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.
The 2021 Mentee Cohort are hard at work planning for the season ahead and we are thrilled to profile them and celebrate their efforts!
Ashley Taylor is the owner/ farmer at Valley Vitals and she is mentored by Ruth & Mick Wilson at Earthly Pleasures Organic Farm.
Where do you farm?
Fernie, Elko, and Jaffray
What do you farm?
I have a market garden for seasonal fruits & veggies that I sell at the Farmers Market. I also operate a small scale poultry operation and a composting service for local restaurants.
What inspired you to get into farming?
Farming is a way for me to pursue sustainable living as a career as well as a lifestyle that allows me to have an intimate relationship with my environment. I want to create a career where I feel I had a positive impact on the earth and help connect people with their environment. I think growing, preparing, and sharing food with others is one of my biggest joys in life; I want to harness that natural joy and combine it with sustainable food production & community relationships.
What did you do to learn how to farm?
Oh! I just threw myself into the deep end! I started a CSA program with pretty much zero practical experience. I spent countless nights pouring over the literature, watching YouTube videos, and talking to anyone who would take the time to teach me anything they were knowledgeable about. However, most of my knowledge is trial and error!
I had a lot of help from my community as well; there are a lot of amazing women in my life who help me start my business. I also hired a friend who had done market gardening before to help me get on my feet and I’ve been running full steam ahead ever since. Same storyline for my career in poultry; I came home with a box of chicks and was determined to have my own backyard flock despite living in a trailer park and owning no land. Two years later I had my class E poultry licence and a small flack on an acreage.
What types of ecological farm practices do you use?
Valley Vitals uses our own natural fertilizers; we predominantly use compost and manure that we produce ourselves. We do not use any pesticides; instead, we depend on row cover, crop rotation, companion planting, and planting crops that work best with local insect populations. If we get it wrong, well then it just makes for more chicken snacks!
The landowner developed the garden beds and surrounding areas with permaculture principles at heart. The land is bio-diverse providing habitat for many beneficial species; the healthy population of garter snakes really helps keep the pests at bay!
What type of business structure is your farm?
Sole-proprietorship. I’m essentially a one woman show with a lot of family members that are “volan-told”.
How much land is under production on your farm?
Currently 1/2 acre market garden beds, 1/2 acre of fruit trees & berry crops, 1 acre for free-range poultry.
What is your land tenure? Are there special relationships or support that enabled this (family, BCLMP)?
I rent my land from a local family in Fernie. Gaëtane Carigan and her family have been immensely supportive of my business, have created an amazing bio-diverse space for me to work in, and are also excellent local food advocates & gardeners themselves. I would have never been able to start my market garden business without the support & beautiful growing space that Gaëtane has provided me.
Why did you apply for YA business mentorship?
I first applied for the mentorship program in 2019 when I was starting my CSA program.
What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer?
Lack of experience! To be a farmer you have to be well versed in so many areas: record keeping, soil science, financial literacy, marketing, advertising, and so much more! There are so many balls to keep in the air while trying to be as efficient as possible. There is also an aspect of creativity required in order to be resilient and prosperous. A life-time in the industry still wouldn’t be enough! So to be able to ‘stand on the shoulder of giants’ makes taking on the monumental task of starting up a business in agriculture much less intimidating!
What is your primary business goal for the season?
To more efficiently & effectively use the growing space and resources currently have. In addition, I would like to improve the connection I have with my local community as a business and as a resident.
What business tools could you not live without?
Google sheets & Wave Accounting!
If you had a farming robot what would it be?
Carrot robot: Harvests, washes, and bundles all at the same time!
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?
Facebook: @valleyvitalsfernie Instagram: @valleyvitals
Find out more about the Business Mentorship Program here.
This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity and Columbia Basin Trust.