Set on 140 acres of land in eastern Manitoba, sheep graze on the farm where founder Anna Hunter and her husband Luke grow textile-grade wool which is then processed in their on-site mill. At the heart of Hunter’s business, Long Way Homestead, is the belief that by building agricultural systems that capitalize on our land and use resources in a more circular way, Canadian communities and economies will thrive. It’s this kind of innovative and enduring thinking that won Hunter a $20,000 Desjardins GoodSpark grant.
Today, most of the wool grown in Canada is shipped overseas for processing, then returned to domestic companies for redistribution and sale. By filling a need and offering a product that helps build a localized supply chain, Hunter’s work aims to bring together Canadian wool producers, local knitters, garment manufacturers and textile artists. But his work does not stop there. She intends to develop a training program in textile agriculture, which she will finance thanks to the grant she received from the Desjardins GoodSpark Grant program.
This is the second year that Desjardins has defended small businesses. This year, the company doubled the number of recipients and grants for a total of $3 million awarded to 150 small businesses that demonstrate a commitment to innovation, investment in their employees and sustainable development.
“Small businesses create new opportunities. They create jobs, develop innovative solutions to our challenges and meet the needs of our communities. When our businesses succeed, so does the rest of the community,” says Guy Cormier, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group. “I am very proud of the GoodSpark grants and the support we are able to offer business owners who have a positive impact on our society and our economy. »
On the regenerative fiber farm owned and operated by the Hunter family, the founder says, “Wool is not considered an agricultural product in Canada, it is considered a by-product, so education for this type of work is often hard to find. Using the GoodSpark grant, says Hunter, “we will provide enhanced training to our existing employees and further develop our on-the-job training program to welcome newcomers to the business. Currently and historically, agriculture is not a diversified industry because it depends on access to land, capital and equipment. Our goal through this program is to remove barriers and increase access to this type of specialized training.
About 2,000 kilometers to the east, in Oakville, Ontario, another Canadian company is in full confidence. “I applied to the GoodSpark Grant program on a whim,” says Hilary Noack, owner of Ink N Iron shop. “I was shocked and so excited to hear that we won.” The all-female body shop specializes in restoring classic cars and is a training ground for the next generation of highly skilled auto body specialists in Canada.
During her early years as an auto body technician and fabricator, the isolation of being a woman in a male-dominated industry made it difficult to imagine a future in the trade. “I had heard a lot of stories from other women in the industry who had been harassed and rejected,” she says. “That’s ultimately what inspired me to open my own shop, with the goal of being the voice of a young girl who might want to do this one day.” Noack adds: “It’s about fighting for equal access, because gender balance in the workplace is better for everyone.
As a business that runs on the daily use of machinery and materials, Ink N Iron’s plan for its grant funds includes major investment and upgrading of existing equipment and personal protection, as well as the relaunch of Noack’s Shop Saturday pre-pandemic training program. “It’s a really welcoming initiative where women from all walks of life can come and try their hand at automotive work,” she says. “I think it’s amazing that grants like this exist, and I hope companies will see it as a priority to apply in the future.”
“Desjardins is committed to supporting our businesses and entrepreneurs; it’s an important way for us to invest in the vitality of our communities,” says Guy Cormier, “The GoodSpark Grants are another testament to the importance of small businesses in Canada and the trust Desjardins places in them to support our long-term social and social development. economic success. »
The barriers to entry are low, with the focus being on companies that have projects targeting one of the program’s key issues: sustainable development, employment and innovation. Shared prosperity is an essential part of Canada’s growth post-pandemic and beyond, for Desjardins and companies like Hunter’s and Noack’s it’s a common goal with a world of potential.