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Beyond Business Tools: Eatmore Sprouts and a 15 year SVI Legacy

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It is said that a couple that grows together stays together. Now what can you say about a couple that shares a path of personal growth, a thriving business, and all the while literally growing 10,000 pounds of sprouts every week? This is Glenn and Carmen Wakeling’s Social Venture Institute (SVI) Story.
Together, the Wakeling’s own Eatmore Sprouts, a certified organic family-run sprout and microgreen farm grounded in sustainable earth-conscious principles.
Glenn and Carmen first met in the mid-1980s when Carmen was a teenager working at Eatmore Sprouts, which at the time was a small operation owned by a friend’s family. Glenn (whose own family owned a sheep and cattle farm in New Zealand) was in Canada on a working holiday visa and quickly fell in love with Carmen and the organic growing methods in British Columbia. The couple married and shortly thereafter purchased the Eatmore Sprouts business to run on their own. 
Today, Eatmore Sprouts has 43 staff and dedicated to creating a happier, healthier planet. A staple in health food stores, restaurants, and major retail grocery outlets like Whole Foods, IGA, and Thrifty Foods, Eatmore’s seeds have even been to outer space as part of a NASA project.

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I asked Glenn and Carmen if I could take 20 minutes out of their busy schedule to hear about their experience at Social Venture Institute (SVI). SVI is a 4-day conference for mission-driven leaders that’s been running for 23 years; naturally, Glenn and Carmen have attended on and off for the last 15.
Glenn says it took Happy Planet Founder and future Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson to get him to SVI the first time. “He phoned us up and said ‘You’ve got to come to this thing.’ He was convincing enough to get us to take time away from our young kids.”
I was eager to find out what keeps the Wakelings coming back to the unconventional gathering for social entrepreneurs on Cortes Island, an oasis in the Northern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.
Glenn explained that SVI’s benefits go beyond business. “SVI has given me the tools to deal with what life has thrown at us: whether the death of my parents or change in industry. It’s kept me sane.”

Maintaining balance as a business-owner is never easy– particularly in the food industry with a year-round growing season to boot. Fortunately for Glenn, he has a great partner in his wife and Eatmore Sprouts co-owner Carmen, who serves as the CEO of their company.
In fact, it was through SVI that both husband and wife recognized Carmen’s potential to become CEO of the business.
Glenn describes how SVI taught him how to listen and when to step back to make space for others.

Attending SVI helped me to realize that Carmen had a lot of potential. As much as society wants to put a white guy in the leadership position, I realized that I could take a step back and let Carmen do what she does well, which is running the company as CEO.

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Meanwhile, Carmen developed her own confidence at SVI to step up and take that space. After taking a few years away from the business to raise their children, Carmen solidified her role in the Eatmore Sprouts structure and decided to attend SVI. “We were working with some tough partners and I needed to learn skills to think differently about business.”
As she took on a more prominent leadership role in the business, Carmen faced inequalities – both societal and personal. One particular relationship with a challenging business partner had shattered her self-confidence. It eventually came to light that the business partner had issues with Carmen as a female leader.
Never having dealt with such stigma in the workplace before, Carmen turned to SVI for support. As she received advice from experts on structuring her business for buy-out and witnessed honest and vulnerable stories from dynamic changemakers, Carmen discovered something about herself, “I realized I deserved to be in business as much as anyone else.”

It was awe-inspiring to hear that first True Confessions story, and it made me realize that business is a place where we can do really awesome things. We can thrive in spite of all the things telling us we can’t. SVI shifted my capacity to get creative around this industry. I came home and thought, ‘We can get through this. We can make a plan and I am capable of doing this.’

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Building a resilient food system

On top of building her confidence and getting practical advice on her business, Carmen has benefited from the community that SVI brings together. “Connections are super important, that’s part of building our resilient business.” 
While participants at SVI come from all different sectors and organizational structures, they all share a vision for creating healthier communities and a healthier planet. It’s rare to connect with a group who share those values. 
Carmen describes how one can feel very alone in the food industry, especially as a mission-driven operator: 
“Someone at a big food company won’t understand the stress of being the owner-operator of a smaller company. At SVI, we can connect with similar people on a practical and emotional level. We’ve built strong relationships with people because of that. We’ll end up partnering with another participant in solar energy or in marketing, or making donations to nonprofit organizations we meet. The ideas I’ve had during a chat sitting on the deck at Hollyhock… The next thing you know we’re collaborating on a project.” 
Glenn enjoys taking lessons from other organizations.  Receiving guidance from veterans in the sustainable food industry has led to some major business decisions for Eatmore Sprouts. “Being at SVI over the years, it’s been good for me to experience the knowledge of elders in the business, like the founders of Nature’s Path. Every year, there are lessons that are so applicable to our business that we can then apply to our own experience. It gives you that sense of belonging.”

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Beyond Business Tools

For all the business benefits, Glenn keeps coming back to the personal lessons he has taken from SVI.

Glenn felt free. He felt safe to express himself in ways that he normally wasn’t. “Hollyhock gave me permission to feel free to dance without a drink in my hand– to just be myself at gatherings. That’s one small example of many.”
“As a hardworking Kiwi, it’s easy for me to forget to practice self care. Our business has no down-season and it can be hard to say no. Personally, Hollyhock has been a place that reminds me to look after myself. This has served my relationships with business partners and with my kids. My life would have been a lot more messy if I hadn’t learned those tools.”

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Showing up differently over the years

Fifteen years after the Wakeling’s first visit to SVI, they keep coming back. “I like coming with that fresh vision, new questions, new experiences, and being able to connect with people I know and love, and with people I’ve never met before,” Carmen shares.
After attending SVI for the first time as an eager albeit naive business owner in her twenties, Carmen describes that she now shows up in a different way. 
With numerous board positions (President of the Certified Organics Association of BC, President of the International Sprout Growers Association, VP of the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society, and VP of the Small Scale Food Processors Association), Carmen is interested in building capacity within the ecosystem and broader network. “With a new lens, I came back to SVI as a wiser woman with more experience, and was able to start sharing my experiences. I love mentoring and supporting people to be brave and bold and to push themselves.”

SVI is such a valuable experience for anybody. I’ve encouraged so many people to attend. Years later, there are still ripples from what you learned and who you met. It’s a business dynamic that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.

Carmen and Glenn’s experience demonstrates what SVI is all about: give and take. The Wakelings are models of the generous leadership that we aim to foster at the conference every year.
After all, it’s through collaboration, vulnerability, and generosity that we’ll continue to move sustainable, community-driven businesses forward.

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Want to take your own journey with this incredible community? Apply to join Social Venture Institute (SVI) from September 11 – 15.

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