Young Agrarians is celebrating the sixth 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 love to profile our program participants and celebrate their efforts!
My name is Nikola Barsoum from Half Moon Herbals and my Mentors are Nigel Francis of Cartwheel Farm in Creston BC, and Richard Walker of Silver Moon Food Forest.
Where do you farm?
I farm in Johnsons Landing and Meadow Creek BC near Kaslo, BC.
What do you farm?
I farm a variety of medicinal herbs such as Chamomile, Echinacea, Elecampane and Tulsi/Holy Basil.
What inspired you to get into farming?
I was inspired by the local-food movement and the questions of food sovereignty and food security that were raised when I was in University. After graduating, I went on a two-month sustainability bike tour’ through an organization called Otesha. We performed plays in schools and taught workshops on topics such as waste reduction and supply-chain disparities. Along the way we were fortunate enough to be hosted on a number of land coops, small organic farms and market gardens. This exposure to people who were deeply connected to place was really beautiful! It brought home a lot of the ideals of food security, and made me realize that being part of the solution meant developing a connection to my food and water, and the land itself. This inspired me to begin farming.
What did you do to learn how to farm?
I started by volunteering on a farm called Backyard Bounty in Guelph, ON. This farm was unique because it grew veggies throughout the city, turning unused yards into productive gardens. They traded veggies for use of the land, and sold the rest to restaurants and at local farmers markets. My Baba had a large garden growing up, but this was the first time I worked on one as an adult (doing more than just eating peas and pulling carrots). I learned some of the basics here, such as NOT walking on the beds (haha!), how to plant and thin carrots and trellis tomatoes.
The following summer I signed up to do a full-season apprenticeship through S.O.I.L (Stewards of Irreplaceable Land) and was matched with Stellar Seeds which was running as a seed saving farm and market garden in Johnsons Landing BC. Here I got my first dance with the full-season rhythm of farming, and got to grow into many more tasks such as potting up starts, amending soils, efficiently transplanting and cultivating, doing weekly harvests and markets, rotating beds, and saving a variety of open pollinated seeds!
I continued to work on farms for 4 more years, before starting my own.
What types of ecological farm practices do you use?
I am working towards regenerative farming practices. Currently I use organic minimum-tillage techniques for my annual herbs. I have been designing and planting using permaculture principles for my perennial herb garden.
What type of business structure is your farm?
My farm is a Sole Proprietorship. I offer CSA Memberships through our Herb Box program. Members receive one Herb Box full of herbal remedies each season.
I also sell fresh medicinal herbs directly to local:
– clinical herbalists & Naturopathic Doctors
– companies making herbal beauty-products
– companies making specialty tea blends
– home-scale/community-based remedy makers.
How much land is under production on your farm?
I have less than 1 acre currently under production, on two different plots of land.
What is your land tenure? Are there special relationships that allow for this?
I don’t own any land. I currently lease and trade for land to farm on. I lease on the Lakehead & Beyond Farmers Cooperative in Meadow Creek, where I work closely with market gardener Michael Silver of Earth Temple Gardens. We rotate veggies and herbs, and enjoy the benefits of such companion planting! My perennial herb garden in Johnsons Landing is on my neighbours land. We have a sweet little trade for veggies going, and it’s mostly their generous hearts that allow me to design and grow with them.
Why did you apply for business mentorship?
I applied for the mentorship program because I am going into my third year of farming and each year I am learning so much…including how much more I still need to learn! The business side of things has not come easily for me, as I’m much more enthralled with my seedlings than my spreadsheets, so teaming up with Nigel has been amazingly helpful! He has already been able to show me his filing and record keeping systems, has kindly answered many questions, and has given me really valuable farm-specific advice that he’s learned over the years of developing his farm. I am already so grateful!
What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer?
The biggest challenges have been will power, capital, and access to land. I worked for years on small-scale farms before starting my own, and was fortunate to gain invaluable experience doing so! Farm wages are generally fair-to-low, as small-scale farming itself is rarely an exceptionally lucrative endeavour. It really does have to be a passion of the heart, as far as I can tell….you need to develop real will power! Capital to invest in start-up was tricky, so creativity was paramount, and collaboration a cornerstone.
Access to land is a big question as a young farmer as well. Buying farm land is hard to do, especially as a single person on a small-scale farming income, unless it is a cooperative purchased. Fortunately, times are changing and many people see the importance of local food (and local medicine). Land owners with farmable land are starting to see the merit in extending a hand to young-farmers, and more are beginning to offer long-term affordable leases, work-trade arrangements and well-planned farm successions, where productive land and established businesses can be passed off with care and all can continue to thrive.
What is your primary business goal for the season?
My primary business goals this season are to improve the organization of my financial record keeping, improve my on-farm operation flows, secure more long-term customers, and increase accessibility and herbal outreach.
What business tools could you not live without?
A vehicle. My laptop. A scale. A raincoat.
If you had a farming robot what would it be?
Richard Walker and Rosemary Gladstar rolled into one?….who also cooked, cleaned, repaired irrigation and would delight in building me a tiny home?
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products? (website, FB, insta, twitter handles)
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity, Province of British Columbia, and Columbia Basin Trust.