We’re checking back in with our B.C. Business Mentorship Network participants to see how their seasons have gone and how mentorship has benefitted them.
Name, Farm, Location? Dancing Dandelion Farms, Duncan, BC
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those? This was our very first year farming. Our main goal for the year was to learn to grow vegetables and flowers at a market scale. Our first goal was to set-up our farm infrastructure such as our wash station, harvest area, deer fencing, irrigation and to prepare our soil and beds to grow crops. Once we had that in place we developed our crop plan, financial targets and a business plan. We aimed to sell our products at one farmer’s market a week as well as to sell every Sunday direct from our farm stand.
Did you meet your goals? How did it all work out? Yes, we did meet our goals. We were able to set-up our main infrastructure and create a good base foundation for the farm to move into future years. We also reached our financial goals and attended our local farmer’s market every week. We did have a bit of a late start to spring (i.e. cold weather) and therefore some of the crops we anticipated being ready in early spring took longer than expected, but because we had a diversity of crops we were still able to start the market on our anticipated start date.
What were your most profitable avenues of sales? Between our farm stand and the farmer’s market, we definitely had the bulk of our sales from the farmer’s market. The market in our town is very well-established and frequented by many locals. In the summer there are also a lot of tourists in the area. As far as specific products, garlic and tomatoes were probably our best sellers.
What is your unique value proposition in your market? Why buy from you? Probably the biggest compliment we received from customers was that they loved the look of our stand and quality of our products. This year we tended to grow unique varieties with many bright colours, many of which people wouldn’t typically find at the supermarket.
How did the mentorship impact your business? One of the big benefits of being part of the mentorship was the confidence it gave us going into our first year. While we’d had some educational background in farming, we didn’t have much practical experience aside from tending to our own personal gardens. Having someone experienced to talk to weekly before the season began and bounce ideas off of really helped. Sometimes we would have doubt in our plans, but after meeting with the mentor he helped us to easily overcome obstacles that on our own likely would have taken hours or days to resolve.
What business skills have you gained through the mentorship? We gained a lot of skills in managing the financial side of our business. Part of the program involved webinars geared towards managing financials including everything from cash flow to filing taxes which was hugely beneficial for us!
What was the most important information you gained from your mentor? For me the one phrase that stuck out to me most from our mentor was that no matter how tough things get during the season to “keep seeding and follow our crop plan”. Prior to the season we worked with our mentor to outline basically every week of the season in our crop plan and so we had that as a guide to keep us on track all summer long. Every week we planted our succession crops on the same day.
Overall, how are you feeling about your farm business this season? We feel great about our business. We still have a long ways to go before both my husband and myself can work full time on the farm without the support of my husband’s secondary income, but we have a much better understanding of our local market and of farming in general. Through the mentorship program we set-up many record keeping templates, which will allow us to analyze our year and make improvements and refinements moving ahead. Along with that, probably one of our favourite parts of the year was meeting so many amazing and supportive people in our community.
Did you learn any lessons the hard way? Yes. Luckily we didn’t have anything too catastrophic happen, but we had a couple minor setbacks. One in particular that I learned was to always monitor newly transplanted seedlings especially when under row cover. I transplanted out our first succession of kale and put row cover over it to protect it from insects. It was raining that day, so I figured I didn’t need to water it in. The next few days were quite warm and likely even warmer under the row cover, but I moved on to other tasks and forgot about the kale. A week or so later my brother was visiting and I was touring him around showing him the crops. I figured I’d show off our kale to him, so I lifted up the row cover and to my horror found the entire bed had died and been scorched from heat. I felt heartbroken. Looking back now, it really wasn’t that traumatic as we had another succession planting already germinated and it was only one of our many crops, but at the time it seemed like a big failure. In the end our kale was successful, but just a weeks later than we’d hoped.
Do you have any big plans for future growth? Our main plans for next year are to start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, open up our farm stand to five or more days a week (this year we only did one day a week) and to potentially add another weekly farmer’s market.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Drinking tea, eating lots of preserved/frozen farm food from summer and reading under a warm blanket. Also, dreaming of the possibilities for next year and looking at seed catalogues. We may even take a mini vacation to Salt Spring Island.
2015, 2016, & 2017 Funding for the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Pilot is provided in part by Vancity, Salt Spring Coffee, Rotary Hastings Sunrise, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada & the BC Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.