Wednesday, August 31, 2011

to Scape or not to Scape?

C'ville Foodscapes is a collective business that designs, installs, and maintains food-producing gardens for people at their homes, here in Charlottesville, VA. A group of 6 of us created it in 2008. The remaining 4 of us are now starting a process of re-visioning, and perhaps over-hauling this baby that we birthed nearly 3 years ago.

Its a tricky process. When we started (with a group of 6), our visions were broad and expansive. We wanted to support the local food community by helping people grow food at their homes. We wanted to connect the dots in the local food movement. We wanted to create a neighborhood CSA, a street-side veggie sands with food from the community, and opportunities for folks to earn money from their excess veggies and build community with those around them. We wanted to create an easily replicable model for other communities.

We spent a year just honing our vision. Honing it into what we hoped would be a successful business model that could eventually expand into all manner of groovy side-shoots. We made spreadsheets. And more spreadsheets. We revised the spread-sheets. We scrapped the spreadsheets and made new, better spreadsheets. And when I say we, mostly I mean sky, spreadsheet guru supreme.

The first year was a crazy ride--we were still figuring out how exactly we were going to do basic things: how are we going to build those compost bins? how will we get to jobs (car? bike?) We had weekly meetings for at least 2, and sometimes nearly 4, hours. We dealt with some crazy hurdles and had meltdowns, both individually and collectively. And we implemented a Garden Grants program, providing complete garden systems for folks who can't afford our services: a 4x8 veggie bed planted, compost bin and rain barrel. We did one last year, and will do at least 5 this year.

At the end of our first year, Wendy and Angel decided to move on from the business. Ptack, Sam, Sky and I searched for replacements. We met many fine, qualified and passionate folks, and we didn't succeed in finding a match for what we were looking for. This was largely b/c we didn't really know what income we could provide folks. Its a project, not a job, we told people. And most people don't have the time, energy or inclination to take on a new project baby while juggling the rest of their lives.

So here we are, our second year on the wane. And once again, its time to figure out What The H&%$ We're Doing! The four of us agree that what we did this year was a smashing success. It worked business wise, and it wasn't too overwhelming. We made a decent dollar/hour, nearly doubled from last year. And, the business as it stands is not what we're passionate about.

Without extra folks, its been challenging to bring in and expand the community piece. And that piece is what originally brought us all to the table. So where to from here? Can we re-structure and still shoot for the larger vision? Is it time to scrap it and move on? Should we just become a non-profit?

We plan to pull together a larger pool of folks to help us think this through. Folks in the local food community, in the non-profit community, and in our larger pool of trusted thinkers. Its been a wild ride and who knows where it'll take us next!