Annual report 2012

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EcoReality Sustainable Land Use and Education Cooperative Annual Report, 2012

Volunteer Mackenzie dries off Taara, a newborn doeling.
Thank you for your interest in EcoReality. The following reports outline the activities of the co-op over its sixth 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.

2011 Overview

New skylights in the yellow house have brightened up the place, and keep us from turning lights on in the middle of the day.
This has been a stressful year in which there were several bright spots amid a sea of personality clashes and discontent.

Bright spots begin at home

The year began with the completion of the yellow house skylights project. We carefully installed the skylights in the roof during the hottest part of the summer, then waited until the rainy season to complete the light wells leading from the roof to the ceiling, so that any leaks could be detected before doing finish work. Then we chipped away at it during the winter, finally completing the lighting in the spring.

This has made such a welcome change in the Yellow House! It was so depressing to come inside in the middle of the day and have to turn lights on -- first, in the kitchen to make lunch, then, in the dining room to eat it. Now we turn nothing but the stove on for lunch, even in the middle of the winter!

The improvement in our spirits was remarkable. Many Canadians flee to southern climes for at least part of the winter, but with our new view of the sky, even a gray sky seemed to brighten up our lives.

(More photos can be found on the yellow house skylights project page.)

Making winter safe for growing food

It's taken many people to get us to the verge of completing our new greenhouse.
The next major undertaking was the new commercial propagation greenhouse, funded by angel investors Brad and Jennifer McArthur.

We hit a number of hurdles with this project that stretched it out over far too long. Our goal was to have it operational for spring 2011, but weather, bureaucracy, and labour issues kept the pace slow.

The spring and early summer of 2011 was unseasonably wet, and we had lots of, ahem, "fun" trying to prep the site. We were spreading cardboard, screening soil, and sheet-mulching to kill the field grass without disturbing soil structure. But the tractor kept getting stuck as we used it to bring in soil. So we build a "corduroy road" out of mill slabs in order to keep from losing the tractor in the mud.

Just about the time the weather improved, the summer growing season began in earnest. Resources were unexpectedly diverted to Mayne Island and a smaller, ad-libbed hoop house. It wasn't until the end of the market garden season in the fall that we were able to regain focus on this project. The arches went up and most of the metal work was completed before the weather again turned against us.

Having researched the building code in detail, we felt certain this greenhouse qualified as a "temporary structure," exempt from permits. We had a verbal confirmation from the head of all building inspectors in the Capital Regional District. We decided to give a "courtesy call" to the local building inspector -- we're in a bit of a fish bowl, and we wanted them to hear about our greenhouse from us first before they got complaints from others. Imagine our surprise when we were told to stop work until we obtained a permit! The process of getting the chief building inspector to overrule the local office took several months and a lot of our attention that should have been directed elsewhere.

A greenhouse on its own isn't ready for propagation duties, and we had no budget for fixtures and irrigation. But we lucked out and found 14 wood-framed panels of rolled expanded stainless steel, 9 feet by 14 feet, at BC Auctions. When I saw them on the auction site, I emailed: "What is the metal? Will a magnet stick to it?" They replied that they did not know the material, but a magnet would not stick to it. So I assumed they were aluminum, and prepared a suitable bid of $560, based upon a guesstimated scrap value of the aluminum. It wasn't until we got them home and started cutting them into table-sized pieces that we realized they were stainless steel -- a perfect material for greenhouse shelving and any number of other agricultural items!

So far in 2012, we've completed the wood framing and are waiting on a few missing parts before finally "skinning" the greenhouse, which we plan to use in earnest before the spring rains end and ground planting can begin, and we're building sixteen 3'6" x 9' greenhouse tables.

(More photos can be found on the commercial propagation greenhouse project page.)

Milking it for all it's worth!

During spring kidding season, we have so much milk we don't know where to put it all!
Another bright spot has been our work on community supported dairy operations.

We established a new investment category, Class D Investment Shares, in order to segregate the capital and finances of our dairy operations from other EcoReality operations. This is necessary because it is illegal to supply another person with raw milk in Canada, but it is legal to consume milk from an animal you own. By having shared ownership of our goat flock through Class D Investment Shares, shareholders can share the lovely products of their shared animals -- in theory.

Canada has cracked down hard on other shared dairy operations, but the Canadian Constitution Foundation is involved, and we feel certain that they cannot strip away our right to consume milk from animals we collectively own. (Or if they can take the fundamental human right of freedom of food away from us, is this a country worth living in any longer?)

In support of this notion, we brought Shakti down to the BC Legislature on November 23rd for a Food Freedom rally. Four elected legislators got up and spoke in favour of legally recognizing shared ownership as a way for people to legally obtain raw milk. We then milked Shakti and gave out her milk to fellow herd shareholders in civil disobedience of BC laws to the contrary, while Vancouver Island Health Authority agents took video of the event.

So far, no one has caused us any trouble, and we continue to distribute raw milk to some 40 or so herd shareholders.

