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 Ashley Lortscher (I got married this year!) and my farm business is Valley Vitals in Fernie, BC.
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
My goals this season were to streamline the market garden aspect of my business by creating a working crop plan, exploring new seeding and transplanting options, as well as creating and learning more efficient harvesting and washing processes. I also wanted to explore selling at the farmers market and a local store in Fernie.
Did you meet your goals / did it work out?
I would say that I was successful in meeting my goals; I was able to experiment with many new techniques and season extension tricks. I was able to harvest crops sooner, as well as spend less time transplanting, picking, and washing. Some of my crop plan was thrown out the window very shortly after the heat wave hit, but I was able to adapt to the situation relatively quickly.
I learned that the farmer’s market was a great location for selling my produce but in the end the convenience and predictability of the local store was more suitable to my needs.
What were the major challenges in the season ?
Oh where to start? I killed my irrigation pump at the beginning of the heat wave and had to hand waterbeds by carrying water from a nearby creek. I had to shut down my compost program because it was so hot. The vole apocalypse in beet patch! The heat wave caused many of my baby greens to bolt before I even got a first cutting. I had a predator take out half my flock… over my wedding weekend… 2 weeks before slaughter.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business to navigate these?
My business mentors were amazing in helping me troubleshoot when the heatwave hit; for example, amending my crop plan to account for the lost greens and what I could successfully plant in the heat and have harvested before the Fall. Also just having a source of mental health support, people who know how to navigate loss and stress, to remind you that you’re not crazy and that this job is hard!
What were your best sales channels/avenues? Fernie’s new “Local Store”. A non-profit based business for supporting local food producers.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)? They know my product is grown locally with love. They know I take great care in producing nutrient dense food that supports a healthy ecosystem.
What was the most important information or idea(s) you gained from the mentorship? To remember, at the end of the day, that you are doing this for the love of food but you can’t do anything if you don’t take care of yourself first.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop? I think the business mentorship really helped me streamline my food production system from seeding to packaging. Just so many little things I didn’t think about addressing before.
How did mentorship impact your business overall? It was a huge positive! I just felt so much more confident going into the season. I didn’t feel alone. I think the mental support was the biggest factor, just knowing that there were people out there that were on my team!
What were the big hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers? That the “system” isn’t ready for us yet. That society does not value food, not in the same way as we do. That you need to be either very creative or very patient in being able to charge what your product is ‘actually’ worth.
What plans do you have for future farm growth (where would you like your business to go)? I will be moving my business to my sister’s land and continuing to sell my produce to the Local Store in Fernie. I hope to diversify into a regenerative homesteading demonstration site. More pigs! More chickens!
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Garden mapping a design! Reading permaculture books! Drinking oodles of tea!
Find Ashley at Valley Vitals on FB here.
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.