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 Matthew Carr from Linden Lane Farms and my Mentor was Seann Dory from Salt and Harrow Farm.
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those? Investigate, develop and refine a plan to expand operation while increasing revenue and reducing our labour to income ratio. Implement better sales record keeping to improve decision making.
Did you meet your goals / did it work out?
We used this opportunity to get feedback and generate thorough discussion on the next steps for our business. Due to the situation this year, we focused on managing the changes and adapting on the fly to keep the business successful and while continuing to feed our community.
We began a systems overhaul of the operation with our talented managers and staff to continue to increase our productivity, efficiency and profitability. We are considering our investments in necessary tools, equipment and facilities. During this coming winter, we will finalize our improved business plan that we had to sideline this past spring. Part of that plan is to develop more relationships with wholesale customers to meet our targeted goals.
What effect did Covid19 have on your business?
It created difficulty but also provided opportunity. There was a lot of interest in community supported agriculture programs associated with the fear of a collapsing food system. We decided to expand our CSA program to meet the demands and secure sales. This led to a shuffle of our production schedule and enabled us to feed 74 families per week on average during the season. Our spring nursery sales exploded exponentially as many people were interested in gardening and growing food after the original shock of the pandemic. This growth wasn’t easy to accommodate as many of our suppliers were facing difficult decisions and we were reaching our own production capacities. Our amazing staff and customers cam through and we saw an increase of over 200% in nursery sales from 2019.
This was short lived however as once the farmers markets started and we began selling produce directly, sales took a huge hit due to changes in local market leadership, new regulations and uncertainty in the customer base. Thanks to the wage subsidies and nursery sales, we were able to survive the early summer season without layoffs. We continued to plant and tend crops and this led into our busiest fall as the community rallied around not just ours, but all our local producers. We hope that this support continues into the next season and we look forward to the challenge of meeting our communities needs.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate the changes?
We were able to access five wage subsidy programs offered by the Columbia Basin Trust, WorkBC and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. These services allowed us to keep our team moving forward through a tough sales period during a key time in production. These programs also allowed us to attract some of our most talented managers and employees we have ever had and allowed three young men to develop career-related skills and a new respect for agriculture as a part our team.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
Overall we experienced an increase through all of our sales outlets. Farmer’s markets were more difficult this year than previous. This past season saw a large increase in customer support for our products through local retailers.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?
We make it easier to eat healthier. Quality is always our goal and it is definitely appreciated by our customers especially with our keystone products such as salad greens and greenhouse cucumbers, but also with our vegetable starts and other nursery items. We add value by sharing recipes, storage and growing techniques to continue to develop the always growing local food movement in the Kootenays. We are a young, friendly team that works hard for the community.
What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship?
Seann has been an amazing resource for me. His relationships and knowledge within the industry has allowed me understand more about what is available for smaller scale producers. His thoughts and experience has helped me to extract my goals and work towards a plan to achieve them.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
We ironed out the business plan to improve our opportunity for funding and investment going forward by using more specific data and making the mission easier to understand. Seann also help teach me about the importance of developing standard operating procedures and systems to improve record keeping.
How did mentorship impact your business overall?
It was reassuring to get feedback on our business from another professional perspective since I have always felt like I have been neglecting the business portion of the farm. While he helped me clean up so many of our systems, I really noticed a shift from me being a farmer within the business to focusing on developing the business and managing the behind the scenes duties to make my managers and employees more effective.
What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
Planning can only get you so far, but it forces you to see on the bigger picture. Without our meticulous planning, whether crop or labour related, we would not have been able to comfortably adapt our plans this season to work through the tough times and adjust to the changing demands. While there is a balance to avoid over planning and wasting valuable time, knowing our production goals and the diversity within our enterprise allowed us to make well informed decisions within the plans.
What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)?
We are looking at expanding our spring nursery and wholesale produce sales for next season by finishing important infrastructure projects. We are also looking to develop a consistent farm stand and continue to expand our Pumpkin Fest event at the farm! I would love to keep my grandparents land agriculturally focused and I look forward to working with them to satisfy their needs while continuing to meet the demands of our community through the development of my business.
Share anything funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.
We had some pretty crazy weather this season including a mini twister-tornado that damaged two of our caterpillar tunnels on a sunny calm day. We even got a brief video from a security camera as it crossed our pasture before hitting the tunnels!
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
A break! This has been one of the most rigorous seasons I have experienced and I know my employees deserve a break too. I am also looking forward to redevelop the business’ internal structures such as standard operating procedures and an employee handbook with my managers and working on finishing up our newest greenhouse project.
Find Linden Lane here:
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity, Province of British Columbia, and Columbia Basin Trust.