Another bright spot with our flock was being witness to birthing for the first time. In the past, birthing has taken place when we weren't around, but this time, Priya was bellowing up a fuss. We thought she was having "sympathy labour" for Shakti, who had been showing signs of labour for a couple hours, but Priya managed to beat Shakti, delivering a fine doeling and buckling on the grass in back of the house. Two volunteers, Azja and Mackenzie, were able to witness.

And then Shakti began delivering four hours later. She was tired, and the first buckling was large. The second buckling began to come out nose-first -- you're supposed to see the feet first -- and I soaped up my arms and gently pushed the nose back in, feeling for the legs and pulling them out. Shakti was very tired by the time the doeling began coming out properly, feet first, so I helped pull her out so Shakti could get a break -- she had been in labour for at least eight hours at that point.

We also held several cheese making workshops for a small, but enthusiastic crowd of students, as well as workshops in canning and preserving.

(More photos can be found in the Dairy Category page.)

Harvest and winter

Although weather and disagreements over direction and allocation of resources kept the market garden from being as productive as it might have been, we did manage to sell at nearly every Tuesday Market and many Saturday Markets.

Besides fresh produce, we brought raw goat milk for dairy shareholders with us on market days, so they would not have to drive to the Fulford Valley to receive their share. We also did a brisk business in value-added products and eggs.

Our wonderful Seckel Pear trees don't seem to bear all at once -- in 2010, the ones by the Yellow House took off while the one by the White House was rather muted. But 2011 was the opposite, with the tree by the White House exploding in pears. We took 260 pounds of fruit from this one tree, and sold almost all of it to the three grocers in Ganges, hungry as they are for local specialties that they can't otherwise get. Seckel Pears go from sweet as honey to rotten in just a few days, and are totally unsuitable for shipment, and Salt Springers have a fine appreciation for things that have not been bred for the sole purpose of easy transportation.

The large bartlett tree that gave us over a thousand pounds of fruit (resulting an 120 litres of cider) in 2010 took a break this year, but still managed to give us 40 litres of cider. Colin McNair and Shirley Pucci helped in the cider making this year, and after bottling the bountiful 2010 pressing, we are now aging the smaller 2011 pressing.

Challenges

2011 brought huge conflicts in management style, resulting in stagnation in new profit centres that were supposed to be paying the bills, and confusion among our treasured volunteers. As financial goals began to slip, fingers were pointed and harsh words were uttered. The old familiar feeling of financial stress would settle in like a black cloud at times.

The good news is that, while agreeing on precious little, we have agreed that we have unreconcilable differences, and have agreed to amicably part ways. The challenge is still making this work financially.

Looking Ahead

We are anxiously awaiting some missing parts and some clear, calm weather so we can complete the greenhouse, which we expect to be the centre of a revitalized market garden, as well as a a source for common greenhouse starts for sale. We've got most of the parts cut for sixteen tables, which will fill a third of the greenhouse, leaving the other two thirds for direct planting and potted nursery stock. We will be using soil blocks for propagation, eschewing conventional plastic potting trays for a more sustainable and resilient way of doing things.

We've also started a new profit centre around medicinal herbs, including many perennials that we plan to start from seed to sell as starts and to grow out and process into herbal products for our islands' large population of herbalists and naturopaths. Our initial market research indicates that most herbalists and naturopaths currently get their medicinals from China, and they would love to have a quality local source, and an accomplished Ayurvedic practitioner has offered to help test our products.

Our strongest profit centre to date, community supported dairy, should continue with modest growth this year. Tuccha, Dhati, and Maya are all pregnant from an off-island sire with good milking lines. After two failed pregnancies, we're anxiously watching our biggest producer, Maya, get larger every day, with kidding expected in May. Personally, my biggest joy in working for EcoReality in nearly all my waking hours is the joy of kidding season, and the miracle of birth bringing the promise of a renewed world.

We expect our other reliable profit centre, egg production, to have modest growth. We've added another rooster and two heritage hens with the intent of brood-raising more hens, and we plan to integrate egg production with the market garden through the use of small chicken tractors, made from the same stainless mesh that we're using for greenhouse tables.

Our biggest current challenge is to raise investments so we can pay off people who have, for various reasons, left EcoReality. We are grateful for the help they've given us, and we remain committed to paying them out on schedule. We have, in fact, paid out all four investors on schedule who have reached their redemption date.

We have numerous potential investors that we have been carrying on a conversation with for many months now. With the real estate market stagnant, the biggest fiscal challenge we seem to have is that the people who want to be a part of this vision for a sustainable future all must sell property before being able to commit resources to EcoReality. Included in that general category are: an organic farmer in Langley, a retired accountant and Permaculturist from Bowen Island, a natural-building "power couple" from New Mexico, a compost specialist from Dorset, UK, an organic food educator from Saanich, and many others. (Please forgive me if you don't recognize yourself on this list -- and ping me, to keep in touch!)

