Connecting the dots within her community

At Cowichan Green Community, we start new projects all the time – that’s what keeps my brain on fire.” -Judy Stafford, Executive Director, Cowichan Green Community

Judy Stafford likes to play a game she calls ‘connect the dots.’

Judy Stafford
From L-R Lisa McLeod Hykaway, Judy Stafford and Mark Paetz, Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area (DDBIA) Board Members receiving the Spirit of Excellence Award (2015)

But you’d be hard pressed to connect the many, many dots of all the places, careers and moments in her own life over the past 61 years – the dots that have led her to the place she sits today.  Working from her home in Nanoose Bay, Judy oversees the charity, nonprofit and corporate operations of the “most rewarding job she’s ever had” as Executive Director of the Cowichan Green Community (CGC).

“You never know how things might shift,” she says reflecting on her wide range of life experiences.

Many pursuits
From ‘pivotal’ childhood moments living in El Salvador; to a quarter century working as a banker; followed by a decision to relocate to a yoga ashram in the Laurentians; a stint teaching summer yoga camp in northern Ontario; managing the YMCA pool and youth activities (‘a dream job when she was 17); before finally relocating back to the west coast where she homeschooled her daughter and ‘decided to live the writer’s dream’ on a float house in Maple Bay.

“I don’t do anything half-heartedly,” Judy jokes of her many career paths. “When a girlfriend from Toronto told me CGC was looking for an article writer, back in 2007, I headed determinedly to their office. I ended up getting the six-month contract, and then I decided to try my hand at grant writing… well… I was shocked when I didn’t get my first $3,000 grant!”

Cowichan Green Community Grows
In the years to come, however, that missed grant money would come back many folds, as would the marked evolution of the CGC.

“When I started in 2007, there were three CGC programs running, and our year-end financial statements were $14,000. At the end of 2008, I wrote myself in as Executive Director and by the end of 2021, we will have turned over $2.745 million while running 37 programs, not including the 120 workshops.”

Judy calls herself a “starter” not a “sustainer”. Her work at the helm of CGC over the past +10 years, however, would suggest otherwise.

“At CGC we start new projects all the time – that’s what keeps my brain on fire,” says Judy who’s instigated an impressive repertoire of initiatives. They range from an innovative seniors’ exercise program called Wild Food Walks, to a collaborative Vancouver Island University Workplace Essential Skills Training and youth culinary program, to a free grocery coupon program and housing for those in need. They are also working on purchasing a well-established, local food-related business, and collaborating with Fraser Basin Council to offer an eight-month youth-focused climate change and collaborative leadership project, “Co-Creating a Sustainable BC.

All of this on top of their biggest project undertaking to date: a commercial shared kitchen for agricultural farmers. This is an idea, supported by Island Coastal Economic Trust, literally started as a seed; and one that builds on an earlier Trust support project for an incubator farm, in 2015. The new certified shared kitchen facility is part of four of provincially funded Food Innovation Hubs on Vancouver Island (Cowichan Valley, Bowser, Port Alberni and Victoria). It will build on the CGC’s Garden Education Centre, where dozens of kids from local schools learn farming.

Pioneering project
“I’m really excited about this project,” says Judy. “The idea started as the first seed incubator farm in Canada – no one was growing organic certified seeds incrementally like this before. When we bought our downtown building and were, from the get-go, able to rent out the commercial kitchen to more than 40 renters, we knew there was demand. In the back of our mind, we always knew we’d like to get another, bigger kitchen.”

But getting a larger kitchen space wasn’t as easy as they hoped. Their initial plans were curtailed after the first grant was rejected. But Judy saw this set-back as just another opportunity.

“I always ask if it’s ‘no, or ‘no, but…’.”

It took another year, but they did resubmit and got the news they’d be hoping for: $800,000 would be invested. Judy has since raised money from another four funders and is working on a fifth.

“All my intuition said our community needed this space, so I just persevered. I knew the eventual outcome. All my intuition said our community needed this space, so I just persevered.”

Judy’s philosophy
While Judy says she’s not good with all the permits and regulatory paperwork, she is a strong advocate of building consistency, trust and compassion with her staff.

“It’s important to meet people where they’re at and to give opportunities to those who show up,” says Judy referring to the many youths who participate in any one of CGC’s several farming and agricultural programs. “I try to stay in tune to new and better ways of doing things, but my style isn’t necessarily for everyone. I know I’m demanding and results-oriented, but I’m not nearly as strict anymore. I expect people to come forward and to know what they are passionate about. I also try to create and encourage an empathetic workplace where people feel loved and respected.”

Judy admits it will be very hard for her to retire one day, but that their new General Manager is “amazing”.

“CGC will always be a part of my life and I’ll probably continue on the Board,” she says before referencing back to some of the initial dots of her life. “There’s a lot of other stuff in my life… I have my advanced yoga teacher training. I want to swim more. But mostly, I just want to hang with my family.”


Judy works on the traditional territory of Cowichan Tribes, Stz’uminus First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, Ditidaht First Nation, Malahat Nation, Pacheedaht First Nation, Halalt First Nation, Lyackson First Nation, Ts’uubaa-asatx Nation. She is currently working on revitalizing the Community Cob Oven in Centennial Park; creating new indoor building space at Kin Park; and establishing a new community compost program, a homeless youth meal program, and the first ever Island-wide collaborative seniors’ food and educational program in collaboration with seven Island Health Food Hubs.

Get in touch with Judy
(250) 748-8506


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