By Madelyn Read
Welcome to our series “We Are Co-ops” in which we profile our diverse membership and demonstrate the innovation the flexible co-op model supports and enables! BCCA had the chance to catch up with Lisa Giroday of Victory Gardens and learn about their resiliency and growth as a co-operative.
Who and what is Victory Gardens?
Victory Gardens is a worker-owned co-operative based in Vancouver that aims to “transform urban and suburban environments into food-focused ecological landscapes which are beneficial to those who inhabit them” (victorygardensvancouver.ca). When they incorporated in 2012, this meant mainly working to expand food productive spaces in the city. While food production continues to be a major focus of the co-op, Lisa explained that they have over time expanded their work to incorporate a more holistic definition of beneficial and productive space, including food for humans as well as flora and fauna (such as by constructing pollinator gardens and planting native plant species). Their work includes designing and building gardens for all types of spaces, offering gardening education, and maintaining garden landscapes.
Lisa is one of the founding members of Victory Gardens. Prior to launching the co-operative, Lisa’s exposure to co-ops had been like many of us – she was a member of MEC, had shopped at the East End Food Co-op, and had banked with Vancity, but she wasn’t aware of the breadth of the sector. While Victory Gardens wasn’t initially a co-operative, when it came time for them to choose whether or not to incorporate, she explained it didn’t feel like much of a decision as the business was already operating very much like a co-op.
Staying grounded during Covid-19
During the pandemic, Victory Gardens has been busy as ever. The co-op’s work shifted with school and business closures, which led to a loss of work in educational programs and corporate offices. However, they have been able to maintain a steady flow of work with residential clients and their current team size. Lisa expressed that their team of worker-owners has felt immensely grateful and lucky that their work has continued throughout the pandemic. She emphasized the power of gardening as a meditative, purposeful, and connective experience during times of hardship and stress. Parents have been particularly excited about offering outdoor experiential learning for their children from their own backyards.
Advice to fellow co-operators
When asked if she could provide any advice to fellow cooperators, Lisa offered two insights that she often considers while working with Victory Gardens. First, she said, “never assume that as the co-operative changes and evolves that an existing structure is sufficient,” encouraging cooperators to continually engage with and revisit the ways in which they run their cooperatives. She further explained, “it can be really easy, especially when you’re a worker-owner, to lose sight of what it means to be a worker-owner of a business, and fail to make space and time to check in and ensure that you’re in alignment.” By making the time to reflect and hone in on the cooperative’s purpose and structure, cooperators can ensure their work is directed meaningfully towards their goals.
Lisa also advised cooperatives to designate “clear roles.” She explained that Victory Gardens has a lateral worker-owner structure, which means their positions can overlap in many positive ways, but also that roles and responsibilities can get muddy. Additionally, there are so many different ways to “be” a cooperative that structure can be unclear or difficult to design. Lisa emphasized co-ops can be simultaneously non-hierarchical and structured, and further suggested that structure can help cooperative workers have autonomy, strengthen communication, and ensure the co-op continues to deliver on its mandate and values.