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 Kate Rustemeyer and my farm is Hoe Down Farm, in Krestova. My Mentor in the program is Nigel Francis, from Cartwheel Farm in Creston.
Where do you farm?
In Krestova, which is at the south end of the Slocan Valley in the West Kootenays.
What do you farm?
I grow vegetables and herbs for market and direct sales, with some perennial berries getting established now. We also have pigs and chickens for ourselves.
What inspired you to get into farming?
During university I became interested in social justice and food security. I started to care about what I was eating, from a personal and environmental perspective, and it just seemed more and more like something I wanted to be involved in. I tried farming as a break from academia, and never went back! The combination of a physically demanding job, great sense of community connection, and endless amazing food was an immediate fit for me.
What did you do to learn how to farm?
My first step into farming was wwoofing, and then a full season internship through the CRAFT network in Ontario. I spent two years at OUR Ecovillage on Vancouver Island, where I helped manage the farm and host apprentices and volunteers, but I was also a student there at the same time soaking up courses and workshops from all kinds of teachers. Since then, I’ve taken many workshops whenever the opportunity has arisen, and of course read lots of books by experts. When I came to the Kootenays with a plan to farm for market for the first time I rented space on an established family farm and learned a lot from the farmers there.
What types of ecological farm practices do you use?
I am not certified organic, but I do intend to certify as I expand the gardens in the future. My garden beds are semi-permanent and I try to minimally disrupt the soil structure, using mostly hand tools. I occasionally do till areas of the garden after an over-winter cover crop because I use that as an important cycle in the garden to increase organic matter, nutrients and minimize erosion.
What type of business structure is your farm?
My business is a sole proprietorship and most of the farming work is done by myself, but I do have lots of great people around me who help out with specific things and pitch in when needed.
How much land is under production on your farm?
I have about ½ an acre under cultivation.
What is your land tenure?
I was fortunate to be able to purchase land together with four close friends in 2017. We own the land (7.5 acres) as joint tenants, and worked hard to develop our own agreements around how we will live and share the land together. It has made accessing farm land affordable and manageable for me, and is also a joy to be living together in this way (and comes with lots of extra communication and interpersonal work to succeed).
Why did you apply for YA business mentorship?
For the first three years of market gardening, I wasn’t serious about the business aspect of it. I didn’t have a business plan at all! I always had a part time job that I relied on to pay the bills, and I farmed because I loved it. After buying land and starting a new farm I wanted to make sure what I was doing was financially viable and not just a hobby. I also had a baby around the same time, and I found that working part time and farming while parenting a young child was just too much on my plate. I finally quit my job and decided to get serious about farming, which is when I realized I needed some help with the business side of things.
What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer?
I think the greatest challenge for me has been knowing where to put my time and energy. I was so focused on learning how to grow things well and sell them, and I thought I would figure out the business stuff later if I wanted to get serious. I probably should have had some business coaching right from the start! Now I realize that there are great supports around here for starting a business (and so much farm business specific support through Young Agrarians), but I just didn’t really know about it or think it was for me when I was first getting started.
What is your primary business goal for the season?
My goal for this season is to increase my production so that I can support myself financially throughout the growing season.
What business tools could you not live without?
I’m not sure yet. I have already been introduced to so many new business tools through this mentorship that I’m sure I’ll have a favourite by the end of this season.
If you had a farming robot what would it be?
A robot that would unload all my stuff after market, wash all the bins and put everything away.
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.