Business Mentorship – Lessons Learned: Golden Ears Farm

Posted by Kristen Nammour on December 11, 2015

Name, Farm, Location?
Tristan Cavers, Michelle Tsutsumi, Annelise Grube-Cavers, Kelsey Snelgrove, Paul Matheson, Golden Ears Farm, Chase, Unceded Secwepemc Territory

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
Our goals for the season were:

  • To navigate a new model on the farm (shifting from a model of everyone who lives on the farm also works on the farm to one where everyone has their own enterprise, leaving only 2 out of 5 full-time residents working in the market garden)
  • Figuring out how to farm with a toddler in tow, as well as
  • Gaining clarity on co-op structures and our next steps in choosing to formalize it or not.

Did you meet your goals / Did it work out?
Partially. With the new model, it was clear that we did not have enough people power in the market garden – we were down 3 full-time residents and 1 intern from the previous year. Of course that made a significant difference in terms of keeping up with planting schedules and weeding! We came to the conclusion that if we want to maintain the same diversity of crops, and the field crops in particular (corn, peas, squash and strawberries), we need more hands on deck. With this season fully in context, and with our excellent crew of interns, we did really well. On paper, however, it looked bleak.

It took way too long for us to acknowledge that we weren’t able to farm with a toddler in tow, or, if we did, a lot of the farming suffered. Even with a lot of support from Nana and our interns, the field and market garden work fell behind and was erratic. Late in the season, we started to have our daughter in daycare for two days a week, which made a huge difference – just a little too late.

The biggest success for the season was gaining clarity about co-op structures and which one would be a good fit for Golden Ears Farm and how it has evolved over time. Beginning steps were taken to complete the paperwork to formalize a co-op.

Golden Ears Farm at market

What were your most profitable avenues of sales?
Our CSA is the most helpful avenue of sales in terms of early season cash flow, crop planning and relationships with our customers. The most profitable avenue of sale, however, stems from our farmers market attendance.

What is your unique value proposition in your market? Why buy from you?
People seem drawn to Golden Ears Farm because of the rich, multi-generational history that comes with it. There are a lot of stories from the many decades that this farm has been operating, and people love stories. In addition, Golden Ears Farm has a diverse range of transitionally certified organic items that includes eggs and meat, something a bit different from the more typical fruit and veg offerings.

How did the mentorship impact your business?
The mentorship gave us more tools to help with managing finances, a software package that will increase efficiency and provide informative reports, and highlighted the importance of tracking labour so that we can get paid – very important!

What business skills have you gained through the mentorship?
The most important piece has been gaining a way to track cash flow through the template offered in the webinar series. The challenging bit with that is finding the time to actually go through receipts on a monthly basis – still working on that! Knowing a good software package also helps to streamline paperwork. I’m very much looking forward to getting rid of the handful of invoice books that end up circulating in a season.

Piggy Snouts at Golden Ears Farm

What was the most important information you gained from your mentor?
Perseverance and not to get too stressed out about hard seasons (which this season was, on many levels).

Overall, how are you feeling about your farm business this season?
More empowered to deal with the paperwork that is necessary to have a well-functioning, profitable farm.

Did you learn any lessons the hard way?
Arranging adequate and consistent childcare happened so far into the season that stress levels were high and crops were lost due to weed pressure and late planting (in combination with very high temperatures).

Do you have any big plans for future growth?
It’s more important, at this point, to try to ‘master’ where we’re already at before considering expansion. Long range plans are to grow our own grain and possibly grow crops to supply breweries and distilleries. First, we need more equipment, which would need more capital, which needs a solid track record of operations doing what we’re doing now.

Did anything silly happen on your farm this season?
There are two toddlers on the farm, so one can imagine the antics that we all get up to and the mischief that they get into.

What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Snow to go touring lots, a YA Mixer in Kelowna and seeing Vandana Shiva in February – good winter!

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. 

Golden Ears Sunset