B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Tea Creek Farm

Posted by Melanie Buffel on December 13, 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 wrapped up their growing season and are reflecting back on the lessons of the year.  We are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts as we begin the match process with our new cohort of farmers for the BMN 2022 program. For more information please see our YA Business Page

My name is Jacob Beaton and I operate Tea Creek Farm in Kitwanga, BC.

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?

Our goal was to launch our Indigenous training farm. We worked hard fundraising in 2020, and successfully launched with a youth employment program in the winter, and then rolled into adult skill training programs in the spring, summer, and fall. We had to train staff all year to be successful. 

Did you meet your goals / did it work out?

Yes! We smashed our goals and had much higher participation than anticipated across the board. In the winter we exceeded Indigenous youth participation goals, reaching 4,928 hours in the winter. We worked with 58 youth and the target was 25. We graduated 33 Indigenous people from our training programs from April – October, and included 59 in training, both exceeding targets. 

Perhaps most amazing is that we averaged over 100 additional guests per month, in the first 3 weeks of October alone we exceeded 100 additional guests to the farm. The vast majority are Indigenous people from the region and included school groups and local leadership. We estimate we had at least 1,000 additional short-term visitors over the year. This includes guests to our first-ever YA sponsored land social this summer!

We served meals to guests and estimate over 6,000 meals served at tea creek this year. 

What were the major challenges in the season ?

COVID-19 was a major challenge, despite being outdoors and very careful including mask-wearing, our whole family caught COVID-19 and it was a struggle. Some of us still have long-haul symptoms but we are mostly fully recovered. 

We also struggled somewhat with the sheer volume of people and interest in our work, the nearly non-stop guests all year including the winter was exhausting. 

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

We did lean on our mentor Chris, who had timely solid advice. The most critical of course was funding. Our main funders this year were the ministry of AEST BC, ITA BC, ESDC, and the FN Ag. Assn. We also received support in-kind from communities, from YA, and even received our first private donation from a farm in Terrace!

What were your best sales channels/avenues?

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

We provide employment and training services, what makes us unique is our Tea Creek Model, which is Indigenous-led, outdoors, and culturally safe. 

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

Chris provided a template for a short business plan that was helpful. He also reminded us many times the importance of our personal health and wellbeing, and the importance of connection with our kids and each other. I think Chris is quite worried about our pace – and he always has a valuable experienced perspective on things. 

How did mentorship impact your business overall?

The mentorship helped us with decision making at some crucial junctures, which we very much appreciate. 

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

Hmm… well… we just got around to soil sampling this fall, and I wish we’d done it sooner but it hasn’t been a deal-breaker. I think ordering supplies early and often has been a hard lesson repeatedly learned over the last 2 years. If you NEED something and it comes in stock somewhere, and you can afford it, don’t friggin perseverate on it like me… just buy it! You will thank yourself later. 

So many things have been out of stock this year, or sell out quickly. I missed out on some of my fav potato varieties because I waited 1 week to finalize my order, and in that time they sold out. I also ran out of irrigation supplies, and some other critical things because I thought I could wait or it felt expensive and I thought I could swing without it. Get what you NEED, you won’t regret it. So far, I haven’t regretted any farm purchases, especially the innovative ones that save time and money. 

What plans do you have for  future farm growth?

Well, we are in a number of exciting discussions… and may have some big announcements over the next few months! We hit highs this year such as presenting to former PM Paul Martin and his foundation, presenting at RegenBC, and also presenting to the United Nations FAO. 

What are you most looking forward to this winter?

Rest!! Oh my goodness, we are so exhausted!

Find out more about the Business Mentorship Program.

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