Shirlene Cote farms Earth Apple Farm, formerly in Burnaby and now in Abbotsford, BC.
In the beginning of my mentorship I set some goals for the year and beyond. My goal planning was three-fold (1-year, 3-year and 8-year) and ended up being a page long, so I will offer the condensed version. In the first year I aimed to 1) net more income, 2) secure 2-3 feasible plans for relocating to a new stable long-term farm home in one year and 3) develop and adhere to a self-care plan. In the goal planning process I found it challenging to set certain goals, especially long term goals, for a couple of reasons. One, I think we (culturally? inherently?) tend to have a fear of commitment and long-term planning requires commitment and trust that it will all work out. And the second being that it is really difficult to make long term plans when you don’t know what turns the journey will take you on. So at least for the first year, these goals seemed clear and concrete enough without limiting me to new possibilities.
Goal 1: In 2015, I managed to fulfill the first goal, but just barely. It was a tough season with the drought and a new pest called Symphylans taking hold in my fields. I was challenged in growing baby greens, which is my most profitable product and for which I had a contract to produce weekly throughout the summer for a restaurant. The loss of revenue from not being able to fulfill this contract was slightly devastating. On the positive side, I am delighted that I still managed to net a larger profit then the previous year even with the sales loss that had been included in my sales projection planning. I learned from this to always have a back up plan, especially for products that are so valuable. I did manage to convince the Chef to purchase black kale on a weekly basis instead of the baby greens, which although it was less valuable, I believe it saved my neck.
Goal 2: In 2015, I secured a new place to move and expand my farm business! I applied for New Resident Farmer at Glen Valley Organic Farm Co-op and was accepted to begin in 2016. Although, I feel some anxiety about moving from this quirky, little piece of land here in South Burnaby, I am ecstatic to be joining GVOFC and have access to over 5 acres of land, certifying organic, join a community of wonderful people and be living in a beautiful and inspiring place. When I feel melancholy about leaving this place that introduced me to the grand love affair of working the soil; that caused so much blood, sweat and tears; that introduced me to a new career that wasn’t a career, but a way of being, a way of living- I remind myself that this piece of land, just down the road from the Fraser River is still connected to my new love affair to be. The opportunities that exist at GVOFC will allow Earth Apple Farm to flourish and grow to a more sustainable level of business, to grow community, produce more food and head towards a brighter future.
Goal 3: In 2015, I developed a self-care plan and for the most part adhered to it. The thing about running a business and no less a business that requires so much of you physically, mentally, socially and emotionally is that it is easy to lose yourself and the importance of staying healthy throughout it all. In the past, I have had trouble keeping up with the calories I needed to consume with scale of physical labor I was performing, but feel as though I did much, much better this year in making time to prepare food routinely and eat it of course. Yoga, meditation and cardio exercise were all activities I hoped to achieve and engage in more regularly then I did. These will have to be deferred to 2016 goals 🙂
Complimentary Goals: Goal 1, allowed me to establish goals 2 and 3 with another significant and celebratory circumstance. In 2015, I purchased a tiny home. I was previously living in a dingy 13’ trailer with no running water inside, terrible lighting, a furnace that worked half the time, extremely limited cooking abilities and a really uncomfortable sleeping pad. I showered at the local community centre. It’s only upon reflection that I recognize how dismal my living arrangement really was- I believe I was in denial at the time in order to move forward with the business. A local small company based in Delta built my little house where I currently reside on farm. It is built onto a trailer and is thus mobile if necessary (which it will be now that I am moving to Abbotsford early 2016) and has all the amenities! It has allowed me to sleep better, cook up a storm and eat well, shower and be clean more regularly (woohoo!) and feel comfortable and more at ease in general. The business plan that I completed in 2015 helped me secure a loan through Vancity, which is what assisted me in purchasing my lovely home. Meeting goal 1, has allowed me to feel confident that I can continue to pay this loan back and continue to grow and attain the amenities required to fulfill all the obligations required in this field in a sustainable manner.
A good friend, who is currently finishing up her midwifery studies, reminded me after a rather disappointing and bad market day: it is normal to be bogged down by the everyday losses, mistakes, negativity and loneliness inherent in demanding and complex endeavors, but you must lift your head up high and see above it all every so often to see the bigger picture and carry on. I believe goal setting and check in’s are one such way to achieve this much needed advice. My mentor encouraged goal setting and was there to check in with me regularly. I am so grateful for the mentorship I received during a challenging and ever-changing year and I am looking forward to having a former mentor and now dear friend become my neighbour and important part of my community at GVOFC.
Thank you Chris Bodnar and Young Agrarians for the support and a Happy New Year!
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.