Name? Tristan & Aubyn Banwell
Where do you farm? Spray Creek Ranch — in the rainshadow of the Coast Mountains, along the Mighty Fraser, in the Upper St’at’mic Territory, 15 km south of Lillooet, BC.
What do you farm? Soil. We make money raising cattle, laying hens and meat chickens, but really we’re growing healthy, diverse pasture to build the soil.
What type of business structure is your farm? Spray Creek Ranch is a corporation we own in partnership with the land owners.
What is your land tenure? We have a wonderful partnership with the land owners — we partnered with them as they were looking to acquire this farm to further their conservation goals. Them: “If you’ll run it, we’ll buy it.” Us: “We’ll do it — buy it!” It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s a great arrangement.
How did you seriously get into farming? We started at a homestead scale at our last property, simply becoming more self-sufficient one project at a time. Pretty soon we were producing a diversity and abundance of goodness. We basically woke up one day and realized, “Whoa, we’ve got a small farm on our hands here!” We opened up for on-farm sales and sold meat shares to our friends and neighbours, which was incredibly rewarding. When the opportunity came to build a farm reflecting our values on a broadacre scale, we jumped at the chance.
Why did you apply for the YA Business Mentorship Network? We needed to free up the time to do some serious business planning. It is hard to find a spare moment to sit down and think about your business plan when you’ve got those million-and-one farm projects hanging over your head. We agreed to spend our first year on the farm learning the land and systems, while making small improvements where we could. With the first year just finished, we are ready to make a big jump and the mentorship program is helping us organize ourselves to succeed. Having an experienced pastured poultry producer to work with has been a huge help.
What is the greatest business challenge you face as a young farmer? In our area, there is limited market in general and limited demand for healthy, ecologically-produced food at this time. We sometimes joke that if someone would buy our products, they’re already growing it themselves! That makes our biggest challenge twofold: accessing existing markets for our products, and developing our local market by building relationships and sharing knowledge.
What are your business goals for the season? We are working to develop a producers’ co-op to coordinate marketing and distribution among our amazing local producers. Our plan is to have a few producers selling to a few buyers through a food hub during this growing season. Another big goal is to develop our slaughter capacity through the acquisition of our Class D on-farm slaughter licence and the renovation of a meat shop on the farm. And we want to work toward holding a workshop with Mark Shepard on our farm, which — in case you aren’t familiar with Restoration Agriculture — is kind of a big deal.
What business tools could you not live without? Definitely would be totally lost without Google Spreadsheets. Actually, some of our spreadsheets are so complex that I’m lost anyway! And our paper record sheets. We start by filling out a printed brooder record, layer record, pasture record, etc on clipboards and then transfer that into a digital spreadsheet monthly. This keeps all helpers on the same page and keeps our records consistent. Finally, our super amazing, 70-going-on-30-year-old farmer neighbour, who knows and shares nearly everything about everything worth knowing and sharing, leaning on a fencepost, across the hood of a truck or behind a cow.
If you had a farming super power what would it be? Split into five separate copies of Tristan and Aubyn, have a brief-but-inspirational meeting and then get SLAMMING on some farm work! Wait, can I make it ten?
What is your favourite farm book? Oh my gosh. We have a favourite farm LIBRARY. The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is inspirational in reshaping your paradigm, allowing the space to ask yourself, “What can I not do?”, and reminding that you must stay your course when you know you are on the right path, no matter what others may say. Since I’m not a rice farmer, I need to include a practical manual as well, and I’d say Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerrish is at the top of my list in pasture management books — you will get smarter with every page. Can we include periodicals? Acres USA and The Stockman Grass Farmer help us utilize that otherwise unproductive time in the bathroom. And lastly, www.OnPasture.com for early Tuesday morning pre-chore reading.
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products? Plain ol’ like us at facebook.com/spraycreek, feast eyeballs on instagram.com/
Thanks to Joel Spooner Photography for the farm photos — check out more at instagram.com/joeliphoto.
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.