Meet Brian Tattam of Tattam Valley Farms!

Posted by Chantelle Chan on April 19, 2024

Brian Tattam was a part of the Business Bootcamp for New Farmers program, and we wanted to share his perspectives with the new and aspiring farmers in our network. Want more stories of other farmers? Check out the links at the bottom of this post!

Please share a bit about yourself and about your farm.  What do you grow or want to grow? 

My name is Brian Tattam (he/him), and I grew up in the Cowichan Valley on a dairy farm. My family does not dairy farm anymore, but still owns the 100 acres. The land has been in the family since 1958.  I went to school to be a high school art teacher and I have been teaching since 2000. Our family has always grown vegetables and I learned my skills from, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I lived on the lower mainland for 16 years so farming and gardening was limited, but I did manage to run a high school garden club for two years before I moved back to the Cowichan valley. 

My farm name is Tattam Valley Farms, and I am fortunate to use land on our family farm. I have been growing mostly vegetables and some fruit for the past five years on about 1/3 of an acre. I grow all types of vegetables from April to November and this year I tried cut flowers for the first time, with great success. 

I teach high school full time which makes my life very busy in the spring and fall, but not teaching in the summer allows me to focus on my passion of growing produce for my local customers.

I distribute my vegetables through a CSA box program from late June into mid-October and last season I had 24 families who received produce on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. I was filling on average 17 boxes a week. 

Tell us how you became interested in growing food.
I have always been interested in growing food from the time I was a child helping in the family garden.  When I was an adult, I always tried to have some garden pots to grow things wherever I lived. