Natural Interest founders encouraged by Blyth event - Jan. 25, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
With feedback from community stakeholders, Natural Interest, a fledgling company hoping to provide investment solutions for sustainable farming in Ontario, has some momentum behind it after a special event held in Blyth last week.
Co-founders Chelsie Hunt and Phoebe Stephens explained that Natural Interest is a group in its early stages that’s aiming to make sustainable food viable in Ontario through investment opportunities.
“Currently, there are no funds available for people looking to get into the sector,” Stephens said, adding that other provinces have such organizations. “There appears to be a need for it.”
The Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, part of Blyth Arts and Culture Initiative 14/19 Inc., hosted a special rural investment workshop on Jan. 11 at Blyth Memorial Community Hall focusing on Natural Interest as well as opportunities and challenges of investing in sustainable food system in Ontario.
The day-long meeting brought over 20 people with a variety of backgrounds including finance, bureaucracy, consultancy networks and small businesses.
Following the meeting, Hunt and Stephens, alongside 14/19 Project Director Peter Smith, sat down with The Citizen to talk about Natural Interest and what was accomplished that day.
Stephens, who has been interested in food production for years, has studied the governance of food systems and is very interested in how food production connects with other networks.
Hunt worked in investment for 10 years, with the last four focusing on investments with positive social and environmental spin-off. She said her heart is in agriculture, having family that works in the field, and wants to make sustainable food a mainstay in the province.
Stephens said the workshop brought together different sustainable food stakeholders so they could connect with each other and talk about what kind of structure Natural Interest would need to take to succeed.
“We wanted to get different perspectives on how we could succeed,” Stephens said.
Smith said there was a lot of interesting feedback provided throughout the day and he felt that Natural Interest would have some good action items going forward.
“It was great to break down silos,” Stephens said, attributing the term to Smith in an earlier meeting. “We don’t usually get the opportunity to reach out to these different stakeholders like this and share knowledge.”
Smith agreed, saying there was a lot of information and stories shared, as well language barriers broken down. He explained that not all the stakeholders would understand the same message from presentations or even from some basic terms. For example, some immediately assumed that a return on investment was a financial aspect, while others understood investments could go beyond finance and provide a social benefit.
“Getting everyone on the same page was interesting,” Smith said.
Hunt agreed, saying there was a good energy at the event and that identifying the intersections between finance and agriculture was interesting and worthwhile.
“There were some people in the same generation or field that were able to communicate with each other,” she said. “Through that, we were able to find a page for everyone to be on.”
Stephens said that talking to people from different walks of life made her aware of assumptions she made that weren’t necessarily held across all groups.
“It really highlighted the need for a different frame of mind,” she said. “There were a lot of important voices to hear.”
Going forward, the duo plan to create a summary of the event that they hope will inspire people to participate in a working group to further talk about their initiative.
Smith said the plan was well thought out and would show what Natural Interest would need to succeed, which would be a benefit for people throughout the province.
Stephens and Hunt connected with Smith through the Rural Talks to Rural (R2R) conference hosted in Blyth last year.
Linda Best, a presenter at R2R, is a founding director of an investment co-operative called FarmWorks in Nova Scotia which has a similar model to what Hunt and Stephens are pursuing.
Smith, at the R2R conference, wondered why a similar project wasn’t happening in Ontario, and, some time later, Best directed him to contact Hunt and Stephens.
Best was also a part of the workshop last week via teleconference.
For more information on the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity and its projects, visit