The Raw Carrot is a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides meaningful employment for people on social assistance, or with barriers to traditional employment in Ontario. The vehicle through which this happens is the cooking of healthy, handcrafted gourmet soup.
The vision for the Raw Carrot grew out of a realization that marginalized individuals in our small town of Paris had an obvious lack of opportunity and were held in poverty due to their inability to find employment. In addition to their economic needs, they were also struggling with a lack of dignity and purpose. However, we were told again and again that they were looking for jobs.
People on social assistance want to, and CAN, work! The Raw Carrot provides supportive employment opportunities for people with various disabilities, including physical injuries, developmental and intellectual challenges or mental health issues.
The concept for The Raw Carrot Soup Enterprise was developed by 2 women who were dismayed by the lack of employment prospects available for individuals on social assistance and wanted to do something to change it. Rebecca and Colleen quit their jobs, invested their own resources and began The Raw Carrot to provide meaningful job training and employment. They wanted to provide a sustainable hand up rather than a dependency producing hand-out to improve people’s lives.
The Raw Carrot is a ministry of Paris Presbyterian Church, who donate the use of their commercial kitchen 3 days per week. A grant was obtained from the Presbyterian Church in Canada to fund startup expenses over the first 2 years.
The Raw Carrot model is simple:
- Utilize existing community spaces (like church kitchens)
- Hire people on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program)
- Cook healthy, tasty gourmet soup
- Sell in the local community
The Raw Carrot is a not-for-profit ministry of Paris Presbyterian Church and, as such, has charitable status. We also rely on the assistance of volunteers who work with and support our staff in a myriad of ways –in the kitchen, through encouragement in their personal lives, sometimes through standing in the gap when a staff member needs to be off work for periods of time due to life challenges. This may include times when staff with mental health issues are dealing with depression or need to readjust medications, or times when other staff are struggling with work/life balance.
The Raw Carrot is fortunate to have great community partnerships! These include:
- Churches who donate the use of a commercial kitchen
- Local employment agencies who offer job coaching and a job subsidy for new staff for a period of time while they ‘onboard’ into their employment with The Raw Carrot
- Community groups and individuals who believe in our cause and support us through soup sales
- Service clubs that provide access to small grants
- Small business centers that provide business advice and support for running a social enterprise
Initially, The Raw Carrot secured a grant from the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Paris Presbytery to support startup costs, and has also received small grants through community groups and service clubs. However, the Raw Carrot Paris site is now financially viable through the sales of soup. Annual income from soup sales at our Paris site is $50,000/year.
Impacts & Outcomes Objectives
The Raw Carrot in Paris has 8 part-time staff members and is currently in the process of replicating the model in 2 other local communities. By the fall of 2017, there will be 16 people on the Ontario Disability Support Program who have employment through The Raw Carrot.
In addition to increasing economic and livelihood security for people living below the poverty line, their job provides dignity, social inclusion, and meaningful participation in society (all aspects of positive determinants of health and wellbeing).
An indirect benefit is that 50% of the salary of those on social assistance (after the first $200 earned/mth) goes back into the ODSP system, continuing to support more people who receive assistance.
There is a lot involved in starting a social profit business! Our greatest challenge has been the initial funding to get each site off the ground before reaching financial viability. It costs between $25,000 – $50,000 /year for 3 years to get a site off the ground (depending on the size of the site and the amount of volunteer assistance available).
Once sales pathways are in place, the challenge is in continuing to meet retail expectations, marketing the business and finding methods to be relevant and innovative in the midst of running a sustainable business.
There is always a constant balance between keeping an eye on the business and keeping an eye on the impact. Our goal is to provide opportunities for people to thrive through meaningful employment, which takes a certain amount of intentionality each day in addition to running a business.
Being totally committed to the vision of what you are running is vital. There were definitely times when starting the enterprise was a LOT of hard work with little or no affirmation, results or even paychecks! The impact on people takes time and you have to be willing to invest that time to make a difference.
Vision for the Future
The Raw Carrot is working on replicating its model through social franchising. We hope to start 2-3 Raw Carrot sites per year in communities all over Ontario. Within 5 years, we’d like to have 100 people with disabilities working at Raw Carrot Soup Enterprise sites and “Peeling for Change”!