Rachelle Pinto is the mom of 3, and a lover of herbs and heritage. She is based out of Winnipeg, with a small farm located just 20 minutes away, and is passionate about empowering her community by strengthening food security. Rachelle participated in the Young Agrarians Business Bootcamp, a five-week long online program that ran from February to March 2021. She chatted with our Young Agrarians Prairies team about her experience with the Bootcamp and how it intersects with her farm, Planted Allies.
Like many of us, Rachelle grew up in the public school system where there wasn’t a focus on cultural heritage. She recalls eating perogie for dinner as a kid, never questioning where her food came from or the traditions that it carried. It wasn’t until she met her daughter’s dad, who is Indigenous, that she started to dive into the culture and stories of the Peoples who have stewarded the land on which she lived. She describes this experience as being “a crash course on Canadian history”, where she learnt about the continuous oppression that Indigenous communities face.
For Rachelle, she started to dig into her Russian/German/Mennonite heritage. In recent years, she has connected with those in her community who have educated her on the use of herbs as medicine in Mennonite culture. It’s a continuous journey for Rachelle – there is so much knowledge to gain about herbal medicine and the learning never stops. Rachelle is now intertwining her understanding of heritage with her philosophy with Planted Allies – stressing the importance of being connected to your roots.
Rachelle is currently taking a course on herbalism, with her interests specifically focused on folk herbalism. Before the Business Bootcamp, her mind was filled with ideas. She described her initial idea as a “chicken farm that also was a herbal farm and an airbnb”. A lot of grand ideas, but perhaps a little too much on her plate for her initial business plan. Luckily, she came across the Business Bootcamp at the perfect time. After reading about the Bootcamp on the YA Facebook page and seeing it in the news, she was convinced that it was everything she was looking for. At the time, she was already connected with the Women’s Entrepreneur Centre and other similar organizations in Manitoba, but none of which had a farming focus like the Business Bootcamp.
She speaks of the Business Bootcamp as being well-rounded with a lot of diversity of farmers in the program. Rachelle especially connected with participants that were a bit out of the ordinary, including a flower farm, a bison ranch, and a haskap farm. One of the speakers she connected with the most was Laurie Trigg, a female farmer and an inspiration to Rachelle. Seeing Laurie speak helped normalize Rachelle’s place in the community as a mother and a farmer. “Farmers make it work”, Rachelle explains.
Most importantly, the Business Bootcamp helped her narrow down her focus to herbs. Upon reflection, Rachelle believes that she may have been disappointed if she wasn’t able to reach her goals by taking on too much at the start. The financial planning component was a big piece of the Bootcamp that Rachelle found helpful. “It helped a lot with the enterprise budget. Looking for that [financial] information”, Rachelle says. It also led her to research herbal websites and ask questions like, “what actually sells?”.
Now, Rachelle is focusing on ordering seeds and planting. For her first season, she’ll be growing 15 herbal plants on half an acre. Thankfully, she has her friend and mentor, Louise of Aurora Farm, an established farm nearby. She learns from Louise, visits and helps out at Aurora, and also has access to affordable rentals of machinery through Louise. When Rachelle has a stable place to farm, she wants to grow as many native plants as possible and give away these sacred plants to community members who make medicine.
Rachelle’s story is inspiring to us folks at YA. It reminds us of the importance of having in-depth conversations around our roots and the land on which we live and farm.
Want to learn more about ways to access land and start your own farm? Check out the Alberta Land Access Guide!
If you’re new to farming and want to get some first-hand experience on an ecological farm then check out the Prairies Apprenticeship Program!