B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Rad-ish Farms

Posted by Melanie Buffel on November 12, 2019

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 develops the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses. We love to profile our program participants and celebrate their efforts!

Applications now open for the 2019/2020 season. APPLY NOW!

Deadline extended to Monday, November 18th, 2019 – Program Application here!

What is your name, where do you farm, and who are your mentors?

My name is Katie Ralphs from Rad-ish Farm in  Duncan, BC (unceded Cowichan Territory). I am supported by my partner Jessica, our two dogs Minto and Takaya, Pancake the cat, and Bun-Buns the bunny. My  Mentor is DeLisa Lewis from Green Fire Farm in Duncan, BC.

What do you farm?

Mixed vegetable production, and I started doing small-scale chicken eggs and baby chicks this year.

What type of business structure is your farm?

I run it as a sole proprietorship. I sell vegetables in a nearby farmer’s market, and am starting a CSA this year.

What is your land tenure? Are there special relationships that allow for this?

I was lucky enough to be able to purchase the house and property last year, which is helpful for stability and consistency as a farmer. As far as “land tenure” goes though, it’s an interesting concept as a settler farming on land that although legally (under “Canadian” law) belongs to me, ancestrally does not belong to me at all. One of my ongoing goals is to explore my relationship to land as an immigrant and a settler, especially as a farmer who makes an income from the land. I would love to connect with other farmers who are exploring this as well.

Greenhouse at Rad-ish Farm, Duncan BC.
Greenhouse at Rad-ish Farm, Duncan BC.

What inspired you to get into farming?

It was a long series of little things, like I planted my first garden when I was doing a social work practicum in Bella Coola, and I remember being so in awe of watching the seeds grow. I would go down to the garden every morning before work, and sit there late into the evening, and just watch my little seeds/plants grow. I had never really paid attention to things growing before, and it blew my mind. I think my only successful crops were a handful of peas, 3 beets, and 10 spinach leaves, but I was in love. After I graduated, I did an organic farming internship in Ontario with my best friend. I don’t think we thought we would become farmers, but after a few weeks we were just so ecstatically happy with farm life. I think we made our plans to start our own farm in the first few weeks we were there.

 Luckily we had a super supportive and amazing strong farmer mentor Caitlin who basically told us that we could do it despite having almost no experience. I guess if I was to sum it up, I was inspired to get into farming by how much joy I feel when I’m growing things, how much joy it brings me to see people enjoy the food I grow, and that I feel connected to land and people and community and myself in a way that I don’t really experience with anything else I’ve ever done.

Why did you apply for business mentorship?

I ran an urban farm in Vancouver for 4 years. After moving to Duncan I realized that I had a lot more to learn about farming in a rural area. Prior to last year, our  land tenure had always been temporary, so it didn’t make as much sense to be considering long-term plans. Now that I have a farm that I will hopefully be farming for a while, I wanted to consider more long-term plans and impacts on the soil health and fertility, and on my farm business. It can also be really challenging and sometimes demoralizing to farm by yourself. When I had my best farm friend Ruth, we would motivate each other and it was a lot easier to do some of the more challenging aspects of starting a farm (for me, this is marketing, selling my product, reaching customers, reaching out to volunteers, etc). So, knowing that I would be by myself this year, I thought having a mentor would be a good way to stay motivated, have someone to check in with, to learn more about soil health and fertility, sustainability both environmentally and financially, and to learn things about farming in a rural area that I had little experience with.

What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer?

I think for me, it can be hard to balance how much I want to be a farmer and how much I love what I do, with the reality of how challenging it is to make a decent income farming. So the business challenge is really just how to create a financially sustainable business where I feel that my time and work and labour is fairly valued.  At the same time, operating under very uncertain circumstances that can change every year.  It can be hard to rely on so many outside factors that we have somewhat limited control over (ex: climate in general, weather affecting sales at a farmer’s market, deer jumping over my fence and eating my vegetables, etc) while trying to create something a steady income for myself.

Market table Rad-ish Farm.
Market table Rad-ish Farm.

What is your primary business goal for the season?

This year I wanted to start a small CSA, as it is the way I have felt most connected to my customers in the past. I also wanted to be able to make an income from farming for 4-5 months and not have to work part-time during those months.

What business tools could you not live without?

Excel, and pieces of paper that I write things on. I guess also pens.

If you had a farming robot what would it be?

The robot family of: Pea-picker 5000, Carrot-weeder 1010, Beet-thinner 2700, and Back-massager 3400.

Where can I find out more?

You can check out my website: www.rad-ishfarm.com and  my insta @rad.ishfarm

The Business Mentorship Network Program is now accepting applications for the 2020 cohort. Check out the Business Page for more information and fill in the application here. Application deadline is November 18, 2019.

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