B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Peas n’ Carrots Farm

Posted by Melanie Buffel on November 22, 2021

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 has been extended to November 19th, 2021.

My name is Katie Underwood and I am the farmer owner of Peas n’ Carrots Farm in  W̱SÁNEĆ territory, Prospect Lake Road and Burnside in Saanich, BC.

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those? Did you meet your goals / did it work out? (Explain a bit)

Based on my land agreement with the landowners, I was contractually obligated to earn $10,000 for their property to receive a tax decrease. I surpassed that number well in advance to the season ending with the help of my CSA program, thank you for your support!

I also intended to start selling from my Farm Stand which was an important aspect of this project for me. In the early spring, my sister (who spends her days off at the farm and is a huge help) would manage the stand, chatting with customers, giving change, restocking and making observations as to how it can be left alone. I believe this gave us great traction in the early spring, turning heads along a busy road has helped us grow in popularity all season long!

What were the major challenges in the season ?

The biggest challenge for me in my first year was managing the expectations of the landowners and communicating what is required to operate a farm. Having rotating groups of people staying on the property posed to be an issue that we have since resolved through communication, signage and locks.

What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate these?

Talking with other farmers , including Azja our land matcher, about their experiences was the biggest help. Learning how others have been able to communicate effectively to resolve issues was important. In a world where leasing farmers have very little voice, it’s nice to be heard, even if it’s just to gripe.

What were your best sales channels/avenues?

My Farm Stand did better than I anticipated this season and was my top channel overall. I also joined the North Saanich Farm Market part way though the summer and it was a huge hit for me.

Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?

I bring a lot of stuff to the markets and the fully stocked tables of such vibrant colours helps catch my customers’ eye. I also speak with a lot of passion about how I like to cook and eat the food I grow, or what’s being eaten at our Sunday Family Dinners has people excited and inclined to try something new.

What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship?

“Nobody remembers the first CSA box but they will remember the last” Robin Tunnicliffe

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?

Financial management, networking with other farmers.

How did mentorship impact your business overall?

It was a big impact in a great way. I believe Robin and I have a special relationship which continued to grow with support from the mentorship program. I was able to ask questions to set my business for success, such as tax information and crop planning. My favourite was seed shopping at Robins when forgetting to order winter salad.

What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?

Ensure your land agreement works for your business, even if it means having a few more meetings with the landowner to clarify things out. Also, the general public doesn’t really understand or appreciate what you do but those who do, or wish to, really do. Embrace folks who want to cheer you on, friends, family, neighbours and community members. These are the people who will keep fueling the fire and keep you motivated. Keep great people close.

What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)?

I plan on growing into the space that I have access to, expanding my beds in 2023 and using what I have already cultivated better in 2022. Finding a balance between the space I can manage myself, growing the most amount of food and finding time for friends and family.

(Bonus) What are you most looking forward to this winter?

This winter I am most excited to sample all the winter squash and catch up with friends. So many people have put a special focus on me this farming season, I’d like to return the love and show my appreciation.

Find Katie on FB @peasncarrotsfarm 

Find out more about the Business Mentorship Program.

Apply for the BMN 2022 cohort. Deadline has been extended to Nov 19, 2021.

This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.