BUILDING COMMUNITY WHILE NURTURING RESILIENCE: MEET MINGA’S AMI DEHNE & ELLA HENDERSON

BY CHRIS TIESSEN

Ever wish you knew how to brew your own hard cider, or butcher a whole hog, or knit something you’d actually wear, or forage for edible plants and fungi, or maintain a sourdough starter so legendary that you bequeath it to someone in your will? Minga Skill Building Hub in Guelph runs hands-on workshops where you can learn these skills – and bring home the bounty of your efforts. Run by experts with a passion for their craft and the desire to share their expertise, Minga’s workshops are helping build resilient communities by empowering participants to change how they live, work, produce and consume.

WHEN WE SAT DOWN WITH MINGA’S FOUNDER, AMI DEHNE, AND BUSINESS PARTNER, ELLA HENDERSON, TO CHAT ABOUT MINGA’S ORIGINS, SUCCESSES, AND AMBITIONS, HERE’S WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY:

WHEN DID MINGA GET STARTED? WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION?

Ami: I first thought of starting Minga when I was traveling around New Zealand. My desire to learn all sorts of skills – canning, bread baking, cheese making, animal husbandry – drove me to seek work on various farms as I moved through the country. I absolutely loved learning new skills – and connecting with people at the same time. When I moved to Guelph, I wanted to continue what I’d been doing – learning skills.

Ella: And teaching them too. And giving others the chance to learn and teach.

Ami: We held our first Minga workshop in September 2012 when I taught a ‘pay-whatyou-can’ canning workshop. A lot of folks showed up and had a super time. But they paid almost nothing. So now we charge a proper fee – which is always great value.

WHERE DOES THE NAME ‘MINGA’ COME FROM?

Ella: Minga (or ‘minca’) is a South American term referring to a gathering meant to accomplish a task in which the whole community benefits. It’s our belief that our community’s essential needs can be met by the skills held within it.

WHAT’S THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE BUSINESS?

Ella: There’s nothing Minga offers that can’t be learned on YouTube – except the one thing humans need to thrive: community and connection. That’s what we’re all about. Connecting people and building community.

Ami: And re-connecting folks with skills that, only two generations back, most of us would have taken for granted.

Ella: It’s amazing how quickly a person can learn a skill when s/he participates in a hands-on workshop with an expert instructor– someone who can recommend local resources and help workshop attendees avoid the mistakes that come with learning any craft – while stoking everyone’s enthusiasm for the project at hand. On the deepest level, Minga workshops are an antidote to the paradoxically hyperconnected yet hyper-isolated world in which we live.

WHO’S ON THE TEAM? WHAT ARE YOUR RESPECTIVE ROLES?

Ami: Minga started with just me, but became a dynamic duo in April 2017 when Ella came on board. Ella’s a master of getting stuff done and is passionate about creating transformative experiences that give people the opportunity to slow down, connect, and learn.

Ella: For the most part, we’re Jills of all trades, sharing responsibilities when needed. Generally, Ami takes care of the money and I take care of the marketing and promotions requirements. We work together on business development and visioning. Although we do some of the teaching, we hire experts to teach in particular fields.

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE WORKSHOPS TO DATE?

Ami: We love developing workshops in collaboration with others – watching the creative juices flow while we build something together. Recently we partnered with Verge Permaculture, for example, to offer a number of introductory courses that culminated in a two-week Permaculture Design Certificate course teaching participants how to understand and use nature’s patterns and rules as a basis for the design of a food production system.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER WORKSHOPS YOU’VE RUN?

Ami: O jeez – there have been all sorts. We’ve done the Art of Pork Butchery; Designing Tiny Homes, Cozy Cabins, and Small Spaces; Natural Soap Making; Cider Making – from Apple to Alcohol; Sourdough Bread Baking; Foraging for Wild Edibles; Custom Sausage Making and more.

Ella: You can find a list of upcoming workshops at mingaskillbuilding.ca

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS GOING FORWARD?

Ami: Our business helps create more resilient communities through sustainable skill building. We connect folks around hands on, in-person learning experiences that encourage them to slow down and be more mindful about food and the environment. In the future, we plan to expand our offerings to include immersive retreats, full-day experiences, re-skilling fairs, and seminars and coaching to help hobbyists launch potential new income streams.

Ella: Minga’s goal is nothing less than to change the world – one workshop at a time.

Ami: And that, my friends, is why Ella’s in charge of marketing.