10 Questions with aGRO Systems Inc.: A ‘Getting to Know Our Calgary Social Enterprises’ Blog

10 Questions with aGRO Systems Inc.: A ‘Getting to Know Our Calgary Social Enterprises’ Blog

Ten social enterprises have been selected as 2021 finalists for What’s Next YYC, a biennial award created by the Trico Charitable Foundation in 2019 to celebrate and advance excellence in social entrepreneurship in Calgary. What’s Next YYC features two $25,000 jury prizes, a $25,000 audience choice, and $25,000 the finalists share amongst themselves. The awards will be handed out on Thursday, November 18, 2021, at the virtual Pivot on Purpose Summit (POP). POP is a three-day summit hosted by the Trico Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Centre at the Haskayne School of Business (more on POP at the bottom of this blog). To help the POP audience and others get to know these social enterprises better, this blog series will have each finalist answer ten questions – five basic questions and five from local funders. Registration is open now.

Brief bio of aGRO Systems Inc.: The engine transforming what is unwanted and discarded into something truly unique and valuable. We specialize in collecting and upcycling organic wastes and byproducts into Farm livestock feeds and inputs. We aim to reduce rural poverty of farm families with our affordable livestock feeds, increase access to healthy foods through better connecting farm to table, and reduce emissions through diverting wastes from the landfills. Our main branch of operations diverts beer byproducts from local Calgary Breweries and repurposes them into carbon-reducing feeds for Albertan sheep, poultry, hog and beef ranchers. Programs & Awards: Catalyze Program & Summer Inc. Internship with Innovate Calgary. 

Q & A with Victoria Ross, Founder of aGRO Systems Inc.:

Victoria Ross, aGRO Systems Inc. Photo cred: Good Planet Project.

Five Basic Questions:

  1. What is your social enterprise’s ‘origin story’?
“When I was growing up my dad had to have a second job on top of farming in order to get the bills paid–and it always frustrated me to see someone work so hard, yet still have troubles making ends meet. While in university I learned that this is common for nearly 50% of Canadian farmers. I believed that the men and women who work hard to feed our world shouldn’t need a second job just to keep the lights on. My goal became to help these smaller-scaled producers become more profitable (and sustainable in the process). The first opportunity I found to help them was taking waste byproducts from craft breweries and using it as an affordable high quality livestock feed that could lower a farmer’s feed expense! I found out 2 years ago that this byproduct can also lower emissions from livestock by up to 20% as well!”
  1. What are your current annual sales and annual social impact?
“We broke a record with $220,000 this past year in the pandemic. Our social impact includes diverting over 12 millions pound of organics from landfills/compost sites to be upcycled into feeds. Working with 33 craft beverage businesses to divert their waste, and now promoting 7 farm families!”
  1. What are you most proud of regarding your social enterprise?
“Being able to hire my dad to help run the company and build a better farm and future for our family. Also hanging up the phone on the misogynistic salesmen that tell me I’m being difficult when I ask them to put their verbal promises about equipment down on paper.” 
  1. What’s the next step for your social enterprise?
“We are planning an Alberta wide expansion with our waste collections, increasing the different food items we can take, and working with food charities to divert consumable products to hungry people instead of landfills. Moreover, we have news of new feeds and a marketplace for our farm customers coming soon!” 
  1. What’s your ultimate dream for your social enterprise?
“Increase the number of farms and profitability of these farms that have inherently sustainable operations in Canada. We also are going to fix the food production system in Canada that results in 58% of food being lost or wasted and make the agriculture industry the most sustainable industry in Canada.” 

Five Questions From Funders*:

  1. When was a time someone showed you compassion and empathy?
“My bosses (Gloria, Wendy, and Mai–who owned the most well-run restaurant–Temptasian in Vernon BC),  sat me down one day as I was hyperventilating at work. My mum was in the hospital dealing with health issues regarding alcoholism. They fed me and acted as the mother I needed that day.” 
  1. When you look at your origin story, what are the small moments you look back on fondly?
“Last time I participated in YYC What’s Next with the Trico Foundation, our truck broke down, we were in an accident, and I almost killed my dad by not attaching the forks to the skid steer correctly–all the day of/day before the pitch competition. We laugh about it now.”
  1. In what ways has your social enterprise been reshaped by community needs?
“We originally thought our waste collections would be needed because it is cheaper than other composting services. However, we realized the community of craft brewers needed us for flexibility and growth. Conducting multiple pickups a day, changing pickup times when their ingredients come late and being ready as they expanded.”
  1. How has your social impact evolved from what you originally envisioned?
 “The social impact vision has evolved in terms of not only helping smaller-scale farmers live in less poverty, but also helping them be the changemakers to solve world hunger, fight climate change and provide means of responsible methods of production and consumption for the general public.”
  1. If you had to describe it in one sentence, what is the “why” behind your mission?
“I want to save the farmers like my dad who are providing us with the most nutritious and ethical foods from slipping through the cracks and help them save the world.” 

*The local funders that provided questions are:

 

More About the Pivot on Purpose Summit (POP): POP, occurring November 18-20, 2021, is a free, virtual gathering that aspires to be the next step in a movement to reimagine the power of business models to solve social problems. POP is held in collaboration with the Trico Charitable Foundation (TCF), the NU Community Board, and the Canadian Sustainable Finance Network. Registration is open now.

POP Highlights Include:

Tariq Fancy, former CIO for sustainability investing at BlackRock Alex Edmans, author of Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver both Purpose and Profit R. Edward Freeman, the thought leader many regard as founder of stakeholder capitalism
21 Canadian social entrepreneurs  Spotlight on Scotland, a world-leader in nurturing social entrepreneurship with initiatives including a 30 million Third Sector Growth Fund And much more! 

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