Dustin Bajer

Gardener, Beekeeper, Educator

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Public Ecology: Crowdsourced Food Producing Ecosystems

I Believe

I believe that the human and natural words aren't separate and that by working with ecological patterns and principals we can create systems, designs, and cities the benefit people and planet. I believe in people as a net force for good in the world.

The Backstory

Since the Spring of 2010, I have been working a high school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to create the Jasper Place Permaculture program. In this time, students and I have created two self-watering, fertilizing, and propagating edible food forests and an aquaponics system. Each system, in addition to growing food, sequesters water, builds soil, increases in biodiversity, and acts as an outdoor classroom and learning resources for the students and wider community.

The Idea: Crowdsourced Food Producing Ecosytems

Since starting my work at Jasper Place High School, I have developed a community of supporters that are interested in seeing these initiatives spread to other public spaces. My plan is to leverage and grow these communities of support, to help crowdsource matching grants for ecologically inspired initiatives on public land; food forestly, community gardens, flood managament, habitiat creation, land restoration, and school gardens.

The Process

  • A community of supporters donate funds to Chimp.net, received a tax receipt, and in the process join a network of supporters.
  • A client (schools, community groups, non-profits, etc) contact Public Ecology regarding a project. Consultation begins.
  • Client uses Chimp.net to leverage their local community to raise funds (In the process, each new donor becomes a potential future donor for Public Ecology).
  • Public Ecology provides a matching grant, from prior Chimp funds.
  • Project begins. Public Ecology receives payment for design work, consultation, instructional hours, resources, tool rental, and wholesale material costs.
  • Labour is sourced via public engagement; workshops, classes, volunteers, etc.
  • As part of each design, the client includes a small nursery (accessible to future Public Ecology projects).
  • Client agrees to allow Public Ecology to host paid workshops, tours, etc on site in the future.
  • Repeat.

The 3 Biggest Holes in Your Product Idea

1. How do you make money?

  • Payment is received on each project for consultation, design, instructional hours, resources, tool rentals, and markup on wholesale material costs.
  • Each project becomes a site for new teaching/workshop opportunities.
  • Each site becomes 1/10th plant nursery increasing margin of profit for plant materials on next project.
  • Some funding may come directly from community organizations interested in sponsoring/contracting public initiatives. One such partnership is in the works.
  • Potential for expansion into small-scale market gardening via produce harvested from projects. Ex. Selling produce directly to schools. Access to labour and no transportation means that costs can be kept lower than traditional suppliers.

2. What are some issues and barriers to building a community of supporters and ensuring a healthy inflow of donors to Chimp.net?

  • Public Ecology is a social entrepreneurial initiative but not a not-for profit. As a result, it is unable to give tax receipts. However, the target client (schools, community leagues, NGOs, and municipalities generally do have not-for-profit status. As a result, donors can submit funds to Chimp.net and receive a tax receipt. In turn, Chimp.net submits the funds directly to the client who, in turn, hires Public Ecology to implement a design.
  • One issue is that only not-for-profit clients would be eligible for Chimp.net funds.
  • Chimp.net is set up as an online social network for charitable giving. This means that when individuals donate to Public Ecology initiatives they become members. As members, they can have access to news, updates, perks (such as reduced pricing on workshops/tours, etc. In short, members must be shown how their donations have had beneficial impacts on the community so that they would be happy to continue their support.
  • As each project is on publicly visible/accessible land, they are very much in the public eye. As a result, each new project is an opportunity to branch out and cast a wider net of support. Instead of simply donating money to the client, each client will be responsible to fundraising 1/2 of money from their local community. When this is done, they are actively marketing Public Ecology and adding new members to the Chimp.net giving group, thereby increasing the pool of supporters for the next initiative.
  • Workshops and tours can be given at a reduced price to those who belong to the Chimp.net giving group.

3. Ecologically inspired design is a new concept. How can you ensure that people (clients, the municipality, etc) see the benefits, especially when public lands are typically designed and maintained very traditionally?

  • I am fortunate in that I have been working with ecologically inspired designs at a large high school. A school, being within the public realm and part of a broad social network, is a good place to showcase what can be done. At present, there are frequent requests to tour the space, however, these tours could be made more efficient and effective through advertisement.
  • Within the permaculture community there is something referred to as a permablitz. A permablitz is a free public workshop where community members can come to a worksite and help implement a design in exchange for experience. To date, we have done two public permablitz' at the high school and this is something that I would like to continue with at each project. In addition to reducing labour costs, permablitz represent the integration and education of the wider community. With each positive experience participants go off and help market the experience and concept to potential future clients.
  • The goal is not to sell to everyone. In short there is an ideal client. In this case, they are (or have access to) a not-for profit, are working within or serving the community, and see the potential of ecologically inspired designs as a blend of community engagement/building and environmental stewardship. At present these people are finding me (no active advertising necessary). The goal is not so much "finding" these clients but creating the community of support necessary to service them.
  • In terms of the municipality, the approach to date has been one of highlighting the benefits of ecologically inspired spaces; low-maintenance, water retention, building biodiversity, community engagement, etc. At present, the municipality of Edmonton has been focused on some new initiatives; specifically The Way We Green and the Food and Urban Agriculture strategies. Very fortunately, these strategies fit very well with the my belief that ecologically inspired design can benefit people and place.

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