Throughout the month of November, we plan to spotlight Ontario businesses that are focused on sustainability and interview a member of their leadership group. Not only will this help us learn from businesses in our industry, but it will also spotlight local businesses during this unprecedented time where a lot of local businesses could use the exposure. This week’s interview is with a non-profit organization that I had the pleasure of learning about in my social entrepreneurship class. We interviewed Nicole Leighton, the Food Delivery Packing Coordinator of The SEED.
The SEED is a not-for-profit food project at the Guelph Community Health Centre that was created in 2015 by a coalition of community organizations and individuals. In Guelph-Wellington County over 20,000 people cannot afford healthy food, so the SEED’s goal is to make Guelph-Wellington the first community in Canada to eradicate food insecurity! How they plan to accomplish this is by delivering food programs that build food literacy, increasing access to good food, operating various social enterprises that support food access, and providing youth employment opportunities. The organization’s mission is to work with community members, and advocate for systematic changes to create effective food policies. The SEED has several different food programs, and it is impressive to see how they can develop more and more solutions to reduce barriers to healthy food. The SEED is a staple of the community and is interested in how to make it all work, especially during a global pandemic.
(Questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity)
Food Fight (FF): What was the inspiration behind The SEED?
The Seed (TS): The purpose of The SEED is to address food insecurity and either remove or reduce the potential barriers that exist in terms of healthy food access. We acknowledge that achieving a healthy and well-rounded diet can be difficult due to societal barriers. Before COVID one of our biggest programs was working on community markets where all goods would be offered on a sliding scale or a pay what you can option. Also, the Upcycle Kitchen team would help people learn food prep and cooking skills, while also helping manage food waste. When COVID hit we were unable to deliver some of our programs, so we developed a new program called the “emergency food delivery program”. At the beginning it was either a box of groceries or prepared meals delivered to your door, but right now we are working on transitioning it to a social enterprise model with a sliding scale price model. By transitioning the program to more of a social enterprise model we will be able to offer a better variety of food, allowing customers to choose which food they would like, and help the program become financially sustainable.
FF: What makes The SEED different from other food agencies?
The biggest thing that sets us apart from other food agencies is community involvement every step of the way, from the time food is a seed in the ground until it is a meal on a plate. At the SEED we are focused on sustainability and a huge part of that is empowering people in our communities through education and hands on experience to connect in a meaningful way with how we grow, prepare, distribute and enjoy food, together. Our motto is “it takes a community to feed a community” and that philosophy of human connection and interdependence is what makes the SEED truly unique.
FF: The SEED is extremely involved in the community. Can you expand on the ways The SEED helps members of the Guelph-Wellington Community?
TS: At The SEED we really believe in maintaining the idea of choice as it creates positive relationships in the community. We also empower members of the community by having them volunteer or work for us, as well as offering educational programs. We make sure that we are well integrated with the needs of the community and understand that a lot of these problems are bigger than addressing one area of need, so we upstream problems to help fix bigger community issues. We find doing this way makes the community overall better off as a whole. We also have a lot of amazing relationships with other organizations in the community. This allows us to connect individuals with other organizations that could help them. We also believe in educating youth, we have a program that gives them exposure to several different areas of the organization. In addition, if individuals find an area, they like we can hire them to work on our team. Regardless, just the education piece is so important to us and is extremely valuable.
FF: What are some of the future plans and goals of The SEED?
TS: We want to continue working on figuring out an easy way to continue adapting our emergency food delivery program in the response to COVID-19 and how this time has further amplified food insecurity for so many people. We do receive government grants and support; however, we would like to continue working on being more financially self-sustaining. Specifically, for the Emergency Food Delivery Program, we plan to transition Groceries by the SEED, an online e-commerce platform with a sliding scale pricing model. Obviously, this is all dependent on what happens with COVID, but we hope to restart some of our programs that were set aside when the pandemic began.
FF: What has been your highlight of working at The SEED?
TS: In my role specifically, I spend a lot of my time working in a warehouse. It is a highlight seeing the number of volunteers that come to the warehouse day in and day out. They are the core of The Seed the hard labour they do is essential to the impact that we can have on members in our community. It is really inspiring to see a group of people come together for a common purpose and to see how much they care and love about the people they are helping. It is something that is easily noticed and shows the power that a group of people can have on making a large-scale difference.
FF: What do you attribute The SEED’s success and impact on the community to?
TS: One of the biggest reasons we have been successful and been able to provide the impact that we do is the sheer number of volunteers who help us deliver our programs. As well, our network of community resources helps us accomplish our work. The wealth of community relationships that we have not only helps us deliver our programs, but it allows us to put a face to the people we help. Our core beliefs, specifically focusing on care and compassion throughout the organization helps us to be successful. All our work is centered around supporting the community and bringing people together around food, so by keeping that focus it helps us make a difference in the community. Overall, the impact it is very empowering.
FF: Is there anything else you would like to promote or share?
TS: If you want to learn more about The SEED you can find their website here and links to their social media pages below:
FF: Thank you so much for your time! I learned a lot about The SEED and have an even bigger appreciation for the work you do. It is amazing to see the work you continue to do in the community during this crazy time!