Social entrepreneur and community organizer Mauricio Buschinelli is the co-founder of Cycle AlimenTerre (CAT), a Montreal-based start-up that uses urban agriculture and micro-greens to address issues of local food security. The idea of micro-greens is to grow as much produce as possible within a small space, generally in urban areas.
Mauricio describes his social venture:
“Cycle AlimenTerre envisions to establish food sovereignty by empowering communities to create a just and decentralized food system that is local and oil free. We are a pedal-powered urban agriculture initiative using backyards and underused green spaces of our neighbourhood to increase access to fresh, naturally grown produce. Through popular education and collaboration with residents and local organizations, we promote a healthier and vibrant community.”
Having an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at Carleton University, urban agriculture and social entrepreneurship would seem like an unlikely area for Mauricio to explore. However, his involvement began when his friend and roommate Max Godber spoke to him about his idea of combining SPIN (small-plot-intensive) farming and bicycle marketing into a social venture. Mauricio supported his friend’s idea and would give him a helping hand every so often. Eventually, Mauricio saw the opportunity to be a part of something great, and so he committed to the project and became the co-founder of Cycle AlimenTerre.
Since joining Cycle AlimenTerre, Mauricio has been working on the venture for almost three years. Mauricio says that his strengths compliment the skill set of his partner. For example, his partner has extensive experience with agricultural practice, but lacked the organizational skills needed to successfully execute the project he had in mind. Although Mauricio has no prior experience in social entrepreneurship, he has covered social enterprise in numerous courses over his academic career. He also has the organizational skills to be able to co-operate with his partner and carry out a venture that has not been done in the area before.
“For the project we basically install micro-farms in backyards in the NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grace, a neighbourhood in Montreal) and then distribute the produce that we grow by bicycle, often in areas that are labelled as food deserts where residents suffer from a lack access to fresh quality produce that is affordable.”
After Mauricio completed his undergraduate degree in 2011 he went on to attain a graduate certificate at Concordia University’s School of Community and Public Affairs in Community Economic Development. He also recently completed additional accounting courses outside of the program at Concordia to further contribute to his business productivity. Mauricio has been very dedicated to his work, saying that he wants to continue his long-term commitment to the project even if he goes back to school in the future to continue his education.
The inspiration for Cycle AlimenTerre came from Green City Acres, a farm that provides local organically grown produce on urban plots in Kelowna, British Columbia. After doing some research, Mauricio found that no one else was doing anything similar in Montreal, and that helped them decide that it was a good time to adopt this idea and bring it to the east. Cycle AlimenTerre is a worker’s cooperative and has four employees in total, a team that consists of Mauricio and Max, along with Antonious Petro and Sam Richer.
Mauricio mentions that Cycle AlimenTerre also has volunteers who help them out in numerous areas of the project, while earning expertise in return:
“We have several volunteers who help us in the gardens because they want to learn about urban agriculture. So we opened up the space for them to come and participate, ask us any questions they want to and help us in the process. But we also integrated in our community so we have persons that have helped in several points from doing electrical work to just helping us network.”
Cycle AlimenTerre’s financing has been maintained through loans, grants, and donations from numerous sources. Mauricio said that they recently received a loan for $4,000 and also received small grants that come to a total of $1,500. On June 7th, 2016, a post on their website announced that they had not only reached, but surpassed by $200 their IndieGoGo campaign’s goal for $5,200 to cover start-up costs.
The team is currently undecided on whether Cycle AlimenTerre will be a non- or for-profit project. In regard to the matter, Mauricio says he would like for them to break even first before making a final decision.
Mauricio identifies the assistance he feels that Cycle AlimenTerre needs to take it to the next level:
“Someone who can help us identify and develop a planning and execution process that works with our internal culture. We work with a horizontal structure and a project management structure that respects what is important for us. We also need assistance verifying our financial projections and helping us stay in target.”
Plans also include new ways to organize work and project functioning based on team members’ availability, capacity and interest. The team is also looking for a compatible cloud based tool to use in the meeting room and in the gardens. Mauricio will continue looking for funding opportunities for the project such as grants and loans, and study the cost benefit of pursuing them. After spending two years in the pilot phase the members of Cycle AlimenTerre will finally start to earn a salary from their business.
Mauricio says a social entrepreneur inspiration of his is Laurent Levesque, founder of UTILE. According to its website, UTILE is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development, study and promotion of student housing as co-op initiatives within Quebec. Its main initiatives can be accessed on its Mission page.
Increasingly, we are seeing that some of the greatest advances in social entrepreneurship and social innovation are coming from students. These stories are being lived, but they are rarely told. As a result, RECODE and the Trico Charitable Foundation are collaborating to survey and interview leading examples of Canadian post-secondary students who are developing social enterprises (for profit or not for profit).
This work seeks to build on RECODE’s survey activities with Emory University in Atlanta, and the insights from the Scaled Purpose and Mount Royal University report “Where to Begin: How Social Innovation is Emerging Across Canadian Campuses”.
It is hoped this research will inform our efforts to help Canada’s post-secondary institutions lead the way in supporting student social entrepreneurs and social innovators. But more than that, it will lead to a series of blogs capturing the students’ journeys. These stories will “reveal how process and purpose can converge to power a new economy for social and ecological impact” and, hopefully, inspire and inform social entrepreneurs within and beyond our Universities.