B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Suelo and Faa

Posted by Melanie Buffel on November 21, 2022

Young Agrarians is celebrating the ninth 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, peer networks and online workshops young farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.

The 2022 Mentee Cohort have had a busy season managing a cool wet spring and a dry hot summer and we look forward to sharing their voices and experiences over the next few week.  If you would like to be considered for a seat in the program please  see our Business Mentorship Network page  for more information. Applications for the 2023 cohort are now closed, watch in the spring for blog introductions to our new group of farmers.

My name is Teresa Porter. Along with my friend and business partner, Chantelle Chan, I operate Suelo & Faa, our urban flower farm. We grow on the traditional and stolen territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ nations, in front and back yards.

Who was your Mentor? 

My mentor is Amie Bengston of BackCountry Blooms.

What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them?

One of our top goals was to improve our pricing strategy. Discussing pricing with my mentor, Amie, was really helpful and encouraging. We also signed up to access a wholesale price list from Island Flower Growers, a flower farmer cooperative on Vancouver Island. Not everything we grow is listed but it’s helped us feel more confident about pricing.

Did you meet your goals / did it work out? 

Setting prices per stem for each flower we grow made it so much easier to build our bouquet recipes for our weekly CSA. We were better able to plan, streamline, and keep track of our harvests. There was also far less second-guessing and stress during bouquet-making. We still have questions around dried flower pricing and event work, but it’s getting easier.

 What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season?

The most helpful resource for us this season was the Island Flower Grower’s Virtual Grower’s Friend Pass.

What were your best sales channels/avenues?

Our CSA was our best sales channel. The certainty makes the work feel worthwhile. We also had fun dipping our toes into a bit of special event work, which was different and stressful but rewarding creatively and financially.

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

Our customers buy from us because they love fresh flowers! They love to receive and discover diverse flowers, and they feel good about supporting our small, hyper-local, and ecological, women-owned business!

Chantelle (L) and Teresa (R) posing with frost-killed dahlias.

What was the most important thing you gained from the mentorship? (information, perspective, ideas, solidarity etc….)

The most important thing we gained from the mentorship was our mentor! I felt that I could be honest with Amie about how things were going, what we were struggling with, and what our gaps in knowledge were. It was extremely helpful to be able to ask questions about the minutia of growing specific flowers, sales strategies, and everything in between. It felt good to know we had someone to turn to!

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?

The mentorship helped us develop our confidence in pricing and negotiating agreements with partner businesses. This year, we tried selling our flowers on consignment at a café. Without Amie’s input, we would have had no idea what percentage would be reasonable. Unfortunately, the café closed so the arrangement was short-lived, but it was a good exercise.

 How did mentorship impact your business overall?

Mentorship offered this background reassurance that we were not alone and that we could figure things out. It sounds nebulous but this overall feeling of support and solidarity was encouraging in a real way.

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

Beware of slugs! They will eat all your sprouting dahlias if you don’t deal with the grass growing around them and have an unusually cold, wet spring!

What were the victories, small or large that you had this season?

One small victory we had this season was growing gladiolus for the first time! With Amie’s encouragement, we tried growing them in crates. We managed to evade the thrips and we loved the shape and vibrancy of these blooms! This was a sentimental choice, because some time after starting Suelo & Faa, I learned that my grandfather used to grow gladiolus in Argentina. Next year, we’ll be growing more. (And… planting more during each succession so that we have enough blooming at a time for all our CSA members…)

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

We would like to keep making small changes to improve our growing, marketing, and work-life balance  There were many ideas that came up during our mentorship chats that we couldn’t try this year!

Share anything funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.

We had a raccoon family visit our flowers. I love raccoons and was happy to see them enjoying our blooms <3

Where can we find you online? (website, FB, IG etc)

You can find out more about us at our website suelofaa.com, and sign up for our newsletter! We are also on instagram @suelofaa and facebook Suelo & Faa.

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