What You Sow: Stephanie Jackmans’ sustainability-led business association is bearing fruit – literally

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In 2004, Stephanie Jackman left her corporate marketing job and created REAP, an organization with no clear precedent. If it didn’t work, she reasoned, she could always go and find another job. “The joke’s on me because I could never go back and get a traditional job now. I didn’t know that then. But I didn’t ever really think that it would fail.”

More than 10 years later, this unique business association has more than 100 members. In 2012 it launched a collaborative carbon-offset initiative that is quietly transforming the city.

The project began when Calgary food truck The Naaco Truck approached the organization with a plan to donate and plant trees in the city. Stephanie says they wanted to tie the project into food security as well as environmental responsibility. “We said, you’re a food business, so wouldn’t it be great if we planted fruit-bearing trees and put them in areas of the city where people don’t have easy access to fresh food?” Greengate Garden Centres agreed to provide plants, and a community orchard was born.

After a distributed orchard was planted across four sites in Forest Lawn in 2013, more donors came on board for 2014. However, planting plans were delayed when the association was unable to get permission to plant on the site it had chosen. Undaunted, Jackman recognized that the organizational requirements of the program were becoming too great to manage solo. She sought a partner.

“Houston Peschl is a professor of sustainability at the University of Calgary. He said the U. of C. has an Enactus chapter that’s all about social entrepreneurship and building leadership through community projects.” Peschl connected REAP with the Enactus Green Projects team, which committed to a minimum of five years with the Community Orchards program. Jackman says the students will help with the logistics of the program and come up with an approach that is consistent and scalable. Meanwhile, Jackman is planning a double-plant this summer, so that the Community Orchards of 2014 and 2015 can take root.

She’s also fielding inquiries from other centres in Western Canada that want to set up associations with the same values as REAP, and says it’s fulfilling to see how creative people can be when they choose to do business sustainably. “I love the innovation that comes from refusing to trade off something for another thing.”

Jackman sees no reason why the Community Orchards shouldn’t continue to flourish and grow. “I would love to get to the point where we’re planting a thousand trees a year. We’re having much bigger conversations about where this could go. In another five years I’d love to see these orchards all over Calgary, creating community spaces that everyone can enjoy.”

Stephanie Jackman, who describes herself as a relationship manager, is planting communities as well as orchards. A key component of her job is introducing, facilitating and maintaining the collectives that form around good ideas. What began as a conversation between REAP and The Naaco Truck now involves several donors and no fewer than three strategic partners, the International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone, Bridgeland Riverside Community Association and Enactus, University of Calgary Chapter. REAP, which stands for Respect for the Earth and All People, is a professional association for businesses in Southern Alberta that use and value sustainable practices. Since 2012, REAP has partnered with local businesses to plant orchards in community green spaces as a carbon-offset initiative.

 

This article was originally published in the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations Further Magazine written by Julia Williams. Photo by Jared Sych.

 

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