B.C. Business Mentorship Network – Thimbleberry Farm

Posted by Melanie Buffel on November 09, 2020

Young Agrarians is celebrating the seventh 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.

Applications are now open for our BMN 2021 Mentee Cohort. Find more information and an application form here. Deadline to apply has been extended to November 20th, 2020. 

We are wrapping up with our 2020 Mentee Cohort and are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts!

Vicky Serafini is the owner of Thimbleberry Farm in Terrace, BC and is a participant in the 2020 Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Program.

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

My major goals for the season were to set up record keeping systems. I needed clear and easy-to-use methods to track farm finances, sales, yields, and inputs that could inform my decisions for crop planning and infrastructure investments for subsequent years. My mentor did a wonderful job of going through different systems and helped me find what suited my needs, but also systems that I would actually use throughout and after the season. 

Did you meet your goals / did it work out? (Explain a bit)

I have yet to fully go through all of the data collected over the season, but I’m feeling confident that what I have set up will give me a good idea of how and what I should plan for next year. Previously, I have dreaded the “number crunching” and planning that goes on over the winter. I’m excited to get started this year.

What effect did Covid19 have on your business?

Although I recognize the difficulty, stress, and suffering that the pandemic has caused many, the farm weathered it well. Initially, we faced the possibility of our local Farmers’ Market not opening. This caused some panic, but I was able to quickly move our sales online and was also able to set up a temporary farm stand. Our customers and greater community were very supportive. Our market eventually opened, and overall, our sales were not affected.

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

My mentor, Chris Bodnar, without a doubt, was able to answer any question, big or small, or at least point me in some helpful direction. 

What were your best sales channels/avenues? 

Although we were pleasantly surprised by the success of our online purchase and pick-up system, the Farmers Market was our most reliable sales channel.

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

Our customers appreciate the quality, aesthetic and variety that our farm provides. We try to grow what other vendors in our area do not and try to harvest crops when they are at their most delicious stages. We are very open with our customers about our farming practices and lifestyle. Our willingness to answer questions is particularly appreciated by our poultry and rabbit customers. I am also passionate about food and try to get customers fired up about what they are buying and eating. It really comes down to good food! 

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

My mentor really encouraged me to find solutions and systems that work best for my own operation, family life, etc. I feel more able to narrow in on the specific needs of my farm and meet them using the resources and skills that I know I have.

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?

The mentorship improved my overall financial literacy. I am also better able to prioritize tasks and resources, whether they be part of day-to-day operations or part of a bigger project.

How did mentorship impact your business overall?

The mentorship had an enormous impact on my business. Along with gaining new farming and management skills, the mentorship really increased my confidence as a young farmer who had little experience starting her farming adventure.

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

Farming is a long game. It’s important to have clear goals, both long and short term, but it is equally important to be flexible and level-headed when faced with the inevitable failures and mishaps. Managing a farm, even a small one, is a difficult and complicated job, and much of a farm’s success is dependent on lessons learned over time. Stay focused on your own vision and needs, keep a level head, and look at the next season as an opportunity to apply lessons learned. Also, having some fun away from the farm can really boost your productivity when you get back to work.

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

We are lucky enough to own and live on our farm. I will be expanding our growing space on site for the 2021 season, which will represent full usage of our cultivatable space. Furthermore, I have recently secured a lease for a plot of land owned by another young farmer, with support from the Young Agrarians Land Matching Program. This is a huge expansion for Thimbleberry Farm, and I will be hiring an employee for the 2021 season to help me make it all happen.

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

I consider the following funny, but only because I would otherwise find it tragic: 

Never have I ever felt more prepared for a growing season. I was chomping at the bit, armed with great information gained through my mentorship. Also, I have never, ever experienced such horrible weather during a whole season. Almost all of our losses were related to the cold and wet summer that the Skeena Valley experienced this year. Hopefully next year will provide us with some heat and sunshine!

What are you most looking forward to this winter?

Taking a break from rubber boots and plan, plan, planning for next year. 

www.thimbleberryfarm.org               Find us on IG and FB @ thimbleberryeats

Find out more about the Business Mentorship Program and fill out an application here. Deadline for submissions has been extended to November 20, 2020. 

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

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