Building healthy communities

When Sheena Russell (BSc’09) and Kathy Cooper-MacDonald (BCD’06) set out to create healthy snacks with no-nonsense ingredients, they never imagined they would go from making their first batch of bars at a community kitchen (in a lobster pot no less) to creating a product that is now available nationwide. But more than that, Made with Local is also making a difference in Nova Scotian communities by supporting social enterprises.

In the early days (2011), Russell and MacDonald were focused on making healthy snacks that tasted good. “It seemed the two didn’t go together,” recalls Russell. Through trial and error, they eventually created Made with Local bars. Once they got their product fine-tuned, the success of their business came quickly, in large part because of local famers’ markets.

“The markets were integral in those first few years. We were five inches away from our target market; we got to see our consumers interact with the product. And we were also working alongside our producers. We could hop over to the stall next to us and buy our honey,” explains Russell.

And as business grew, their impact did too. Made with Local began working with social enterprises on production and distribution.

“We found the perfect production partners in a local social enterprise called The Flowercart Group in New Minas. They provide opportunities for people who face barriers to mainstream employment,” says Russell, who describes it as the beginning of a “beautiful relationship.”

“We work closely with three social enterprises, which means we have 70 to 75 individuals who are a part of our business,” says Russell.  “Much like our farmers and producers, these individuals are our greatest asset. Seeing how our products made a difference in their lives changed our purpose—not only are we making quality products, we are having a beneficial impact on our community.”

Today, Made with Local products are available nationwide and by summer 2019 will be in 1,000 retailers across Canada. Russell left her full-time job in 2015 to focus on Made with Local and MacDonald remains involved part-time with events and promotions.

Last year, Made with Local was recognized as a SheEO venture. The initiative supports, finances and celebrates female innovators who are creating new mindsets, new models and new solutions for a better world. And later this year they will become B Corp certified, the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance.

“Our product is a physical manifesto of the community we’re building. I see the growth of this brand as a true ripple effect,” says Russell.  “We are nourishing the community, both literally and figuratively.”