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Whistler and Pemberton students earn entrepreneurial scholarship

Kristina Schrage’s Nurture in Nature Community Farm and Sherry Hilliard’s Whistler Photo Safari Ltd. chosen for Royal Roads award

Two Sea to Sky residents have been named this fall’s recipients of Royal Roads University’s Eric. C. Douglass Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies Scholarship. 

The $10,000 award is given to the program’s most promising entrepreneurial graduates finishing their studies that school year. 

Pemberton’s Kristina Schrage, who recently submitted her thesis for the Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communications program, was chosen for her new Nurture in Nature Community Farm. Meanwhile, Whistler’s Sherry Hilliard, who just earned her Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial Management, received the award for her plans to add to the educational component of Whistler Photo Safaris Ltd., which she runs with her husband. 

Schrage first started her business at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when she found herself without a job.

She had talked to local Kim Rainthorpe, who owned some property, about how to connect more people to the land through education, and when she suddenly had more time on her hands, she decided to take a leap. 

“My background is in environmental education,” Schrage said. “I’ve always been connecting people to the land in a more adventurous way, but I’m also really interested in sustainability. I realized we were taking people and throwing them into adventurous scenarios. It was amazing, but … they would return to normal lives and the ethics of sustainability they learned were separate from their real lives.

“In Pemberton, I was interested in connecting people to the land here through the food system in their own backyard.” 

To that end, Schrage leased land off Rainthorpe to launch Nurture in Nature, offering people a chance to help produce food as well learn more about sustainability. 

She had to tweak her offerings this summer in keeping with COVID-19 safety restrictions, but, in the end, two adults or one family at a time visited the permaculture garden once a week to contribute to growing 200 kilograms of food. 

“Next year, I want to expand it with more educational opportunities, more connection to nature, more product,” Schrage said. “I’m particularly excited to make it more of a closed-loop system, especially with this awesome scholarship I got.”

Another aspect of the farm is its “conscious collaborators,” including a shaman who guides students down a path of purpose, and an herbalist who runs an herbal medicine garden. 

“I’m excited to bring people in as this community grows,” Schrage said. 

She plans to spend her scholarship money on growing some aspect of the business, but she will spend the winter choosing carefully. 

“I’m so excited to figure that out,” she added. “The great thing about farming is you get the winter to make your plans.” 

In Whistler, Hilliard has decided that her money will go towards enhancing the educational aspect on their tours. However, just the gesture of being chosen was a vote of confidence in her business. 

“To win this, to be recognized by the school, it’s an honour,” she said. “I definitely feel honoured.” 

In addition, she also earned the President’s Scholarship Award for graduating with distinction in the top 10 per cent of her class, as well as the Royal Roads University Founders’ Award, which is a medal given to one student from each program who demonstrates qualities of leadership, sustainability, and personal development. 

“Getting that final stamp of approval at the end was really meaningful,” she said. 

While, historically, around 90 per cent of their business has come from international tourism—which meant a challenging summer—Hilliard is optimistic about the company’s future. She believes the uptick in regional visitors keen to see local wildlife and learn more about it will also remain in the mix. 

“From the depths of spring, even when we were in lockdown, I wanted to be a bright light,” she said. “That’s just being an entrepreneur. You roll with whatever challenges are thrown at you.”