Lessons Learned: Riverside Farm

Posted by Kristen Nammour on November 28, 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.

Name: Riverside Farm, run by Jenn Cline and Caroline Chiu, graduates of the Richmond Farm School Program (Kwantlen Polytechnic University).

Location: Richmond, BC

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those? We stepped into our second season of farming with excitement and anticipation. We decided to change our marketing outlet from Vancouver Farmers Markets to running our own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Our goals were to grow some familiar and unfamiliar crops, build into our food community and economy, try to achieve some work/life balance, and make a bit of profit. We achieved a lot of our goals and faced a lot of challenge along the way. Many friends and family got our CSA off the ground in the early season. We developed a relationship with Hua Foundation (http://www.huafoundation.org/) and supplied local organic asian greens and vegetables to Chinese families in Vancouver. We also connected with staff at Nature’s Path in Richmond, supplying them with our CSA program. We had many crop failures and stunted crops, but also honed our vegetable rowing skills and learned the challenges of growing organic asian greens. Life balance is a challenge as farmers but we tried to take one day off per week, and Caroline and I each got away for a couple weekends during the season. Lastly, we had a financial goal of $10,000 net profit, and at the end of the season we each made just under $5,000 each.

Riverside Farm Caroline and Jenn

What is your unique value proposition in your market? We wanted to supply our community in Richmond and Vancouver with locally grown, organic asian greens and vegetables. It was really important to both of us to provide some education around eating locally, seasonally, and providing ideas of how to preserve food to reduce food waste.

How did the mentorship impact your business? The Young Agrarians Business Mentorship significantly impacted our business in many positive ways. Our mentor provided support in the early season in building our confidence in ourselves and our farm business. She helped us craft out our personal and professional goals for the year, as well as making sure we were set up with a solid crop plan early in the season. Throughout the summer she came out to the farm to volunteer, offer encouragement, and energy! Now that the growing season is over we are meeting up again to process our learning lessons and experiences from the year, and looking ahead to the future. This mentorship experience and relationship has been invaluable to Caroline and I this year.

What business skills have you gained through the mentorship? There are a few key skills we have learned throughout the mentorship:
Importance of marketing, and being creative about it!
Importance of record keeping
Importance of goal setting
Importance of financial goals and projections
Importance of creating personal boundaries for yourself as a small business owner

Riverside Farm Caroline Harvestin

What was the most important information you gained from your mentor? To be bold, honest, and consistent.

Overall, how are you feeling about your farm business this season? I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished. It was a year that required a lot of problem solving, community support, self learning and growth, and figuring out how to follow through with our commitment to feed 37 CSA shares every week for 17 weeks. Running a business, and a farm business at that, is very challenging and requires constant attention. I think we still have lots to learn about running a farm business, and even more to learn about growing food, yet we accomplished our goals this year and I am incredibly grateful for the supportive communities behind us.

Did you learn any lessons the hard way? The biggest lesson we learned the hard way was that you need to react quickly to crops showing stunting or other issues, and that maybe 37 CSA members is too many for a first year CSA program run by two “part time” farmers 🙂

A big thank you to all the volunteers that came out to the farm this year! Check out some of our awesome volunteers at our website: https://www.riversidefarmbc.com/alumni/ or on our instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/riversidefarmbc/

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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