Annual report 2011

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EcoReality Sustainable Land Use and Education Cooperative Annual Report, 2011

Carol prepares pears for the cider press, in preparation for making 120 litres of perry from 345 kilograms of pears that came from a single tree.
Thank you for your interest in EcoReality. The following reports outline the activities of the co-op over its fourth year.

EcoReality was founded in April, 2006, for the purpose of creating an ecovillage on Salt Spring Island. Within days of incorporation, we purchased a 4.8 acre farm on Salt Spring Island, knowing that was but a test-ground for ideas, and that we'd require more land to accomplish our goals.

In March 2008, opportunity struck, and we negotiated the purchase of 43 acres of lovely irrigated farmland with two houses in the Fulford Valley, next to what is slated to become 61 acres of community farmland. Carol and Jan spent our first night here June 3rd, with Rudy joining Carol and Jan in July.

Our ongoing goal is to attract additional members, raise capital, and engage the public and political processes necessary to house perhaps 15 to 30 family units in a sustainable, low-energy and low-cost manner.

2010 Overview

This has been an extremely difficult year.

Early in the year, all the members left except Carol and Jan. If you asked all the people involved what happened, you'd probably get as many different answers, but the fact remains that we were under tremendous financial stress, having failed to raise any of the balloon payment we needed to remain at this site. It was this financial stress that appears to be the catalyst that caused most of the members to leave in January and February.

At that point, we asked Rudy Siegers to become a member and director. Rudy's undying loyalty to the concept and vision kept us from feeling so alone, even though we had some extremely difficult choices to make following the exodus of members.

We probed and searched for alternatives, unwilling to simply let our dream go away. We considered abandoning co-op ownership and moving to a strata title subdivision, and we completed a first-draft site development plan and re-zoning application to do so. But re-zoning can take years, and we only had months; the best we could hope from this process would be to attract investors -- which we'd already failed to do. In May, the three directors agreed to put the EcoReality property on the real-estate market.

We carefully selected a wonderful realtor, Jan Macpherson, who agreed to market the property both as an outright sale, and as shares in the co-op. Jan had represented the buyer when we sold our 4.8 acre "starter ecovillage" on Sharp Road, two years ago. We listed the property for the same amount that we had purchased it for, two years earlier.

But the housing crash in the US was in full swing and Canada was in recession. People were sitting on their money, and we didn't even have a single showing until August. Our low point came in July, when we held a big garage sale, getting rid of a lot of stuff that we had been hanging on to only because it would be useful for an ecovillage.

Ron Pither came by to "preview" that garage sale, and he bought some fencing pliers that we had used in putting up 2,400 feet of deer fence. But he also was looking for an opportunity to extend his organic farming business from Mayne Island to Salt Spring Island. He contacted our realtor at about the same time that another interested party contacted her about an outright sale. That other party came by for two extensive showings, and they were ready to make an offer, but so was Ron, but as a shareholder.

So now we had a choice: we could sell outright and abandon our dream, or we could take on a new, unknown partner, and try to keep going.

Ron didn't have the full balloon payment, but with his help, we were able to convince CCEC Credit Union, in Vancouver, to mortgage the balance at homeowner rates. (Because we were a co-op, other credit unions were unwilling to take us for less than commercial rates of 8% or so, and we couldn't service the debt at those rates.) We prepared a detailed business plan, demonstrating we could service the debt, and here we are, still kicking. After several delays, the balloon payment was finally retired in January 2011.

Looking Ahead

This was a traumatic experience, and we've been in a state of "shell shock" for the better part of a year. While the property was on the market, we couldn't really make any plans. Even after Ron's involvement, we couldn't feel relaxed until the mortgage was complete and the balloon payment transferred.

Yet the latter part of the process -- qualifying for the loan -- caused us to focus as never before. The four of us worked with a united purpose that we had not experienced before. Together with our new site development plan (which had been contentious among prior members), the leaving of the prior members that seemed to be a disaster at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The major benefit of the loan process (besides the money, of course) is our shiny new six-year business plan. It includes nine profit centres that are able to make our mortgage payments and pay off leaving investors on schedule. These profit centres are: education, agri-tourism, market garden, transplant propagation, dairy, eggs, fruiticulture, energy, and value-added products.

Our past plans had been totally dependent on receiving more outside investment to pay off the balloon loan, but our new business plan calls for only small amounts of additional investment until 2013. And we already have a new investor who will be financing the addition of our new 3,552 square foot commercial propagation greenhouse, which we are currently in the process of erecting.

Our Education profit centre kicked off its 2011 schedule with a successful cheese making workshop. This class filled within days of being announced, causing us to schedule a repeat in May. The Dairy profit centre has reservation deposits received for all eight of the kids we are expecting to arrive between April and June, and we've received local newspaper and radio attention on our planned herd-share program. An additional investor is going to finance Carol's plans for a half-acre mixed plantation for our Fruiticulture profit centre, which has also produced 120 litres of cider. And the other profit centres are moving along, as well.

So like the Phoenix, arisen from its own ashes, EcoReality Co-op is preparing for a new life. I hope you'll come check it out!

-- Jan Steinman

Communication Steward's Report (Jan Steinman)

Duties

The communication steward is responsible for acting on behalf of efficient and understandable communications, both within EcoReality, and between EcoReality and the outside world.

This includes:

  • Service as statutory Secretary:
    • keeping and maintaining legal records, such as incorporation certificates and meeting minutes,
    • recording and maintaining legally required information, such as member and investment shares and shareholder information, working with the Finance steward as necessary,
    • taking meeting notes and/or minutes, or seeing that such is delegated and properly executed by a delegate,
    • maintaining and arranging access to public records,
    • filing required reports.
  • Providing mechanisms for organizing, maintaining, storing, and accessing our internal documents, information, and agreements, such as:
    • serving as librarian,
    • maintaining resource inventory,
    • maintaining information infrastructure,
  • Presenting EcoReality's "face to the world," including website, press releases, promotion, and recruiting.
  • Balancing our commitment to radical transparency with the need for personal privacy.

