Business Mentorship Network – Kimi & Kareno, Sweet Digz Farm

Posted by Kristen Nammour on April 07, 2017

The july fields of sweet digz farm

Name? Sweet Digz Farm – Kareno Hawbolt & Kimi Hendess

Where do you farm? Richmond, BC

What do you farm? We use organic farming practices to grow veggies, seed and herbal medicinals.

What type of business structure is your farm? Our business is a partnership of two sole proprietors: Kareno & Kimi.  Officially, we are “Sweet Digz Farm & Construction.” Up until last year we had a carpentry side where Kimi did renovations and in 2014-15 built a tiny house for a client.  Since 2016 we are trying to have Kimi full time on the farm along with head farmer Kareno.  We also have been able to bring in additional income by teaching for Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Richmond Farm School program.

What is your land tenure? We lease 4 acres within the ALR from a landowner who lives in the house at the front of the property a few months out of the year.  We began in 2013 with a 5-year lease and have recently secured advanced renewal for the 2018 season.  The owner would now like to keep the lease to 1-year at a time to protect potential development interests.  Since 2016 we have been leasing the neighbouring 5-acre parcel and are farming one acre of it.  That is also a 1 year lease, as the property is up for sale.  

How did you seriously get into farming? Kareno was drawn into farming in 2001 after visiting a Seedy Saturday and picking up Dan Jason’s “Living Lightly on the Land: Self-Reliance in Food & Medicine.”  She had been teaching about globalization and GMOs in schools throughout BC and realized (while staring at imported produce in the grocery store) that all the awareness and education she was doing didn’t give her or the students practical tools to make actual change in their lives.  Beyond consumer power, she wanted hands-on tools, and was inspired by the simplicity of Dan Jason’s message, laid out in that spiral-bound, unbleached paper handbook on living a land-based, empowered way of life.  Kareno spent over a decade apprenticing, working on, and managing farms before she & Kimi moved to her hometown of Richmond to be close to family, and started up Sweet Digz Farm.  Kimi followed a similar path of wanting to learn more hands on skills than her “environmental policy & education” line of work was providing, so followed Kareno on the rural path.  Thinking they should have an off-farm income stream, Kimi apprenticed and became a Red Seal certified carpenter, and did a bunch of renovation & construction work until she and Kareno found land to lease and launched the farm side of the business.  A political and spiritual passion to protect biodiversity and preserve local land-based ways of life has always been the core value as we set our goals and choose each step along the path.  It’s hard work, heart work, full of trials and tribulations, and we are so grateful to have found farming!

Farming is heart work expressed with heart shaped vegetables

Why did you apply for the YA Business Mentorship Network? The main reason we applied for YA mentorship was to help get our admin & financial management systems working.  We are great at farming & carpentry, marketing & sales, and lots of on-the-ground aspects of the business.  But our financial management and record-keeping has been on the fly and a LOT has fallen through the cracks.  Our mentors are helping us learn admin skills & set up systems, priorities, reporting calendars, and overall record-keeping systems.

What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer? The biggest challenge we face as farmers is making time amidst a really hectic season (or a really short winter rest season) to prioritize admin and financial reporting, payroll reporting, WCB reporting, and all the other responsibilities of being a small business owner.  Land security is also a big challenge for young farmers in general, and the high cost of paying for rental housing when you can’t live on your farm effects the kind of long-term investment a farmer can afford to make in their business, and the kind of risks they can take in an already high-risk industry.

What are your business goals for the season? Our core goal for the year is to orient the business around personal balance. (In our first 3 years, we pushed ourselves hard and took very little time to rest & recuperate… now we have to prioritize balance!) Our other goals are to increase gross sales and reduce expenses (“lean the farm” is a 5-year goal), implement systems to be more efficient on the farm and in our business, create & follow a budget, and to develop criteria so that crop planning decisions follow financial planning priorities.

A group shot of the mentors and mentees of Sweet Digz Farm on Mystic Beach BC

What business tools could you not live without Our favourite business tools are our farm tools.  Hands cos rakes were designed after them. Broadfork cos it slows us down, treats the soil gently, and is an awesome workout! Wheelhoe cos it’s seriously the best.  And the Earthway seeder cos even though everyone wants a Jang, the Earthway is cheap and does the job and is a great way to build a business with baby steps, one investment at a time.

If you had a farming super power what would it be? Ooo, good question! Some kind of weeding super power.  Like, blink 3 times and all the weeds are gone! Or maybe, the ability to weed at the same time as getting deep restorative sleep.

What is your favourite farm book? Definitely Wendell Berry “The Unsettling of America” and our latest amazing ‘how to’ find is “The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer” by Jeff & Melanie Carpenter.

How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?
Instagram: @sweetdigzfarm
This year, we have a volunteer to help with our facebook & instagram, cos we don’t want to spend time on computer to run those 🙂

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.