Business Guilds and Micro-Enterprise Niches

Business Guilds and Micro-Enterprise Niches

No one who works at the Ranch expects this to be a lucrative career--that's not why we get up in the morning. But we do recognize the need to earn a living that provides basic resources. . As a small business that routinely puts people and planet above profits, providing for all our team members financially has been a challenge. So we've looked toward permaculture design to inspire us, turn problems into opportunities, , and use nature as our model to find creative financial solutions.

Guilds and Niches

The permaculture concepts of guilds and niches inspired us to create a set of business guilds and niche micro-enterprises. Last year we implemented organizational (invisible) structures that allow and support each Core Team member to pursue their own micro-enterprise. Each of these enterprises is a small business which is independent of the Ranch but still greatly interconnected. This is what Toby Hemenway, in his new book The Permaculture City, refers to as a Business Guild. He defines these “as a set of independent enterprises that are tied together by connections among some of their needs and yields.”

This is a strategy mimicking the plant polyculture guilds we employ in the garden. An intentional grouping of plants can support one another to create better growing conditions or cycling surplus/waste products amongst each other. These enterprises complement and support each other and the existing umbrella organization of the Ranch in this same pattern.

The overall hope is that each micro-enterprise can bring in additional income for Core Team members, while still supporting activities at the Ranch . For instance, if I attract a client (a pollinator) for our design consulting work and they are happy with the outcome (yield), it is highly likely they will visit the Ranch as a guest (positive feedback loop), and perhaps send an employee to get trained in our Permaculture Design Course (yield). All the while I gain more experience as a permaculture designer, and can be a better instructor for our students and apprentices (multiple functions). Everyone wins (supported by multiple elements).

Each of these enterprises fills a niche or opportunity that the larger Ranch organization is unable to take advantage of. In this way, each business shapes the economic micro-climate of the others by attracting more potential clients or customers. In addition, they all share resources, such as our brand and website, store space, farming and workshop tools, and vehicles. These businesses do not compete with each other, but complement and enhance the entire guild by filling different niches.

Current micro-enterprises include:

Design Consulting

The Rancho Mastatal Design/Build Collective (RMDBC) is a landscape design and natural building consultation service founded by Rachel Jackson, Nic Donati, and myself in 2014. Since then we've slowly been accepting clients and projects around Costa Rica and the globe.

As our website states:  We specialize in helping clients find the balance between meeting the needs of the land and accomplishing their own goals. From a quick consultation about edible plants for your home garden, to full scale site analysis and master planning for your property, RMDBC can help you create a productive and beautiful landscape.

Last year we worked in Costa Rica, Panama, and Fiji, providing advice and plans on reforestation efforts, timber plantations, cacao agroforestry, crops for production, and homestead design. We are beginning to accept a limited number of clients for 2016 and are excited about the conversations that are happening already.

We genuinely believe that our work can move projects months if not years ahead by filtering out unnecessary steps and focusing on the strongest leverage points. We treat our services as a farm input that demands a return on investment, and expect that our advice will save our clients money in the medium and long run. In particular we love talking through landscapes and possibilities with clients, and using our experience as a sieve to arrive at that perfect plan between our subjective goals and the objective lay of the land.

RMDBC consultation work helps further the overall mission of the Ranch as an educational facility by broadening our experience and reach. It also supports and is supported by the other Ranch micro-businesses: at the Ranch clients can see and purchase clear examples of high quality products like medicinal salves, spices, teas, coffee, and hand crafted wood products that are all made from plants grown locally or from out own agroforestry systems. This demonstrates the full circle of our work, from design and implementation to final product.

Right Livelihood

Our hope in creating these invisible structures and enterprises, is that all our Core Team members are able to complement and enhance their earnings from the main Rancho Mastatal business. This diversity of economic opportunities is a safety net for our livelihoods. While hardly unique to permaculture, all of the concepts we are exploring fit eloquently with the principals of permaculture: “diversity is dynamic stability;” “support important functions with many elements;” and “creative problem solving” can all be applied to both tangible and intangible challenges. Taking these principals out of the physical realm and into the social and economic domains will be one of the great opportunities for our team as we seek to strengthen our financial livelihoods in the years ahead.

We continue to put permaculture into practice at Rancho Mastatal and if you'd like to learn more about how we do so, consider joining us for our upcoming Permaculture Design Certification course this April 17th, 2016!

Scott Gallant