainland. This was always there for them before but now there is a direct approach to make this happen.”
One of Veronik’s hopes for 2018, as a self-confessed “systems person”, is to play matchmaker out of her perfect partnership marriage. “I have a farmer training program at the farm, I have Feeding Growth, which is a bunch of progressive food businesses: local farmers want to sell their products to local businesses, but local businesses don’t know where to find local produce… I get really excited when you get to connect all those folks together.”
There is, however, a new partner in this process. Spring is, in the words of its co-founder Keith Ippel, “a start-up school for people who want to change the world.” Spring also partners with Vancity, the likely conduit for this partnership, and for Veronik it made sense. “It’s really organic,” says Veronik. Spring approached them recently, and mentioned their roundtable programs, where entrepreneurs sit together and discus their challenges, and suggested that the two hold this program specifically for food businesses. It saved Feeding Growth from having to reinvent the wheel for businesses that still needed support and education after graduating from its program and gave Spring a great way of diversifying into a sector that needed the support it provided.
Ploughing A Furrow To Vancouver
With a finely tuned sense of irony, Veronik states: “You know how when someone asks you ‘why do you do what you do now?’ and you’re like ‘I feel like my whole life led me to this moment.’ But if you were to ask me right now [which is, of course, exactly what I’ve just done] I feel like food, and food as a tool to make the world better, and food as a tool to support local economies, I feel like I’ve been swimming in that for a long time.”
Veronik was born and raised in Quebec where both her parents ran a food business in Montreal, from which, she says, “I learned a lot by osmosis.” From there her education, which she describes as having “a big focus on environmental and social justice,” has taken her to three of Canada’s top-10 ranked universities. She acquired her Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from Montreal’s McGill University; her Master’s Degree in Food Science, along with a teaching certificate, was gained at Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and latterly, after being offered the role as Programs Manager at the UBC Farm brought her west, Veronik studied a Certificate in Business Analysis st UBC.
Along her Journey, Veronik met many people running not-for-profit food organizations that relied on grant funding, and people running food businesses with such big dreams that the day-to-day management “fell through the cracks.” Seeing this, and hating to see this happen, is what drove Veronik to get her business education and from there, she says, “Feeding Growth just fell into my lap.”
While Veronik may have to give credit to someone else for the idea, she has very clearly become its driving force. Its organic development and growth are more than just a consequence of an industry in need: it is also, specifically in Vancouver, bang on trend. When you combine need and timing with a solid idea, there’s every chance of creating a successful organization.
If you are interested in this program, the section below is full of links and information on the courses.
Are You Interested In Feeding Your Growth?
There are three branches of education and workshops that Feeding Growth now runs to help scale and support BC’s progressive food businesses. First is its core workshop program Scale Your Progressive Food Business. Second is the Coffee Shop series it runs from Earnest Ice Cream on Quebec and 2nd in Vancouver, which is a one-off session where for $15 (or free for alumni of its workshop program) attendees can listen to speakers discuss, for example, topics that range from accounting and legal issues to how to get into BC’s farmers’ markets.
These are informal sessions which, says Veronik, are more low-key: “Let’s all have some coffee and ice cream and invite a speaker to have a dialogue with us.” These run during the winter and spring and help bring people into the community and promote the fall workshop series (which is outlined above), which is where Veronik spends most of her time.
The third and most recent addition to Feeding Growth is the Leaders’ Roundtable run in conjunction with Spring. These three-hour meetings are for groups of six to eight at a time. Application details can be found on Spring’s website.