B.C. Business Mentorship Network – A Rocha

Posted by Melanie Buffel on April 15, 2022

Young Agrarians is celebrating the eighth year of the Business Mentorship Network (BMN) program. The BMN offers business mentorships  to a diverse array of new and young farmers across BC. Through one-on-one mentorship and peer networks, young farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.

The 2022 Mentee Cohort have been working and planning with the support of their Mentors and we are  thrilled to profile them and wish them lots of success for the year ahead!

Watch out for applications to open again in fall of 2022!

My name is Carly Richardson, I manage A Rocha Farm which is a part of a larger  international non profit that works in environmental care and conservation work. My mentor is Andrew Adams of Hope Organics. 

Where do you farm? Please include the traditional territory acknowledgement if you know it. 

I farm in South Surrey within the TATALU (Little Campbell River) Watershed on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish people: including Semiahmoo, Kwantlen, Stó:lō and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations

What do you farm?

We farm mixed vegetables and a small plot of cut flowers. 

What inspired you to get into farming?

I first found myself first drawn to farming when I began to get passionate about food justice in a university class on food systems. I was exposed to how broken our food system is and how the repercussions of that are harming our environment, people’s health and workers right to fair wages and a safe work environment. After university I started working on farms and fell in love with the rhythms of work that allowed me to use my body so physically to produce tangible work in community.

What did you do to learn how to farm?

I learned from mostly just experience. I started out working in a therapeutic farming community working with adults with disabilities on a farm, then decided from there to pursue farming more fully and went on to do an internship with A Rocha (the farm I have since returned to manage) where I got a lot of good experience, made some really solid farming friends and my first more formal training in farming. From there I went on to work on a few different farms – a flower farm and a no-till vegetable csa and market farm. I found that just getting alot of exposure to different farms and different farmers techniques was an incredible way to learn and in the process have built a wide web of farming friends who have been incredible supporting answering questions and providing great advice and sharing in the highs and lows of what it is to be a farmer.

What types of ecological farm practices do you use?

The farm has always focused on building soil health through regular cover cropping, compost application and minimal tillage. This season we are also transitioning about half of the farm into no-till style farming and are excited to continue building our soil health through this style of farming. We are also working to plant more hedgerows to encourage beneficial insects and provide habitat for native critters in our area. 

What type of business structure is your farm?

We are a non-profit farm and a social enterprise, striving for the farm to be self-sufficient while leaning into our non-profit side to allow us to donate food to many community partners and focus on training and education of interns and other staff who come to learn on the farm.

Our primary market is CSA and we deliver into Vancouver but we also sell at a small on site farm store and to some local restaurants and donate CSA shares and extra produce to a variety of community partners and the food bank.

How much land is under production on your farm?

2.5 acres

What is your land tenure? 

We are farming the land owned by A Rocha that was generously donated to us as well as some land on lease from the city of Surrey.

Why did you apply for business mentorship?

As a young farmer, new to this area, I’ve been feeling a real need for connection to other farmers as well as a desire for more training and support around how to run a business. This will be my second year running the farm and my first year was quite overwhelming, I felt like I was constantly faking it till I made it, and while I learned a ton I knew I wanted to continue growing this year with more intentional support. I wanted to increase efficiency, deepen my leadership skills and broaden my business management skill set. The mentorship felt like the perfect solution to all of that. It also really appealed to me as a way to connect more deeply to the farming community here in BC, to learn from wise more experienced farmers and to have accountability and support in setting and striving to achieve goals for growth and sustainability of our farm business. 

What is the greatest business challenge you face as a new farmer? 

Learning how to make crunch time decisions and knowing that that sometimes means making mistakes and learning by trial and error. It is a pretty big shift from having someone teaching you and telling you what to do to being the one to call the shots and have to teach and tell other people what to do. I have found it humbling and challenging and helpful to learn how to make decisions and take calculated risks and know who to ask for help/advice when I really don’t know.

What is your primary business goal for the season?

To increase efficiencies on the farm in our use of labor and in our workflows. Through increased efficiencies to make better use of resources and be a more productive farm with less wasted space, resources and time.

What business tools could you not live without?

This season I would say its our farm crop plan which we created from the Farmer Spreadsheets Academy (would highly recommend this program!). 

We poured many hours into creating it and filled it out throughly with all our information about each crop we grow. Now it is giving us a detailed road map of everything that needs to happen on the farm all season long – from seeding to pot up to planting to harvest. It’s a great tool to help keep organized in our planning each week and also has great tools for record keeping all season long that will be conveniently available to inform our planning next year.   

If you had a farming robot what would it be?

If I had a farming robot it would for sure be an emailing/admin robot! I find it quite challenging to keep up with emails and general administrative work on a good day and next to impossible once summer comes around and I certainly don’t enjoy it. So I would love to have a robot secretary who could read me my emails while I am out in the field farming and then respond for me. 

How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?

You can find out more about us on our website:  https://arocha.ca/where-we-work/brooksdale/brooksdale-csa/ and sign up for our CSA on our CSA website: https://www.harvie.farm/profile/a-rocha-farm

You can also follow our on site store on instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/arocha.market/ and find out more about what is coming out of the fields and what is going on around A Rocha.

This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.