Our Field to Table Community Food Hub buys food from farmers and the Ontario Food Terminal, reselling it at wholesale prices to over 7,000 families a month through the Good Food Box and Good Food Markets, and to 250 schools, child care centres and community agencies, serving 67,000 children weekly through our Fresh Produce to Schools program. Field to Table Catering sells 20,000 affordable, delicious, culturally appropriate and healthy meals yearly to community agencies and individuals, including the Good Food Café, which the Toronto Star called “the future of school lunches,” in which grade seven and eight students choose healthy foods sold at $4 in a cafeteria program.
These programs will sell more than $2 million of food this year, $1.8 in produce through the Field to Table Community Food Hub, and $200,000 in meals. Though these social enterprises will generate close to a third of FoodShare’s $5.6 million annual budget, they are not self sufficient, depending on foundation and government grants and private donations as well as their own income to operate. And they do not make money for any of FoodShare’s other programs.
FoodShare was founded 27 years ago with the goal of reducing the impact of hunger and improving food access. In the early years, FoodShare tabled policy recommendations to ensure that everyone had adequate income to buy healthy food, and pioneered some of Canada’s first community based self-help programs such as the Hunger Hotline, bulk buying clubs, community kitchens and gardens, and student nutrition programs. We continue this policy advocacy and program delivery today. All of these programs rely on government and foundation grants, are free to participants, and do not generate any non-grant or donation revenue.
FoodShare has developed a complex mixed economy organization in which social enterprise programs generating income operate side by side with free programs though a focused organizational vision of Good Healthy Food for All.
Social enterprise program participants have told us they see themselves as customers not clients. When people pay $18 for the Good Food Box, they have paid the full cost of the food, packaging and delivery, with staff salaries, warehouse and truck expenses coming from grants and donations. That means that participants feel empowered to complain if an apple they have purchased is bruised. The pressure of market logic can keep programs entrepreneurial in the most positive sense of responding to consumer demand. At the same time, everyone who calls FoodShare, whether seeking a free community gardening workshop or a Good Food Box, is responded to quickly and with respect. The social enterprise components add a level of customer service but both direct service and social enterprise exist within a culture of community service.
FoodShare has also promoted an entrepreneurial organizational culture, seeking new program and funding opportunities where possible, in which both the social enterprise and direct service programs share the same vision, mission, internal procedures and personnel policies.
A common theme heard these days is that underfunded nonprofits should start social enterprise projects in order to make money in tough times of government and foundation cut backs. We have found it takes subsidy and grants, not to mention considerable business experience and capital investments, to make successful nonprofit social enterprises if they remain mission consistent.
FoodShare self identifies as a nonprofit social enterprise and we have seen the many ways this model has increased our organization’s reach and impacts, helping us expand our mission. It has been crucial to our success. We would recommend social enterprise to others and are happy to share our model of what has worked for us.
Debbie Field is the executive director of FoodShare and is a recognized leader in the world of food security. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. FoodShare takes a multifaceted, innovative, and long-term approach to hunger and food issues., focusing on the entire system that puts food on our tables: from the growing, processing and distribution of food to its purchasing, cooking and consumption.
Photos courtesy of FoodShare and Laura Berman