As a servant leader, my job is to make sure our members, Advisory Council, and involved local, regional, provincial and national government agencies, as well as the general public, have all the information they need to work with and within EcoReality. --Jan Steinman 16:58, 28 March 2006 (PST)


Accomplishments

Communications Statistics

Statistic 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Change
Home page hits 13,312 18,126 65,438 110,967 146,759 32.3%
Meetings page hits 12,970 15,482 96,303 114,335 137,584 20.3%
Google references 3,190 3,220 7,940 10,700 17,700 65.4%
Agricultural production 0 82.6 358 10,569 10,029 -5.1%
Advisory Council 72 116 163 181 207 14.4%
Email List 72 116 220 327 342 4.6%
Members 4 4 9 6 3 -50.0%
Volunteers 0 11 18 16 8 -50.0%
Newsletters 4 5 13 23 23 0%
Meetings 19 16 65 71 53 -25.4%


  • Although we had half as many members and half as many volunteers, our agricultural production only fell about five percent. (Perhaps having 25% fewer meetings had something to do with that!)
  • People continue to sign up, via our website, to be on our email list or Advisory Council, even though we have sent nothing out for over a year.
  • We completed a six-year business plan, with detailed budgets for nine profit centres.
  • We completed a site development plan, including layout for thirteen units of housing, three farmstead retail buildings, and water management plan and waste resource plan.
    • Although we have not submitted it pending raising finances, we completed a re-zoning application that will enable us to implement the site development plan.

Outreach

Improvement Opportunities

We have, in many ways, started over, and are still figuring out how to proceed. That said, previous initiatives that have been on hold for the past year have been re-started:

  • resume periodic newsletters
  • on-line resources:
    • workshop and event booking system
    • project management system needs improvement and more database support
    • keeping track of agreements is currently tedious, and needs database support

Challenges

  • Our major challenge is still financial. Last year, it was how to make a huge balloon payment, but now it is how to make monthly mortgage payments. This is certainly easier to achieve!
  • Last year, we reported limited labour for various projects we'd taken on. This year, we've had a flurry of interest from volunteers, and the challenge may be keeping them busy!

Future Plans

  • We continue to seek additional investor-members who can help us implement our business plan and site development plan.
  • High priorities:
    • Commercial propagation greenhouse profit centre is funded and is being built.
    • Education profit centre is scheduled through the rest of 2011, and response has been overwhelming.
    • We need to resume publication of our newsletter.

Jan Steinman

Finance Steward's Report (Carol Wagner)

Duties

The Treasurer is the steward of finances, and speaks for the best interests of those finances, recognizing that money is only a tool.

For example, the steward of a hoe might decide that the best interests of that hoe were in keeping it pristine, in locked storage, never to be touched or dirtied, forgetting that it is only a tool. Likewise, a financial steward might choose to never spend a penny, but invest and grow a group's finances, forgetting that money is but a tool.

That said, the Treasurer is ultimately responsible for the financial health, and that may mean resisting impulsive spending by others.

To that end, the Treasurer's biggest responsibility is to maintain and enforce a budget, which is to be agreed upon by various committees.

Until land for an ecovillage is secured, the Treasurer may also be called upon to manage an acquisition trust fund. The trust fund's money will be "off-budget," meaning it will not be available for the day-to-day operation.

The Treasurer may also be called upon to manage and track labor and other contributions, which are non-monetary credits used to acknowledge contributions of goods, materials, or labor by its members.

In an egalitarian group, the Treasurer is expected to fill a spot on the stewards' council, which is responsible for carrying out policy decisions via consensus. All leaders are expected to act as servant leaders rather than traditional business executives or managers.


My background has been bookkeeping since 1970. For the past 15 years, I have owned and operated my own bookkeeping service. I have been the treasurer for two non-profits. I pride myself in being very detail oriented, and I love to have everything in balance.

As Finance Steward, I will keep track of all the finances in a clear and concise manner. The “books” will be open to examination by any of the members upon written request. I believe in being ethical and right-principaled in my business dealings.

--Carol Wagner 11:21, 19 Apr 2005 (PDT)


Accomplishments

With a new investor, Ron Pither, we have lowered our mortgage to $350,000.00.

  • Class A Investment Shares as of 31 Dec 2010 total 1,313,127.
  • The balance at 31 Dec 2010 in the ISCU chequing account was: $194.92; CCEC chequing $2300.00
  • There is $33,302.04 in Restricted Funds (capital account).
  • There is also $5.00 in Member Shares at Island Savings; CCEC $50.00
  • BC Ferries card -$42.65
  • For a grand total of $35,809.31.
  • The 2010 Income Statement (Profit & Loss) shows Income of $12,546.64 and Expenses of $54,073.96, with a net of -$41,527.32.
  • The 2010 Balance Sheet shows the Total Assets as $1,933,250.11 and the Liabilities as $1,964,849.81 with Equity as -$31,599.70.

Improvement opportunities

To say the least, there is a lot of room for improvement over 2010. With more hope for the future of EcoReality, more planning to grow more food and get more help in the way of interns and wwoofers.

Challenges

The future is looking more hopeful with more investors, and there is still room for more.

Future Plans

This year we are putting up a 3500 square foot greenhouse and are planning to plant a perennial fruit garden in 1/4 of the northeast field. We have a new investor putting up the money for both projects.

The rest of the northeast field will be planted in row crops.

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