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Investing in Community is in my DNA

Ever tried to lead a charge for change only to find out you’re three generations late?  

When I first asked my mom about what went through her head when she went shopping, I was ready to school my Baby Boomer mom on the importance of voting with her dollar. “Choose to buy from B Corps, co-operatives, and social enterprises! Don’t buy from mega corporations!” I was ready to shout. But her reply stopped me in my tracks. 

Chmielewski’s Clothing, 1980s

When my mom goes to the store for food, clothing, and household goods, she thinks about her childhood growing up in a small farming town of 1,600 people. My grandfather, she explained, had run Chmielewski’s Clothing, a 3rd-generation clothing store and dry goods business. The Store with the Wooden Floor, as Chmielewski’s Clothing was commonly known as, was “the heart of this small farming community… and then the farming crisis hit, and all of those businesses went under. All of them.” Big box stores in the neighbouring city started cropping up and my mom recounted how the downtown core “died” when the farmers received federal dollars to help save family farms, but the family-owned businesses that supported them through credit were forced to close their doors. 

“We buy locally if we can to support our community because it goes further than just buying that product. It puts money back into our community, it creates jobs, it creates a good tax base and helps our school system be a good school system.”  

Grandma working the Foley Fun Days Chmielewski’s Clothing booth, 1980s

What struck me was how my mom talked about her community and the family-owned businesses as this living, breathing being; an ecosystem that reflected the well-being of her community. For my mom, it’s not just a trend or even a philosophy she adopted through educating herself on how to vote with her dollar. It’s for our own well-being. 

My mom and I recalled a trip we took to REI Co-op last year where we struck up a conversation with a long-time employee. I excitedly mentioned that I work with Canadian co-operatives and my mom proudly mentioned that we were some of the first members of REI when this local store opened decades ago. The same went for our local food co-op – a store I didn’t even realize was a co-op as since I had been born, “co-op” was a natural synonym to “grocery store”. Just Food Co-op, a hop, skip, and a jump from my parents’ home, which has to-die-for sheep cheese made by a family whose sons attended my grade school and whose barn we helped move after a devastating fire. On its refrigerated shelves are Nick’s Eggs, produced by a local entrepreneur with Down syndrome, as well as produce from the local CSA that we belong to.  

B Corp, social enterprise, and co-op products found within my family’s pantry

According to my mom, it’s not about the branding or purchasing trends and philosophies, it’s about “supporting a company that supports [her] back.” 

When I asked her about how her childhood might have affected my own in terms of the goods we purchased, we discovered that back then we were witnessing and contributing to the current abundance of B Corps that now stock our shelves. Thirty years ago, you had to go out of your way to find good quality dietary-specific organic products, and for our family it was a necessary lifeline. One of my family members grew up with a multitude of health concerns that bumped well-being up to the top of my mom’s list of priorities when considering what to bring through our doors.  

After letting out an audible sigh that could only expel previous exasperation when I asked her how the availability of these products has changed over the years, my mom reflected that “Typically, you’re finding that there were people who were in the same boat [who are now] producing products that you were seeking out because they also couldn’t find it. They started creating these products because there was a hole in the market.” 

My mom admits that she didn’t know much about B Corps until I pointed out that the logo had created a purposeful purchasing scavenger hunt all throughout her home. Curious to know how our recent conversations have created a new awareness, I asked if the logo meant anything to her now. “I’ve unconsciously been drawn to B Corps and now I will seek them out,” she replied. “Because I know that what I’m doing is more about a philosophy.” 

We joked that my dad is also an unconscious B Corp supporter but in an equally important way. As a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream connoisseur, my dad has latched onto its quality and unknowingly (and significantly) supports their ripple effects such as how they partnered with Greyston Bakery, a B Corp social enterprise who are pioneers of the Open Hiring movement, to be their exclusive global supplier. Each time you enjoy brownies in your Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, you’re supporting Greyston’s amazing work in providing and advocating for accessible work as well as addressing poverty. 

My family’s history

Near the end of this conversation with my mom, she had a lightbulb moment. Even though our family business no longer exists, certain values are still being passed down like treasured heirlooms. “It’s kind of in your DNA,” she said. “You grew up in a smaller town and I think that you saw the value of living in and being connected with your community and the importance of that. Even though you moved away, you still can find that connection with the work that you do.”  

As the Community Activation Lead at Realize Strategies, it has always been so obvious, so top-of-mind to me that businesses should and can be a force for good. When we invest in our communities, we are supporting the well-being of the people who make it a home for all of us. My mom concluded her thoughts as any mother would by saying, “I love the work that you’re doing in promoting businesses like B Corps because you see how far-reaching that is. It’s not just somebody’s business. It’s part of your community. It doesn’t stop at the product, it goes further [and] this is especially important now.”