Hi, this is Laticia Chapman checking in with YA Business Mentorship Blog #2. I’m going to freestyle it, because my year diverged wildly from my expectations circa last January.
I’ve just passed my first anniversary living at my family farm in Tarrys, BC, between Castlegar and Nelson in the West Kootenays. We haven’t settled on a name in any legal sense, but ‘Hawthorn Creek Farm’ is a strong contender.
So let me say right off the bat that you’d have to call this season a #farmfail for me, at least in a business sense. My focus for this mentorship was going to be the fruit trees that we inherited along with the farm, 100+ young trees that needed pruning, irrigation, and identification. I got the pruning done in February, and thanks to my mentor, Danny Turner, I also was offered a contract to prune his orchard in Creston. Both as education and as employment, pruning 750 apple trees with his orchard manager was a tremendous opportunity.
Back on my farm in March, as the days got longer and the snow disappeared, I started all kinds of vegetables and began digging a garden of decent size (about 1/8 of an acre). The trees were covered with beautiful blossoms! And as most farmers do, I was looking for wage work as well as keeping up my ambitions of spending every spare minute in the fields. April and May were sunny and hot – maybe too sunny and hot. Then June and July were rainy and cool. Rainy is an understatement. Memory is unreliable, but it felt as though there was a downpour every other day and sometimes more often for those two months. I went out to the trees to thin the crop, expecting branches bowed under the weight of pears, plums, and apples, and instead found – almost nothing. Nothing more than what my family and I could eat and process ourselves.
Obviously this was disappointing. The lack of fruit was unexpected and perhaps beyond my control, although I have some research to do over the winter regarding ways to improve pollination in the orchard. But on the plus side, I didn’t have to worry about losing any trees to overexcited bears, and ultimately didn’t have to devote time I ended up not having to marketing my fruit. This year was a year of rest for the trees, a year where they could respond to being taken care of and put on growth without the stress of fruit production. And a year for me to explore being in a new community, figuring out where I might fit in to the social ecology of this valley.
I was very happy with my vegetable garden. I just harvested the last of the cabbages and lettuce yesterday, before it went to minus 9 overnight. The freezer is full of tomatoes, the cellar is full of winter squash, potatoes, and onions, there are cabbages and carrots in the cold room, and there’s kale and spinach in the greenhouse. It has been an absolute pleasure to feed myself and eat with the seasons. With only a few exceptions, I have produced most of the vegetables and fruit that I’ve consumed since the beginning of June. And I’m looking forward to bringing a big box of winter vegetables home to my parents for the holidays. I can’t wait to be growing again next year, and I can feel the end of February in my fingertips, even though it’s not even really winter here yet.
What I was not expecting was to fall in love with our land. My parents bought this farm to fulfill a decades-old dream, and I was not at all sure that this purchase was a good idea for them, financially, socially, and physically, or that it would be any good for any of the extended family who were inevitably going to be involved. And yet. I am overtaken with how beautiful this place is, and how many things we could do here, every time I walk out the door. Next year I’ll grow a garden again, and continue rehabilitating the fruit trees. There are some other existing crops that need attention – some berry rows and some sunchokes, and some new trees to plant. And there’s more work to be done fixing up some of the existing infrastructure. And beyond that, there are endless possible projects: an outdoor kitchen, restoration along the overgrown creek, a new roof for the barn…
I appreciate the structure that the business mentorship has given me, and my mentor in particular was very good at guiding me in constructing a calendar of monthly and seasonal farm tasks and business tasks. My job for this winter will be to revisit those goals and put in the research to be able to fulfil those benchmarks next season. I am ultimately appreciative of Danny’s professionalism and his insistence on systems and organization, and even though for the most part I feel like I failed spectacularly at the farming-as-business game, I have a fairly clear sense of timing and was able to chip away at everything to the point where I don’t – and this is a huge relief – feel as though I have left much unfinished for the winter.
2015-16 Funding for the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Pilot is provided in part by Salt Spring Coffee, Vancity, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.