--Jan

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 2011 Change
Home page hits 13,312 18,126 65,438 110,967 146,759 195,415 +33.3%
Meetings page hits 12,970 15,482 96,303 114,335 137,584 240,868 +75.1%
Google references 3,190 3,220 7,940 10,700 17,700 ~60,000 +239%
Agricultural production 0 82.6 358 10,569 10,029 16,028 +59.8%
Advisory Council 72 116 163 181 207 168 -18.8%
Email List 72 116 220 327 342 354 +3.5%
Members 4 4 9 6 3 3 0%
Investors 4 4 9 6 5 31 +620%
Volunteers 0 11 18 16 8 18 +125%
Newsletters 4 5 13 23 23 23 0%
Meetings 19 16 65 71 53 35 -34.0%


  • Google references were sharply up. Given the private nature of Google ranking, it's hard to assign meaning to this statistic.
  • Agricultural production was up considerably, as were number of volunteers, but the number of formal meetings continued to fall. These are perhaps related, as the number of meetings during the busy summer market months fell, while meetings during other months remained at about one per week.
  • The number of investors was sharply up, due entirely to our new Class D Investment Shares, which support our successful community supported dairy operation. The number of investors with over a few hundred dollars invested remains at five.
  • 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 two years.

Outreach

Data Management

We continue to improve our data management capabilities. In the past year, we have implemented improved harvest reporting, as well as sales and labour reporting. These record systems are integrated with project management, so we can more accurately predict project expenditures and measure expected versus actual performance.

We've added an extensive horticultural database, including facilities for tracking seed and nursery stock inventory and tracking the progress and performance of starts and germination. This database also cross-references plants we produce for medicinal and other use, so we can better target markets for products in need.

We've implemented the event booking system we noted as a need in last year's report; it was used successfully this past season for booking workshops.

Improvement Opportunities

  • With increased stability and progress, we plan to resume periodic newsletters.
  • On-line resources:
    • Project management system needs improvement and more database support, which has begun with expense reporting.
    • Keeping track of agreements is currently tedious, and needs more database support.
    • We'd like to implement a simple graphing system, so that data trends can be easily visualized.

Challenges

  • Our major challenge is still financial. Last year, it was how to make monthly mortgage payments. This year, it is how to quickly replace a departing investor. This will require continued attention to communications with those who have expressed an interest in helping us -- a ball we sometimes drop when daily challenges interfere.
  • A secondary challenge is time. There are lots of improvements to communications we have sketched out on the back of our eyeballs -- how do we get those accomplished?

Future Plans

  • We continue to seek additional investor-members who can help us implement our business plan and site development plan.
  • High priorities:
    • Complete the construction of our new commercial propagation greenhouse and commence operations.
    • Integrate the greenhouse into the market garden profit centre in an efficient way.
    • Construct a siphon system to irrigate from our shared reservoir.
    • We need to resume publication of our newsletter -- yet again!

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.

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

  • Class A Investment Shares as of 31 Dec 2011 - $1,465,044.28
  • Class B Investment Shares as of 31 Dec 2011 - $150,890.77
  • Class D Investment Shares as of 31 Dec 2011 - $2,570.00
  • Member shares - $11,000.00
  • Accounts Payable (Jan & Carol) - $1,404.17
  • Ron Pither owes - <$4,260.84>
  • GST credit balance - <$158.51>
  • Assets:
    • Fencing - $2,432.06
    • Farm Equipment - $777.41
    • EcoReality Huge - $1,763,450.11
    • Wood Shed - $536.83
    • Greenhouse - $9,848.35
    • Founding Members Goodwill - $137,269.30
    • Goats - $2,250.00
    • Chickens - $685.00
  • The balance at 31 Dec 2011:
    • ISCU chequing account was: $3366.47; CCEC chequing $1575.73
    • There is $464.48 in Restricted Funds (capital account).
    • There is also $5.00 in Member Shares at Island Savings; $100.00 at CCEC
    • EcoReality Member Shares - $3000.25
    • BC Ferries card -$42.55
    • CCEC Loan Equity - $500.00
    • CCEC Equity Shares - $100.00
  • For a grand total of $9054.48
  • The 2011 Income Statement (Profit & Loss) shows Income of $31,742.24 and Expenses of $34,603.49, with a net of -$12,361.25.
  • The 2011 Balance Sheet shows the Total Assets as $1,926,303.54, the Liabilities as $1,626,085.70 and CCEC Mortgage $343,276.02 with Equity as -$43,462.35.

Formal accounting documents are available here:

Balance SheetProfit & Loss
File:Balance Sheet 2011.pdfFile:Profit & Loss 2011.pdf

Improvement opportunities

To say the least, there is a lot of room for improvement over 2011. 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 people interested in what we are doing here.

Future Plans

Last year we are discussed putting up a 3500 square foot greenhouse and planning to plant a perennial fruit garden in 1/4 of the northeast field. That did not happen last year. The garden was a bit of a disappointment. We are planning to finish the large commercial greenhouse as soon as the weather cooperates. The seeds have been here for ages it seems.The soil blockers have arrived and we are chomping at the bit to get some seeds in soil. We have ten disease resistant American Chestnuts healed in with saw dust waiting to be planted in their permanent home. Our current WWOOFer, Charles, is working at getting the inventory of all the seeds in the database! Yeah!

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