The Schoolhouse Café

Schoolhouse Café - Image

Schoolhouse Café - ImageThe Schoolhouse Café is a little spot in Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, in a single classroom inside the Digby Neck Consolidated School (DNCS). Windows stretch to the rafters and there is a chalk sketch of Digby Neck atop a blackboard. It is almost a shame to say that The Schoolhouse Café delivers a community experience that is near extinct in rural Nova Scotia. Everything necessary to cultivate community bonds is wrapped up neatly in this business that invests locally and serves up scrumptious refreshments to boot.

The café was conceptualized in response to grim news; the school board was closing locations and consolidating. DNSC, the last school left in the community, was on the chopping block. At one point the café was part of a “hub proposal” pitch to the school board in an effort to keep the school open, but that was denied.

 Schoolhouse Café - ImageFounders, Melissa Merritt and Gwen Wilson, did not want their planning to go to waste and evolved the idea beyond funding education to providing value to the whole community. A school board policy that grants schools the ability to lease unused areas at the principal’s discretion allowed the approval to move forward.

The Schoolhouse Café has improved the community in many ways. First, a newsletter is delivered directly to the mailboxes of Digby Neck residents; the newsletter gives locals the scoop on recent happenings and events replacing a defunct newspaper. A community garden leases plots to provide a source for fresh, locally grown vegetables and a shared space for new connections. The café utilizes one plot for herbs and vegetables, and local students have a plot where they can learn valuable skills outside of the conventional curriculum. Workshops at the café cover various topics such as healthy eating, intersectionality, deer ticks/Lyme disease and art classes.

Schoolhouse Café - ImageMore great activities at the café include: cooking with catch from local fisherman, utilizing organic ingredients, coffee from a local roaster with fair-trade beans, highway cleanup campaigns, compostable take-out utensils, food bank donations and leftovers for seniors’ homes.

Connecting Neighbours - ImageWhile The Schoolhouse Café provides many benefits, with limited volunteer staff and resources, its geographic range of influence is limited. But the ideological range of social enterprises is not limited. Disjointed and dwindling rural communities are a result of migration to unsustainable, dense urban centers and extreme consolidation of settlements. Technology has been a vital asset in connecting us, but the world stage is often too large and too loud to discover meaning and connection in our closest companions, our neighbours. Thoughtful social enterprises, such as The Schoolhouse Café, that forgo business models based solely on profit and growth-at-all-cost in favour of local sustainability and reinvestment, have huge potential in the fight to save culture, heritage, and the way of life in rural communities.