Creating partnerships with ag community to help save bats

Ryan Dahlman, Southern Alberta Newspapers


Sometimes the best economic ideas don’t come from a corporate board room.
The Medicine Hat College’s chapter of Enactus, “an international non-profit organization dedicated to making the world a better place through entrepreneurial action,” looks for different projects to do to help out the local area.
In 2016, a six year-old boy named Hudson talked to them about Little Brown Bats, animals he learned about at school. He told Enactus members he was worried about them.
“(Hudson) was extremely concerned about this species due to their sharp population decline across North America,” explains Ashley Herrmann, president of Enactus MHC. “So in response to Hudson’s concerns we, at Enactus MHC designed a project to address not only saving the Little Brown Bat population, but also by creating a business based on the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) named Project My Generation to help save the Little Brown Bats for Hudson’s generation.
Herrmann points out there are many team members from rural areas in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan including those with ties to farming. Despite the fact they had this experience, they were not aware of the importance of bats to the agriculture community.
“We were not even aware of the impact that this could have on the agriculture industry (specifically farmers) until we were well into researching how · to help solve this problem,” explains Herrmann. “So while it is a perfect fit as many of us are strong supporters of the farming industry, we did not create the project because of this connection, and it only became relevant to this industry until after we had done the research.”
The entrepreneurial group’s research started with finding information about what is causing the population decline. Herrmann says the team found  the Little Brown Bats are disappearing because of a fungus called White Nose Syndrome, which is affecting the bats immune system and interfering with hibernation. This is detrimental because when hibernating bats run out of energy they die.
Unfortunately, White Nose Syndrome is extremely contagious among bats and when they hibernate in caves they gather in groups which can exceed more than 20,000.
“If one infected bat enters the cave, it is possible for all of the bats to become infected and die,” explains Herrmann. “To further aid our research, Enactus MHC contacted and partnered with Dr. Robert Barclay from the University of Calgary who is a leading expert in the country on the Little Brown Bat. From Dr. Barclay we learned that there are two main ways to help save the population, education and building bat boxes. From there we found that bats are vital to not only our ecosystem, but also to the agriculture industry as previously mentioned.
“As you may know already, a bat’s diet is primarily made up of insects. This is helpful for farmers since the more insects the bats eat, the less farmers have to pay to spray their crops with insecticides. From our findings it is estimated that bats save $73 an acre for farmers and with the average farm size in Canada being about 800 acres, bats are saving the average Canadian farmer over $59,000 per year. This information was a vital point for us, as it was so relevant to so many people in the area with a large portion of the population relying on the farming industry. Due to the funding that we have previously received from Canadian Tire, which was matched by Medicine Hat College, we had no requirement to operate on anything better than break even for the first few months of operations. This was because we saw this project to be viable no matter the economic impact for our team, as long as we could make a visible environmental impact.”
Herrmann explains Enactus MHC did all of the research in the development of this project, but also purchased start up materials and salaries for the individuals who were hired hired to help with the production process.
“Once we had the boxes assembled by our new employees we had our entire team meet to paint, sell, and distribute the boxes,” says Herrmann. “All of this work done by our members was paired with finding funding, finding resources, and finding partners and connections within (Medicine Hat) to make the project possible.”
Through the project, Enactus is creating jobs and helping the local employment scene. Enactus hired a Medicine Hat business, Scene-Fab which specializes in CNC routering and they helped Enactus ‘reverse engineer’ a bat house and design it to be more cost efficient.
As an added benefit to the project, the Enactus · group also partnered with the southeast Alberta non-profit organization REDI Enterprises, which helps individuals with disabilities find employment. Enactus hired two individuals on a part-time basis to construct the bat houses.Ê
“This is a vital and important piece for me and much of our team, as we are employing at need people within our community and for one of our new employees this was his first time that he was able to work in 14 years,” she added.
So far, they have set a goal of manufacturing 100 houses, and will continue production as sales/demand increases.
Besides those two organizations Enactus is currently partnering with the Social Entrepreneurialship Fund at Medicine Hat College through the Entrepreneurialship Development Centre.
Herrmann is drafting up proposals for local grazing associations in the area to see if associations would be interested in mass purchasing for all members. She is looking for other contacts that would be interesting in doing anything similar.
The vast majority of the pre-orders as of right now have been from the Connecting Students to Business Dinner held at Medicine Hat College where local business members get to network and see what is going on within the college and southeast Alberta region.
Enactus MHC had the opportunity to do a presentation at this event on the three main projects they have been working on throughout the year. They had a silent auction for another project and had a table where pre-sales of the boxes were available.
“We had astounding positive feedback from our presentations with many people truly inspired by the impact that a group of college students can have within our community,” says Herrmann. Along with this we have done numerous presentations to college executives, and business boards to help get the word out about our projects and again much positive support with lots of offers for help and support if we did ever need it.”