Name? Russell Heitzmann and Calliope Gazetas
Where do you farm? Royston, in the Comox Valley just south of Courtenay. We are some of the newest members of the Merville Organics Growers Cooperative!
What do you farm? Vegetables and meat chickens
What type of business structure is your farm? Partnership
What is your land tenure? We have a one year lease for this year with the possibility to renew for a longer term. It’s our relationship with the landowner and her desire to have her property be a working farm that really makes things tick. Because the landowner really understands what we’re doing and what we need to do it (she’s an ex-farmer herself), it means we know that she has reasonable expectations around our needs.
How did you seriously get into farming?
Russell: I moved to the Comox Valley from Calgary two years ago to see if growing food was the kind of life change I wanted to make. I fell in love with everything about it: the people, the land, the process, and the food. This is now my third season as a farmer!
Calliope: I came out from Toronto for an apprenticeship with Amara Farms, and realized two months in that I didn’t want to return to Ontario. Comox Valley is a stunning place to live, and I was inspired by the level of community that existed for new farmers here.
Why did you apply for the YA Business Mentorship Network? We are in the first year of starting our business, and although we have lots of energy and ideas, we don’t have a lot of business experience that directly relates to farming. Calliope has been a freelance designer for a number of years and Russell has some experience in helping to run a business, but not everything is directly applicable. We figured that the best way to learn the kind of skills we need to make our business successful is from people who are already running successful farm businesses. The YA Business Mentorship Network is the perfect way for us to do that.
What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer? Organization, especially in terms of money, is probably our biggest challenge. We really need to focus in on the things that need to be done and the ways to do them most economically. Sometimes it’s hard to choose between making investments for the long or short term.
What are your business goals for the season? At a most basic level it’s to end the year in the black. There are a lot of things that are going to have to come together for that to happen, so there are sub goals along the way. Having a successful year in terms of sales means that our marketing co-op has been successful in meeting its goals of marketing our produce. And we need to grow all the food that we have planned to grow so that we can sell it.
What business tools could you not live without?
At this point I would say spreadsheets. I can’t imagine trying to crop plan without a spreadsheet, and we’ve been using them as an interim way of tracking receipts before we get our accounting software up and running.
If you had a farming super power what would it be?
Russell: The power to turn pasture into beautiful raised beds that are ready for planting just by thinking about it.
Calliope: Knowing exactly what the chickens need and when so that they are happy and get nice and plump for our customers.
What is your favourite farm book?
Russell: Given my love of spreadsheets I have to say “Crop Planning for Organic Growers” by Frederic Theriault and Daniel Brisebois, it has lots of practical and focused advice and really helped us craft a clear guide to our growing year.
Calliope: Right now it’s what we call the chicken bible “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock” by Harvey Ussery
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?
Umbella Farm is on Twitter @UmbellaFarm or MervilleOrganics.ca
Funding for the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Pilot is provided in part by Salt Spring Coffee, Vancity, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.