B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Farmer Cam’s Foods

Posted by Melanie Buffel on April 28, 2021

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.

The 2021 Mentee Cohort are hard at work planning for the season ahead and we are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts!

My name is Cameron K Bell, Owner and Farm Manager at Farmer Cam’s Foods. My mentor is Andrew Adams of Hope Farms Organics in Prince George – an inspiration and friend for many years, and now my official mentor!

Where do you farm?

I rent land in Thornhill BC (just outside Terrace), at Hidden Acres Farm, on unceded Tsimshian territory. It’s a 90 acre property of flat river soils and temperate rainforest on the banks of the Skeena River, in a lush valley surrounded by the massive coast mountains.

What do you farm?

We grow roughly 30 varieties of vegetables in the field and tunnels, as well as microgreens indoors. Excited to try oyster mushrooms this year too, and we also grow some herbs and flowers for biodiversity, personal consumption, and beauty. My landlords also raise eggs and seedlings at the farm, and cut hay.

What inspired you to get into farming?

As a child and teenager I always thoroughly enjoyed eating, and also spent a great deal of time outdoors, including gardening with my family. In university I started to understand the importance of sustainable food systems, and was drawn to farming as the most tangible, interesting, and fun way to effect change. Facing the agricultural challenges of the 21st century requires action at all levels, and I want to be on the ground working with natural processes to feed our communities.

What did you do to learn how to farm?

I spent a summer as a part time intern at an aquaponics greenhouse and market garden, and gained gardening and farming experience from various volunteer opportunities and other summer jobs. When I finally committed to the career I helped manage an urban farm in Guelph Ontario, took a Farm Business Planning Course, and spent a season at a 250 member CSA farm near Waterloo. I read, watched, and talked farming as much as possible during those years, and I’m still constantly learning after 2 years of running my own operation.

What types of ecological farm practices do you use?

We use organic practices and plan to pursue certification in the coming years. Fields are tilled as little as possible, and we plant pollinator habitat in gardens and strips to foster biodiversity on the farm. I’m working on incorporating more cover crops into the rotation, building soil fertility and organic matter, and sharing the valley with a wide variety of animals.

What type of business structure is your farm?

Farmer Cam’s Foods is a sole proprietorship founded in March, 2019.

How much land is under production on your farm?

This year we will have 0.6 acres under production, including 2 tunnels and a new greenhouse. On the 1.5 acre site we also have a wash station, cooler, office, and new “starter house” building for microgreens and seedlings.

What is your land tenure? 

I have a License Agreement with my landlords, on a rolling 3-year basis. I used the template from Young Agrarians, and we try to discuss ongoing ideas/issues regularly, as well as having organized meetings a few times a year. In my first year the meetings were more frequent, and I was able to stay at the property that summer through a work-trade arrangement. I now live a few minutes away from the farm, and pay a fee per acre, utilities, tractor usage, and a small percentage of my annual gross revenue.

Why did you apply for YA business mentorship?

I wanted to bounce ideas off someone more experienced, and get some guidance on my rapidly expanding operation. I’ve accomplished a lot in the 2 years I’ve farmed here and already feel like a mentor to some other farmers and gardeners in the area, but the reality is there’s an infinite amount of knowledge out there. I was excited about the opportunity to work with a more mature business, and hear about how their operation and personal approach has evolved over time.

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

Probably making time to keep, organize, and analyze records. I feel like I’m always trying to catch up on bookkeeping, harvest lists, sales stats, etc. Growing and selling produce seems to be going well for me, but it’s very important that I get a handle on admin if I want to continue scaling up.

What is your primary business goal for the season?

Gross $65k! If we can hit that target while maintaining the health and happiness of staff, customers, and partners, it will be a very successful year.

What business tools could you not live without?

Google Drive (especially Sheets), Quickbooks, and Tend (crop planning software) are at the top of the list. I love the online access and organization of all of them. 

If you had a farming robot what would it be?

Either an admin bot with really good AI, or a microgreens production bot, or a transplanting/weeding bot. They’re all repetitive tasks that get old a few months into the season.

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

We’re on Facebook and Instagram @farmercamsfoods, and have a website at farmercamsfoods.ca. Come to the market or Tuesday night farm stand in Terrace if you’re looking for produce, or email me at cam@farmercamsfoods.ca to talk farming!

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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