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 Ardeo Mann, my farm is Rake and Radish Farm and it’s located on unceded W̱SÁNEĆ territory just outside of Victoria.
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
My major goal for this season was to make enough money to live off of and not burn myself into the ground doing so. It seemed like a slightly lofty goal going into the season given the financial reality of small scale agriculture. But for me having a sustainable farm means that it also has to be sustainable for me.
I did lots of planning over the winter and took the good advice of starting with a financial sales goal and working backwards from there. Then, I sold enough CSA shares to reach my sales target and worked to keep my expenses minimal.
The biggest pieces of not working too much were lowering my expectations, never expecting to actually get through my to-do lists and sticking firmly to my boundaries of not doing field work on the weekends.
Did you meet your goals / did it work out? (Explain a bit)
I think I did! I managed to take two day weekends all season long which I’m very pleased about! There were a couple of times that I had to deal with problems that couldn’t wait until Monday but I managed to not make it a habit. I did lots of email writing, bookkeeping and CSA planning on the weekends but when you can do it in your pyjamas, it still feels like a lazy morning in my books.
I haven’t had time to fully go through all my finances in detail yet, but I almost reached my sales target and didn’t go over the farm’s spending budget! So I’ll count that as a win! Once my garlic is planted and the last beds of root crops are harvested I’ll take some time to go over my farm and personal finances in closer detail and get a better picture of what worked and what I should change for next year.
What were the major challenges in the season?
It was definitely a challenging season in many ways. We were lucky enough to be spared the worst of the wildfire devastation and smoke, but the June heat dome really affected the entire rest of the season. Whole beds bolted and I’m not quite experienced enough yet to know what the best options for pivoting a crop plan are in the middle of the season. The prolonged drought also really impacted my seed bed germination and it got pretty tight through August trying to keep my CSA shares full and interesting.
I also grew the worst kale I’ve ever seen in my life and voles ate every single squash seed that I planted. COVID also continued to have an impact, making it harder to have people come help out and adding one more layer of stress to the season.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate these?
Commiserating with other farmers was one of the most valuable supports for my business this season. There’s something so important about knowing that you’re in this mess with other people, even when your days are spent alone in your farm field.
I also used some ever present farmer optimism in which you just keep telling yourself that next year everything will be so much better and easier and work out just swimmingly. That, paired with the CSA superpower of scrounging the fields and magically finding that little patch of kale that somehow the flea beetles haven’t discovered and is just what’s needed to save this week’s boxes.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
The vast majority of my sales are through my CSA veggie box program. I had 67 amazing households sign up for the season. My customers sign up for a share in my 20 week veggie box program. They can choose between a small ($15/week) or large box ($30/week) and there’s also the option of adding on a 12 week flower share.
New this year was a farm stand that my best friend and I whipped up one Sunday morning after coffee with some scrap wood and an old cooler. My farm backs onto a hiking trail and after seeing so many people walking by, I figured it could be a cool spot for a stand. It’s done amazingly well, brought in a fair amount of income and also quite a few new CSA members.
I also sold flats of strawberries for the first time and that was a nice income stream in June.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)?
My customers come to me for a variety of reasons including a commitment to local food and wanting to support a queer farmer.
What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship?
There were so many amazing parts of the mentorship for me.
Having help to break down all the different pieces of running and planning a farm into manageable parts was super helpful for me. There are just so many different skills and priorities involved when running a farm business and it can get pretty overwhelming.
Being able to bounce my ideas off of someone with years of knowledge and experience was very helpful. I got to fill in gaps in my production knowledge by just asking a question instead of having to do hours of research online.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
The webinars that were part of the program helped me solidify a bit more understanding of financial concepts related to my farm business like assets and liabilities.
I also learned lots more about using spreadsheets, worked on understanding how to crop plan and did some important financial planning.
How did mentorship impact your business overall?
Overall the mentorship really helped my business transition from a first year operation to something that I can see being able to run for the foreseeable future.
I feel way more confident about my ability to make business decisions, know how to find the information I need and access other farm resources that are available.
What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
I think one of the biggest lessons from this season is one that I keep having to learn over and over again: Nothing ever goes according to plan when it comes to farming. And this season has really driven home for me the need to come up with adaptive planning and solutions to deal with the effects of climate change. Things are only going to get more unpredictable at this point and there’s no hiding from the elements when you’re out in the field and your livelihood depends on it.
What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)?
My future farm plans involve growing my farming knowledge, land stewardship and connections in the community. These last couple of seasons, just running the farm has taken all my time and energy. But I want to be in a place where I have the time, energy and resources to care for the soil and the surrounding ecosystems in the best way possible and also build more connections with folks in the community. I’m also excited to eventually have knowledge to share with other new farmers and pay forward all the help and support I’ve received so far.
(Bonus) What are you most looking forward to this winter?
My plans for the winter involve hitting the check-out maximum on my library card, eating lots of baking, tromping through the woods with my nibling and drinking copious amounts of tea.
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.