Lessons Learned: SOLscapes Ecological Landscaping

Posted by Kristen Nammour on November 24, 2017

We’re checking back in with our B.C. Business Mentorship Network participants to see how their seasons have gone and how mentorship has benefitted them.

Hello fellow farmers and foodies! We are Stephanie Vigneux (Urban Farmer) and Jordie Bulpit (Horticulturalist) from SOLscapes collaborating with Samantha Philips and Lisa Giroday of Victory Gardens. We so deeply appreciate having had the opportunity to be a part of the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship network. This experience has truly nurtured our growth and development as a small business. SOLscapes is an ecologically sustainable landscaping company that services the Sea-to-Sky Corridor; you can find our edible installations scattered from West Vancouver to Whistler.   

At the beginning of the season one our goals was to develop alliances that would help foster an economic and time efficient way of sourcing (or growing) and storing veggie starts. Throughout our ongoing dialogue with Victory Gardens we were guided through our current options, their past experiences and the most realistic outcomes. For now, we are developing a long-term wholesale relationship with a local supplier of organic herb and veggie starts, and we’re pretty excited about it!! Part two was to lock down a space for storing these plants. An opportunity for barter popped up with a friend, and so we pruned the many fruit trees and berry bushes on the property in exchange for access to their greenhouse for the season. Yahoo!  

Solscapes Meets Victory Gardens

Second to this, we strived to find creative ways of marketing our edible landscaping/urban farming services. We advertised “Spring bundles” (via social media, local postering, word of mouth) as a sales strategy for securing regular garden upkeep and to promote edible garden installations. Unfortunately this approach did not really prove to be fruitful. As the mentorship evolved, our goal focus shifted to secure ongoing maintenance work. We discovered that networking and creating meaningful relationships with local restaurant owners allowed us to  focus on opportunities for design and installation as well as ongoing maintenance work. The most invaluable source for new prospective customers still remains to be referral by word of mouth, making community connection foundational to our vision. The priority for these customers was predominantly edible garden installations and one-on-one coaching, which really helped us customize our approach to meet individual needs. This being said, new garden installations were our most profitable avenue of sales.

Solscapes Garden Install

Our unique value proposition within the ecological landscaping market is the incorporation of edibles into and ornamental setting. With a bit of an unconventional twist, our edible and indigenous plant installations connect community to their food and land through education and experience; where beauty meets utility. Additionally, our strong focus on sustainability means that sourcing plants, soil and building materials from local suppliers is always a priority.

Sharing a common vision with Victory Gardens made working together throughout this mentorship deeply valuable and mutually rewarding. We’ve experienced a positive impact in a few different avenues. Namely, spreadsheets! We’ve been coached in new organization and efficiency techniques that have allowed for WAY more accurate record keeping, representation of costs and opportunity for analyzing next season’s projections. That said, we’ve also stocked up on some homework for the “off-season” which will keep us busy in prep for the Spring.

SOLscapes has learned a ton of lessons this season. The biggest challenge remains to be delivering accurate estimates. We’ve ventured into the subcontracting world, and with that transition comes many extra layers of detail. We were most commonly underestimating the total cost of contracts whether they be for maintenance or installation projects. With super power guidance from our jedi-like mentors, we’ve been able to quantify the necessary margins and account for a buffer that has left us feeling confident in our estimating procedure.  

Solscapes Restaurant Harvest

Our stoke levels are high for the next season. Knowing that growth is nurtured with patience,  persistence, flexibility and time; we are looking forward to spending the winter analyzing our 2017 data and working on developing sustainable business strategies for 2018.

PS: When your job site requires you to take a boat across a harbour, best be sure that your tools are secure. Props to the property manager for arranging our pole pruner to be fished out of the water by a diver for us 🙂

You can explore more about us on our website www.solscapes.ca and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/solscapes.ca/) and instagram as @sol.scapes

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 & the BC Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

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