Photo by © Michael Hayter
For Zita Cobb, Founder and CEO of the Shorefast Foundation and Innkeeper of Fogo Island Inn, genuine hospitality supports the flow of its community. As she puts it, “Good businesses take care of people too.”
Earlier this year, the Newfoundland native became the first social entrepreneur to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame for her incredible work in developing the Shorefast Foundation and its luxury property, the Fogo Island Inn.
Zita’s work displays her commitment to the people of Fogo Island—one of Canada’s oldest settlements and the place she called home until age 16.
Big Lessons for a Small Child
Zita describes herself as having lived in three centuries; she grew up on Fogo Island in Joe Batt’s Arm, a small town in outport Newfoundland, in a barter system where her family did not have electricity or running water.
Growing up in a large fishing family and tight-knit community, Zita developed a profound respect for nature, culture, and community.
In an interview after her induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, Zita recalled a pivotal moment in her life, in the late 1960s, when large industrial vessels were overfishing North Atlantic cod to the brink of extinction. Her father, a fisher who had a deep understanding of nature’s ecological logic, worried about how the overfishing would impact their livelihood and so insisted that Zita go on to study business.
After studying business at Carleton University, Zita went on to have a successful and profitable international career in high tech. In the early 2000s, Zita brought her father’s dream to life—feeling the draw of home, she brought her business knowledge back home to Fogo Island and founded Shorefast with her brothers, Alan and Tony.
Supporting the Flow of Life
Shorefast is a registered charity dedicated to securing cultural and economic resiliency for Fogo Island, Change Islands, and to inspiring similar rural communities worldwide.
The charitable entity and its social businesses, the most internationally renowned of which is Fogo Island Inn, works with and within the community to revitalize the local economy, preserve and evolve long-standing cultural knowledge as well as strive to have a positive relationship with nature and its resources.
In the midst of a climate crisis and at the tapering end of a global pandemic, enterprises like Shorefast and Fogo Island Inn are more necessary than ever.
For Zita, whose passion is to ensure place-based communities can belong in our global economy, revitalizing a community like Fogo Island was not a small fix, but it was an easy answer—working from within to enable agency for Fogo Islanders and a cycle of reinvestment.
“One-third of the households on this island work directly with us, either at the inn or at the foundation,” Zita shares.
All the surpluses from the Inn are returned to and reinvested in the community through the projects and programs of Shorefast. It’s a mission that is part of what Zita calls “supporting the flow of life”—it’s also a great source of pride for the organization.
The Economic Nutrition Certification Mark, developed by Shorefast, shows visitors exactly where their money goes and how the cost of each nightly stay breaks down.
“How do we all fit together? It’s a source of wonder, but it’s also a realization that we can do things to fit together better – and that is what hospitality does,” Zita shares.
Seven Season of Luxury
“Hospitality is a very simple thing: it’s the love of a stranger,” says Zita.
Fogo Island Inn is a one-of-a-kind award-winning luxury property with 29 unique rooms and suites, each with floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto the ocean.
Fogo Island is not limited to four seasons; instead, the islanders have seven seasons that reflect the changes in their weather and lifestyles throughout the year. Each of the Island’s seven seasons is rife with opportunities for adventure, and most seasons invite the exploration of Fogo Island on foot. With over a dozen easily accessible trails on the Island and guided hikes led by naturalists, geologists-in-residence, and community hosts, natural beauty awaits no matter when one visits.
Snowy winters are filled with socializing in warm cabins, hearty meals prepared on woodstoves and outdoor bonfires, and exuberant days spent snowmobiling, skating, snowshoeing, and tobogganing.
Pack Ice season (March) brings multi-year sparkling ice floes to the shores, a perfect opportunity for nature photography, and a hopeful spring follows to thaw the ice before June’s Trap Berth Season, named for the traditional staking out of fishing grounds, often in between bobbing icebergs. From Spring through Summer, visitors can do marine excursions and experience guided tours of Little Fogo Islands with a local captain and learn about this traditional inshore fishing destination.
Summer on Fogo Island calls for time spent enjoying the grassy hills decorated with plentiful wildflowers before Berry season brings a bountiful harvest of blueberries, marshberries, crowberries, and partridgeberries.
Finally, Late Fall is the perfect time to reflect, relax, and prepare for the winter to come, all while watching dramatic waves crash up against the Island’s 420-million-year-old rocks.
Eco-tourism at the Corner of the Earth
Built on the principles of sustainability and a true love and respect for nature and culture, Fogo Island Inn offers a holistic immersion into community development and cultural preservation.
The Inn is a community asset—all operating surpluses are reinvested to help secure a sustainable and resilient future for Fogo Island and contribute to the local and global economy.
Even during construction, the Inn worked from within the hyper-local Fogo Island community, creating jobs at every step of the way, from handmade furniture to hospitality staffing to locally-grown ingredients, all while striving to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment. The Inn also operates a zero-waste kitchen, using bottling, pickling and fermentation to preserve food surpluses, and uses solar thermal panels on the roof to supply hot water for heating, laundry, and kitchen equipment.
Visitors can even take their impact a step further by opting to make their stay carbon neutral by supporting a carbon offsetting project in Stephenville and Appleton-Glenwood, Newfoundland, through the Newfoundland Climate and Ecosystems Conservancy Project.
In partnership with Carbonzero, this sustainability initiative works to balance greenhouse gas emissions with avoidances or removals in equal amounts, directly benefitting and protecting Fogo Island’s sacred natural land.
Experiences like Fogo Island Inn are proof that it’s possible to enjoy a beautiful and unique getaway that not only supports climate-friendly initiatives but that immediately and directly contributes to the cultural and economic future of a local community.
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