Cowichan Green Community takes home prize for Station

Nominated for the third time in the Non-Profit Sector category at the Real Estate Foundation of BC Land Awards, Cowichan Green Community finally took home the prize from the ceremony last Friday.

A cornerstone of the environmental movement in the Cowichan Valley, CGC was honoured for its work in transforming the Station on Duncan Street from a run-down hotel and bar into a beacon of sustainability.

Pleased to be nominated once again, CGC Executive Director Judy Stafford thought that, once again, that was as far as they would get.

"To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to win," she said. "We were up against some really great projects."

The other finalists included the Society for Organic Urban Land Care, which has provided landscape training and accreditation for local governments in several B.C. municipalities, and Kettle on Burrard, a 16-storey affordable housing project in Vancouver with 141 units for youth at risk of homelessness.

"When I read about that one, I thought, ‘forget it,’" Stafford confessed.

CGC Board President Bev Suderman had some ideas about what made their project stand out, even among such impressive competition.

"We were looking at the bottom line, at financial sustainability, as well as environmental and social sustainability," she pointed out.

There was a community-healing component to the project that may have played a role in the decision, Suderman noted, as the Station has taken over a location that had some negative associations for many community members. It has helped CGC develop a strong relationship in particular with local First Nations.

"That part of the story probably made a difference to getting the award," she said.

CGC’s first nomination at the Land Awards was for the community garden it helped build at Alexander School on Beverly Street, and the second was for the Kin Park Youth Urban Farm on Alderlea Street in Duncan.

The Station, the project that finally nabbed the prize for the society, is located in the former Phoenix Station Motor Inn, and now features the CGC offices, 20 affordable housing units, two businesses – Cycle Therapy and Harmony Yoga – that share CGC’s philosophies, and a commercial kitchen where cooking classes are offered. A food forest is located outside.

The win, Stafford feels, shows that a group from a small community with a small budget can be just as effective as an organization from a big city with a multimillion-dollar project.

As a result of their victory last week, CGC has been invited to speak about the Station project at conferences, where Stafford hopes to inspire other groups to do what they have done.

"If Cowichan Green Community can do something like this, then anybody can," she said. "We didn’t have a ton of skills going into it, but it’s been a worthwhile endeavour. We are more than willing to share some of our learnings with other people."