10 to Watch 2018: Topsoil

“All chefs want a garden at their fingertips, but they have no time to do it. Building gardens close to where the chefs are is the solution.”

10 to Watch 2018 Topsoil Jeffrey Bosdet
Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

“My definition of social entrepreneurship is to solve big social or environmental problems through business and that is exactly what I intend to do,” says Chris Hildreth.

So far, so good. Hildreth’s farm-to-kitchen company Topsoil supplies Victoria restaurants with in-season produce that’s grown on nearby undeveloped land.

Easier said than done. In fact, it took months of slogging to get developers, engineers and architects on board — and to get the City of Victoria to approve commercial urban farming.

But his prototype rooftop garden threw the switch. “I invited them up on the roof, showed them the space, and later they emailed me to say, ‘Topsoil can move forward as the first commercial agricultural business in Victoria.’”

Hildreth’s passion is solving the biggest problems of today’s industrialized food economy. “I want to eliminate CO2 from food transportation,” he says. “We can bike [the produce] or walk it in under 10 minutes, and chefs can literally have it in their fridge within an hour — no chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, and no one-time-use plastic packaging.”

Through his workshops at UVic, Hildreth shares the keys for realizing his mission: to increase local food production by showing how to develop a sustainable business growing and distributing food in cities, thereby decreasing our reliance on monoculture and mass food transport.

Q&A With Chris Hildreth of Topsoil

What was the best business advice you ever received?

I don’t have a background in farming or gardening. I went to a farmer and asked, how do you grow tomatoes? And she said, you could ask 10 different farmers and you’ll get 10 different answers. That solidified it in my mind: there is no wrong way to do this business, you just have to go figure it out for yourself. I rewrote my business plan about 40 times. You have to adapt on the fly and not be scared to just start doing it.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?

Keep track of all data that you need, not just financially, but looking at the business as a whole. Be able to look back on that month or year so you can move forward better. Be sure you have a bookkeeper right off the bat. The biggest reason why businesses fail is the lack of financial understanding.

All the 10 to Watch 2018 Winners

Avalon Accounting
Club Kwench
Hyas Infosec
Island Circus Space
Stride Properties
The Cookie Guy

This article is from the April/May 2018 issue of Douglas.