Written by Emily Mullins
Just nine months after Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ launched the Green Broom Brigade Cooperative to provide employment opportunities to five local women, business has nearly doubled and the future looks bright. In another sign of good things to come, the eco-friendly cleaning service in Lompoc, Calif., has been chosen as a finalist for Green America's People & Planet Award, given to companies with a commitment to sustainable business practices that help create green, healthy homes.
"It came out of the blue," said John McReynolds, vice moderator of Valley of the Flowers UCC. "We are all excited and think this is pretty neat."
A Green Broom Brigade customer nominated the company for the award, and it was chosen out of 80 other nominees as a top-10 finalist. The three companies that receive the most votes from the public before the Feb. 28 deadline will win $5,000. Up to three votes per person can be cast on the Green America website. If they win, the Green Broom Brigade women plan to use the money to expand their services into the commercial sector.
Members of Valley of the Flowers UCC fulfilled their vision of addressing Lompoc's unemployment epidemic in an earth-friendly way when they launched the Green Broom Brigade co-op in April 2013. The business came to fruition with assistance from the California Center for Cooperative Development, which helped McReynolds and some other volunteers conduct a feasibility study, draw up a business plan, and provide employee training. The company is now owned by the five part-time employees, who clean their clients' homes with a homemade vinegar-based cleaning liquid instead of traditional chemical-based household cleaners.
"Like any new business, at the beginning it was a little rocky, but then it picked up consistently from about last August to today," McReynolds said. "The ladies' smiles tell the story. They feel good about it, they are making good decisions and, right now, things look good."
The idea for the Green Broom Brigade was sparked by the economic recession, which hit the small town of Lompoc particularly hard – at one point, unemployment reached 18 percent. While the unemployment rate still hovers at 11.1 percent, which is notably higher than the national average of 6.7 percent, McReynolds says it's "better than it was." Life for the women of the Green Broom Brigade is also better than it was. The extra income has allowed two of them to recently purchase their own homes, and all of them have learned the invaluable skills it takes to operate a business.
"Our small town did not have this type of business," said Raquel Gonzalez, one of the founders of the Green Broom Brigade. "We had heard of other house cleaners and commercial cleaner workers that had been suffering the consequences of using harsh, pollutant chemicals in their jobs – skin cancer and lung cancer. Why not create a green cleaning benefit safe for the worker-owners and their clients?"
While Valley of the Flowers UCC spearheaded the project, McReynolds notes that getting the Green Broom Brigade up and running was really a church-wide effort. The group set out to raise $7,000 in seed money for the project, and ended up with more than $20,000 in donations from sources including the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC, friends, UCC members, and even unknown benefactors from near and far.
"Please vote," McReynolds said. "To all the UCC folk out there who helped make this happen, with just a click of your finger, you could help them get the $5,000 too."