Name, Farm, Location?
Brianna van de Wijngaard, Puddle Produce Urban Farms – Williams Lake, BC
What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
My goals were: to start a CSA program with at least 15 subscriptions, to have 10,000 sq ft in production, and to gross at least $25,000
Did you meet your goals / Did it work out? (Explain a bit)
Almost. I did start a CSA, and had 16 subscriptions. It worked well; I definitely had to purchase produce from other farms at the end because I didn’t have enough variety, but I really liked being able to do that, and will work it in to next year’s program as well. I dropped a 2,500 sq ft plot so I had 6,900 sq ft in production this year, instead of almost 10,000. That is also why I didn’t pull in $20,000. But it was ok becuase I realized it likely would’ve been beyond my abilities alone. And I still increased my income per sq ft, from last year.
What were your most profitable avenues of sales?
The local farmers market in Williams Lake and my CSA program were about equal in revenue this year.
What is your unique value proposition in your market? Why buy from you?
I am usually pretty early to market with leafy greens, so I sell a lot of those in the Spring. I also do shoots and microgreens, and am the only one in town who does. My prices are also competitive, compared to other markets for similar produce. Lastly, being urban, my transportation costs (financially and environmentally) are lower, and local food production is accessible and visible in peoples’ back yards.
How did the mentorship impact your business?
Record keeping tasks and templates have always suffered under my watch! So going over my own templates, and receiving new ones from my mentor was a big leap in that respect. I’ve always found it difficult to develop my own to work for my particular operation, and that are comprehensive, fluid, and interdependent. Other impacts were with regards to planting, harvesting, and processing inefficiencies. Because my mentor is also an urban farmer, he was able to guide me in work flows appropriate to my growing and help me become more efficient in the future, even if I don’t expand my land base.
What business skills have you gained through the mentorship?
How to properly evaluate what is working and what isn’t, especially around crop choices for my markets. I’ve learned to take a closer look at which ones make the most money in my region, and from which markets. This has helped me determine where to cull certain areas of my business and where to invest.
What was the most important information you gained from your mentor?
Definitely my record keeping templates, but a close second is general growing and expansion advice. For example, every time I had considered hiring help in the past, I always figured I wasn’t yet making enough money. But my mentor convinced me that – if it is a good investment (ie: a valuable hire) – then the dollars I spend on their wage should effectively double in the way of returns. I realized it is still a risk, because you won’t know how well that investment will perform until you do it, but much of that performance is up to the farmer and how effective their systems and training are. I also now know that, if I don’t hire, I will not be able to expand much beyond what I am already doing because I’ve hit the max of my own abilities.
Overall, how are you feeling about your farm business this season?
Good! I may not have made as much as I had projected, but it was for good reason. I made more than last season and the season before – it is encouraging to be making progressively more each year. I feel like I know how to expand and do better: I know which investments I need to make in order to do so, and that in turn makes me feel a lot less vulnerable.
Did you learn any lessons the hard way?
Ha! yes. I had a plot that I was trying to convert for the last 2 seasons, and it just wasn’t happening. Myself and volunteers worked 100+ hours trying to get it productive, and never got it running for two reasons: the condition of the land, and not enough experience/research into partnerships. I needed to let it go, which was difficult because a lot of people were counting on its success. But I had to, and lost all the hours and money invested. It was a tough decision that I wouldn’t make again!
Do you have any big plans for future growth?
Yes. The biggest and longer-term being a shift from urban to rural. I have had this in the plans since about year 2, and have simply been looking for suitable locations since then. This region (the Cariboo) has been great for an urban farming operation because none existed when I moved here, but I think it has its limitations compared to a centralized, rural farm operation. Urban farming has been most beneficial to me as a critical launching pad into farming on my own, and I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. So within the year, I hope to move my production to an acreage between Williams Lake and Quesnel. Stay tuned!
Shorter term plans for growth involve staff in 2016, as I will have about 8,000 sq ft. I hope to hire someone part time from about April-August.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
I actually do really look forward to the winter admin: planting calendar, seed orders, reading and making lots of plans (realistic, or otherwise 🙂 But as for new plans on the horizon, and out of my mentorship, I look forward to really narrowing down my record templates, crop varieties, and 2016 budget items, (especially the purchases I’ll need to make for next year. Yay, shopping!). There are also a few rural properties I’m seriously looking at, to transition out of the urban model. So I’m really looking forward to something solid in that regard, as of 2016.
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.