Food Incubator: T’Souke Nation’s Solar-Powered Wasabi Greenhouse Project

The T’Souke Nation is an awesomely cool “band” as the Canadians refer to such organizations and provides a source of intrigue for the Academic Entrepreneur. The T’Souke Nation is located in Sooke, British Columbia, and has won awards recently for their efforts in economic development. In fact, this “tiny Vancouver Island nation” had become famous throughout the world for its solar innovation.  They are known by the town’s people, who admittedly suffer from KQA (see my last article on such), as forward-thinking and innovative. I won’t pretend to know all the history, but what I do know is that this tribe is a people steeped in a rich tradition of creativity, the arts, and food exploration. Some of the reason for this is the warm geography of Vancouver Island (the warmest place in Canada in fact), which is technically a rainforest.  Sooke means “where the rainforest meets the sea”.

What is fascinating is that there is “another country” just down the road from one’s house. This is my first time living near a First Nation’s territory, or a “Native American reservation” as we might politically correctly call them in the United States. My first experience with such was in Southeast Florida with university friends, buying stuff that was cheaper on the lands.  For full disclosure, I will try, but may not succeed, in being politically correct and sensitive in this article, but I have found the rules are different in the United States then they are in Canada. For example, the gaming association in the United States calls itself the “National Indian Gaming Association“. It was during my undergraduate studies at Cornell University’s Hotel School that I learned the importance of such sensitivity during my project The Laughing Beer House, a comedy club, with Doug Leiber ”90.m A joke was told my one of the random student stand-up comedians that was off-color and there just happened to be a group of Native American representatives of some high caliber visiting Cornell and sitting on an 8 top right in front of the stage. I believe our professor, name withheld for sake of his innocence, received 800 letters or so over the next year about this. That was the end of comedy clubs for this restaurant practice class at the Hotel School.

Returning to the story: What is fascinating is that these Nations can do all sorts of things that others’ can’t who live just outside of them. They make their own rules.  We see this in the USA a lot of course with the rise of casinos on Native American lands (which really irks governments of the state for they don’t want their lottery revenues diminished). The bands in Canada also have access to economic development monies, and are able to undertake unique projects, such as the Wasabi Greenhouse.

The T’Souke Nation’s Wasabi Greenhouse venture is essentially a quasi- food incubator. If it succeeds, it will create new jobs in the region and create a new export for Sooke, and Canada at that. I don’t recall quite where I read this but the exportation of foods from Japan has grown around 1500% the last few years. I’ll have to circle back with that reference. What would make a greenhouse project a full-blown food incubator is a model whereby nascent entrepreneurs could rent “land” at below-market rates to experiment with growing their own “niche food” products and be serviced in helping to form and grow new ventures.  Possibly, the T’Souke Nation could implement such a unique greenhouse incubator in the region by expanding the square footage of the project. The potential is quite exciting, really.

This week, the Sooke Garden Club is hosting and education session about T’Souke Nation’s Wasabi Greenhouse. Question such as that below will be answered, according to the writing from the Sooke Garden Club:

So what’s the deal here, anyway? What is real wasabi? What, if anything, is so special about it? Who grows it? Who sells it? Who buys it? Why is the market for wasabi just about to expand enormously? And, of course, why are consumers like me getting only faux wasabi, and will an expanding market change anything in this regard?

But this is just one of the innovative projects the T’Souke Nation has on tap for the region. Another is their award-winning sustainable greenhouse technology project. So not only is a niche, exportable food product being developed, but the greenhouse itself is solar-powered.  The band is committed to sustainability and experimenting with models that could be replicated throughout the region and world. In an article from the Sooke News Mirror 

“Today we have the opportunity to give back to Mother Earth again, to practice the ways of our ancestors and the teaching of walking lightly on the land through energy conservation and local food production. That we can do this and create much needed jobs and training makes this an exciting project for the whole T’Sou-ke community,”

          -Cheif Gordon Planes of the T’Souke Nation

 The T’Souke Nation, I have also learned recently, is generating its own power through solar.  Reference another article from the Sooke News Mirror:

Bob Haugen, Executive Director Canadian Solar City Project, spoke about the achievements and positive change the T’Sou-ke have made in their community for their community.

“Impacts on climate change are happening because of local leaderships,” he said at the ceremony.

He said the T’Sou-ke community is the “only, only city, town, village or community generating its own energy. The T’Sou-ke produce all their energy by solar and it comes from the community’s vision.”

 

This innovation effort is indicative of two trends and one important sociological notion not to be missed by readers of the Academic Entrepreneur.

  • One trend is obvious:  The rise of alternative technologies and the use of solar and sustainability efforts.
  • The second trend, not so obvious:  The rise of food incubators, and innovation in food. This is being driven by a variety of forces including the increased sustainability focus itself; technology that has enabled further innovation; and risk capital itself, including venture capital, shifting into food ventures. In the T’Souke Nation case we see the allocation of what Etzkowitz has referred to as “Public Venture Capital” moving into the space.
  • The notion not to be overlooked is that put forth by Naisbitt that the “world’s smallest players will become the most powerful” as he wrote about in Global Paradox.  T’Souke nation, while it may be blessed with good leadership, is able to do what it does an innovate to such a degree just because of the fact that it is a small player. It is a small nation. It is nimble, flexible, and able to build an innovative culture that no doubt leverages its creative heritage.

And this, my Dear Aunt Sally, is a lesson in the context of the Scottish Independence debate and the upcoming referendum vote. This is also a source of inspiration for entrepreneurs and a model of consideration for organizational developers and leaders.

 

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