B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Denman Island Heritage Apples

Posted by Melanie Buffel on January 05, 2020

Young Agrarians is celebrating the seventh 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.

We are wrapping up with our 2020 Mentee Cohort and are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts!


Kate Janeway is the owner of Denman Island Heritage Apples on Denman Island, BC and a participant in the 2020 Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Program.

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?

My primary goal was to turn a part-time passion grafting apple trees into a proper income this year. It was my first year working at this full-time. Additionally, as a grower I’m always trying to improve my plant and soil health, so I had a couple of goals around growing that I worked on through new soil amendments, pest management techniques, and the guidance of my mentors.

Did you meet your goals / did it work out? 

I think that the regular meetings with my business mentor at the start of this program really helped me start the year on track with setting up clear financial systems, as well as developing the metrics that made it easier to track my progress throughout the year. As the fiscal year wraps up and I start to look more thoughtfully at financial information, having this data is proving to be a really great assessment tool. Ongoing meetings with my production mentor also helped keep me on track with my goal of improving health in the nursery. I saw some pretty big changes in the nursery this year, and that’s been very motivating.

What effect did Covid19 have on your business?

In many ways I feel lucky to have chosen this year to work full time on the farm, weeding is a covid safe activity! But adapting to availability of supplies and materials, which were not always available was tricky, as was losing a source of income last spring when Seedy Saturdays were cancelled. It really reinforced the need to always be aware of what could happen and have well thought out back up plans.

What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate the changes?

I couldn’t do without the support of family and fellow farming friends, whether for a last minute field help or for being able to talk through new issues that come up, informal support networks were key! I also valued the conversations with my mentors during the covid-19 changes; aside from learning a ton, those conversations were a great opportunity to see how others were adapting to the new normal.

What were your best sales channels/avenues?

My most consistent sales avenue have typically been website sales, and with shoppers and gardeners emphasizing online buying during COVID-19, this is still true.

Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?

The value proposition of this business is the unique story behind every apple tree. A lot of customers are looking for something different from the ubiquitous Pink Lady or Gala. With over 130 varieties, it’s easy to help them choose something unique and meaningful.

What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship?

I really valued gaining a better understanding of industry standards in the nursery world and how to achieve them.

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?

I think this mentorship program helped me pivot a lot of my skills and thinking, which were very geared towards the non-profit world, to a more business oriented approach.

How did mentorship impact your business overall?

At the start of the program I had a lot of potential ideas for how I might develop the nursery floating around in my head. I think the mentorship program has helped me focus and streamline those ideas into a couple of distinct pathways that I’m looking forward to developing in the coming year.

What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?

If you’re farming solo, take time to get off the farm and talk to people regularly, either work related or socially!

What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)?

At the moment, I’m really focused on solidifying the core aspects of the nursery, but looking forward, I’m excited about the concept of helping folks plant larger orchards and helping with the ongoing orchard management. I’m also really keen to explore how I can use my fruit tree knowledge to more directly help address the issue of food insecurity in the Comox Valley.

Reach Kate at https://www.denmanapple.ca/

FB:  denmanapple  IG: denmanislandheritageapples

Find out more about the Business Mentorship Program here


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

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