Ahoy! We are Stephanie Vigneux (Urban Farmer) Jordie Bulpit (Horticulturalist) from SOLscapes collaborating with Samantha Philips and Lisa Giroday of Victory Gardens. With a bit of a divergent business model, we’re so honored to be participating in the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network this season as a new ground is broken.
So what do we do then? Imagine a spin off of SPIN farming. SOLscapes is an ecologically sustainable landscaping company that services the Sea-to-Sky Corridor. Our focus is to help our customers grow their own food, for their own use. We do this by designing edible and indigenous plant landscapes and connecting the community to their food and land through education. We grow a combination of mixed veggies, berries, herbs, edible flowers and tend to young and mature fruit trees. SOLscapes currently operates as a general partnership, but there’s potential for developing into cooperative in the future.
We offer new garden bed installations as well as renovations or expansions to pre-existing ones in a variety of spaces including residential, strata and commercial properties. One of the challenges that we have faced being predominantly based in Squamish is sourcing local, organic starts when needed. While available space is a limitation to us growing our own starts this season, we hope to develop strategic alliances that will allow to do this soon! How did we get into this style of farming? It sprouted from a love of fresh food, a passion for soil, appreciation of fresh air and a deep interest in community resilience through food sovereignty.
We applied for the YA Business Mentorship Network as a result of ongoing encouragement from a good friend Dave (Fearless Leader at Lentelus Farms) who had previously participated in the mentorship program. The support that he gained seemed invaluable and despite our reluctance (stemming from not being a food production-based business), we had nothing to lose and much to gain. Thanks Dave!
The greatest business challenge we face as young urban farmers is marketing edible landscaping in a way that demonstrates what this type of land care is. There is a common misconception that farming and landscaping are definitively two separate industries. For SOLscapes this could not be farther from the truth. However trying to convince a more “traditional” minded crowd has proven to be a challenge. Working in collaboration with Victory Gardens has been a huge help in developing a concise, educational, and targeted marketing strategy.
Our business goals for this season have been shifting since the beginning of this mentorship. This opportunity s has inspired us to refine our vision and organize our plan of attack as well as our methods of assessment. Past experience has taught us to be more creative with our marketing approach to secure ongoing regular maintenance work. We have just pushed through with our first goal which was to develop ‘Spring bundles’ as a sales strategy for regular garden upkeep that was otherwise often being given a little less love than it needed from the home/business owner. Second to this as mentioned, we strive to find an economic and time efficient way of sourcing (or growing) and storing starts for customers, and finally, we would love to finish our business plan and potentially secure some kind of funding/financial support.
There is a long list of business tools that we could not live without. The first one that comes to mind is our partnership. Finding each other has truly been a gift. There is so much time and energy that needs to be put into a new business that the thought of doing it all alone feels near impossible. Problem solving, completing the never ending tasks and having someone to lean on that understands your passion, and sometimes pain, has been the backbone of this business. Now let’s get to the next most important topic of this blog… our farming superpower.
After deep discussion, our farming superpower (hopefully we’re fine to embellish a little here) would be ability to transform ourselves (on command) into any of the microscopic organisms that populate our living soils. Why? What a great opportunity it would be to experience the soil food web and assess soil conditions and quality by specializing in a different environment. That and it would likely be a pretty wild ride.
What is your favourite farm book? Definitely The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. This manifesto on radically unconventional farming methods has offered such a valuable perspective for cultivating that delicate, revolutionary balance in so many different avenues.
You can explore more about us at our brand new and improved website www.solscapes.ca and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/solscapes.ca/) and instagram as @sol.scapes
Lettuce know what you think! : )
2015, 2016, & 2017 Funding for the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network Pilot is provided in part by Vancity, Salt Spring Coffee, Rotary Hastings Sunrise, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.