Young Agrarians is celebrating the ninth 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, peer networks and online workshops young farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.
The 2022 Mentee Cohort have had a busy season managing a cool wet spring and a dry hot summer. We will share their voices and experiences over the next few weeks as we recruit for our 2023 cohort of Mentees and Mentors. If you would like to be considered for a seat in the program please see our Business Mentorship Network page for more information.
My name is Mel (she/her) from Clutch Farm in the area now known as Salmo, BC, traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc, Sinixt, Syilx people. My Mentor is Ann from Settle Down Farm in Grand Forks, BC.
What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them?
Most of my goals were around better administrative management, particularly farm planning, financial records and record keeping. I also included elements of financial viability in order to pay myself a living wage, and have some level of work/life balance. I worked with Ann particularly on CSA and crop planning, using a new template and trying to make that process as simplified and streamlined as possible. From a living wage perspective I tried to ensure that I was applying the “pay yourself first” principle, putting aside money that came in to ensure there was budget to pay myself over the season, and dividing the remaining budget between this year’s costs and savings for the following year. From a work/life balance perspective, my partner and I planned a weekend per month to get off-farm.
Did you meet your goals / did it work out? (Explain a bit)
Admittedly, as the season ramped up it was hard to stay on top of the financial records elements of my goals setting, but I am hoping to focus a lot on that in the coming weeks with our remaining hours, along with reviewing production data to try to get a better grasp on costs of production for next year. The crop and CSA planning worked fairly well and was much easier to manage than the previous year, although now with additional time I am looking to tweak that again and try to find a way to have it all integrated much better for 2023. As far as paying myself throughout the season, that fell to the wayside somewhat due to some unforeseen vehicle costs, a very slow start to the growing season and production challenges resulting in reduced farm sales compared to projections. I ended up working off-farm more than initially planned to try to make up for that (which in many ways is lucky that I am able to do!), and that inevitably had some impact on farm success, particularly the administrative tasks as this would have been time I’d have normally spend on admin.
Work/life balance was poor in the early part of the season but we still managed to do some fun things including festivals, hiking and canoeing overnight trips, and a few day trips later in the season when things calmed. Having to work more off-farm to make up for lost budget did mean that there was less of this on a day to day basis, but I can’t complain as I know many farmer’s that didn’t get anywhere near what we did.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season?
Ann’s experience with CSA planning and crop management tools were extremely useful in making that process better for me this season, particularly using Airtable templates.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
The CSA was our best sales channel in terms of overall income over the season, but the Trail Farmer’s market began to be a good source of income as more variety became available. The slow start to the season with the long and cold spring certainly had a big impact on early farm sales.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?
We offer a convenient delivery CSA program and collaborate with other local farms and a coffee company to offer more diverse items than just what we grow in the boxes as well as add-ons. We are also a queer female-owned farm and some folx certainly choose us for that reason. I’m sure some other people don’t support us for that reason too, but we try not to let that get to us.
What was the most important thing you gained from the mentorship?
Using the Airtable platform was really useful for our farm this season. Although I now see some limitations and would like to try to find ways to improve it and integrate it better I think it certainly saved me a lot of time this season. I also really appreciated being able to to bounce ideas around with Ann and the general solidarity of having some additional support to know that we weren’t alone in what was happening on the farm and work through some challenges, which is a huge thing in terms of mental health for farmers!
What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
Really be on top of managing your finances and cash flow projections to make sure you have an emergency fund for if/when things don’t go to plan. In the early years, it feels really hard to do that as there is so much investment that needs to happen which is a huge challenge if you have a shoestring budget, but making sure that you have an emergency fund aside to buffer when things hit the fan can take a lot of pressure off in-season and mean that you don’t have to drain other budgets in order to cover emergencies.
What were the victories, small or large that you had this season?
The expansion to include Trail Farmers Market was good. We really enjoy that market, the management is excellent with great volunteer involvement, they have progressive ideas and are really supportive, and we loved developing relationships with regulars in that area.
What plans do you have for future farm growth?
I am hoping to continue to grow the CSA and offer more flexibility for members to choose and add-on items. I would also like to work with some local restaurants to showcase more local produce in some of the emerging new businesses in Trail in particular.
Share anything funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.
A less funny, but more just fun thing was that we ended up sponsoring a local Festival by donating produce. It was a cool way to support a festival we love in the next town, as well as be able to attend the festival. They were super great to work with and incorporated lots of the produce we had excess off into their menu which was so helpful. Loads of tomatoes, jalapenos, and patty pan squash!
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
We are taking a trip to Cuba at the end of November, so really looking forward to the down time! I am also excited to only work three days a week off-farm this winter, so am excited to have two days to be able to dedicate to farm planning while taking two days off (fingers crossed). Looking forward to having better data from this year and being able to review that data and incorporate lived experience in a way I haven’t really been able to and getting kind of nerdy about it. Having better tools in place for crop planning and being able to do more tweaking of that process, rather than starting from scratch again, I think this will make that previously very stressful experience so much better, I’m actually kind of looking forward to getting into it and am excited for the improvements that will bring to next growing season too.
Where can we find you online? (website, FB, IG etc)W: https://clutchfarmsalmo.wixsite.com/home
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.