Business Mentorship – Lessons Learned: Zaklan Heritage Farm

Posted by Kristen Nammour on December 10, 2015

Zaklan Heritage Farm

Name, Farm, Location?
Gemma McNeill and Doug Zaklan, Zaklan Heritage Farm, Surrey BC.

What were your goals for this season and how did you work to achieve those?
This season our goal was to increase our CSA box program from 25 boxes to 50 boxes. As the spring drew near we realized that we probably would have to work really hard to get the extra sign ups to reach 50 members, and that we felt more comfortable with 40 members. So we adjusted our CSA goal and played with the budget accordingly. We reached our membership goal of 40 for the season.

We wanted to increase our market sales as well as restaurant accounts. Our market sales exceeded our projections (which was great). In terms of markets we were lucky to get a primo market spot and worked with a double stall the entire season. It was amazing how big a difference a double stall made to our sales, as well as having more produce and a bigger selection all season long.

Restaurants continue to be something to work on. We ended up partnering with a company that does restaurant deliveries, which meant we focused on farming and they dealt with the restaurants and logistics of deliveries. This was a great solution for us. We are looking forward to expanding this relationship next season. I think our biggest goal was to have more work life balance. The spring definitely didn’t feel like we were having much success and it was pretty stressful (as spring usually is) trying to get everything done. In June we made the decision to hire another staff members for harvest days (2 days a week). We were super lucky to have a good friend and great farmer pitch in to help. Although it was a financial cost we weren’t expecting, it turned the season around for us and brought new energy and excitement to the farm.

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. 

IMG_2545Did you meet your goals / Did it work out?
Yes, I think we actually excited our financial goals. We did have a few higher costs, such as labour and unplanned material purchases. In general we are really happy with how the season went. We had amazing staff, volunteer and family help. It made this season a huge success.

What were your most profitable avenues of sales?
Farmers markets and CSA continue to be the most profitable avenues for us. Our on-farm market is one of the places that we’ve seen tremendous growth and continue to be excited by the potential to expand this market. It’s a great way to stay at the farm, so we aren’t paying for a stall or gas etc., plus it’s way fewer hours of travel and set up time. Having our own market means we can also bring other products in from different farms or producers to sell. This helps round out the diversity of offerings for our customers and makes us more of a one stop shop.

What is your unique value proposition in your market? Why buy from you?
In our area we are the only ones doing what we do: growing on a small, urban piece of land that has been in the family for over 80 years. We are close to our customers and invite them onto the farm to buy directly from their farmers. This means that they can see where their food is grown and that we can get the freshest product to our customers.

How did the mentorship impact your business?
It’s always interesting to have a different perspective from more experienced farmers. This year we were keen on being better “bosses” and having a more formalized work agreement with staff. Our mentors provided a framework for this and gave suggestions on setting up contracts.

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What business skills have you gained through the mentorship?
Over the past two years of doing this mentorship we’ve learned a lot and grown a tone as farmers and business owners. We started using an accounting software to track sales and costs, developed a formalized employee contract, wrote a business plan with 2,3 and 5 year goal, and learned the value of re-assessing this goals each season. It also connected us with amazing people in the organic farming community. We continue to be amazed and grateful for all the farmers we can turn to for information and support when needed.

Overall, how are you feeling about your farm business this season?
Optimistic. It’s the first season that farming seems like it could be a financially viable business (we just finished our third season together).

Did you learn any lessons the hard way?
Lots. Weeds, we’ve been learning the hard way about neglecting weeds and now we have a pretty serious weed seed build up in the soil. It’ll be a challenge in the coming season to manage.

Do you have any big plans for future growth?
Not really. We have reached the capacity of how much land we can farm here, so if we grow it’ll be in different ways. Our focus for next year is refining the system we have, and streamline our processes to make us more efficient. We are also looking at the shoulder seasons as areas that we can expand our growth.

Did anything silly happen on your farm this season?
Gemma’s mom was at the farm this summer for a few months. It was during the election campaign and she decided to make a series of photos to get people out to vote. There were some hilarious moments trying to get the animals to pose with thought bubbles above their heads.

Zaklan Heritage Farm Stall at local farmers market

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.

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