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 2021 Mentee Cohort are wrapping up their growing season and reflecting back on the lessons of the year. We are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts as we recruit a new cohort of farmers for our BMN 2022 program. For more information and to apply please see our YA Business Page. Deadline for applications is Nov 5, 2021.
My name is JJ White and I operate Flora & Fungi Farm on Quw’utsun Territory in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, BC.
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
My first goal was to set up the farm at a new location. I did this by starting to establish a relationship with the land and asking a lot of questions. Questions that I’m still searching for the answers to.
I started with an open dialogue with the plants, animals and waters already on the land trying my best to find ways to work with them. I began by pulling invasive species and remediating the soils along waterways. I also began to learn the history of the lands and how it became a farm through colonization and stealing of the land from Quw’utsun peoples who used the Somenos valley for their livelihood and culture.
How can I support Quw’utsun projects and initiatives while farming on stolen land and being a very real part of the ongoing colonization? For me establishing relationships through sharing food with their programs and giving support to land back initiatives were the start.
It was a lot of upfront work to establish infrastructure in winter and establish and amend beds before spring. I focused on building the soil, planting many perennials and mapping out beds working with existing infrastructure and the land.
My second main goal was to expand production and efficiency of both vegetables and medicinal herbs. To this end I used more crop rotation, inter plantings, and amending of beds to more effectively use less garden space. I implemented many new recordkeeping and data entry systems to help make easier decisions from planting to planting. I built many perennial herb beds which had annual herbs interplanted among it and mushrooms inoculated in the pathways of the beds. This allowed me to expand the entire growing space by ¼ acre from year one.
I also had the goal to find more balance between farm work and rest. I tried my best to do this by focusing on my health and listening to my body along with trying to get off the farm every Sunday for leisure time.
What were the major challenges in the season ?
The major challenges this year were dealing with the heat waves during the summer which also caused a fire on the mountain right above the farm. Just trying to keep the plants alive let alone thriving proved to be very difficult. The heat wave also brought up underlying health challenges which I’ve been slowly working to heal. While dealing with these health challenges unfortunately the relationship with the owner of the property began to deteriorate and weren’t able to remedy the issues in the end.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate these?
I was very grateful for my mentors guidance and support through these trying times. To be honest, in the future, we in the farmer community need to do a better collective effort to find and build new ways to support each other in our mental health struggles.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
Restaurants, CSA and wholesale herbal medicine accounts were the best sales this year.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?
I was supported by my customers for the ecological framework which I farmed with, by my fellow queers within our community, and for the more unique vegetables, and herbal medicines in which I helped to cultivate.
What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship?
The ideas/systems on implementing new recordkeeping and data entry. Knowledge sharing on financials and business farming. The ongoing openness to be available to share and support each other throughout the season as issues and problems arose.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
My Mentor really helped me develop my data entry and collection systems needed for the farm. He helped me implement a Standard Operating Procedures Manual for future farm workers, develop wholesale pricing guides for restaurants and wholesale medicinal accounts and create more structure in bookkeeping and tax collection for the business. He also helped me develop more relationships within the community which led to many more sales outlets.
How did mentorship impact your business overall?
It really helped grow my business overall and focus more on what it was I wanted to do and communicate to the community about the farm. I developed better data collection on the farm which helped in turn give me more time off the farm throughout the season. I reached out more to the businesses and restaurants and developed many new relationships within the community.
What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
Trust yourself. You know what you need and when things aren’t right. Listen to those thoughts and don’t ignore them. Take care of yourself for if you don’t then you can’t take care of the land. Find folks outside of the farm who can help support you and you can reciprocate support too. Communicate , communicate, communicate. Get off the farm and disconnect once every week if you can. It’ll help you be more effective when you are there. Take time to listen to the land. It is always trying to teach us. Often we forget to listen.
What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)?
To be honest I don’t know at this time. I would like to continue to grow food, feed people and work collaboratively with communities where the farm happens to be. To grow the business where it’s sustainable and create opportunities for others to work and share their gifts with the community. Become more of a collective and cooperative vision. Continue to share my love of plants, animals and the fungi!
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Reading, writing, resting. Projects of decolonization and learning my ancestral language. Making feasts with the people I love.
Find JJ at www.florafungifarm.com
Apply for the BMN 2022 cohort. Deadline Nov 5, 2021.
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.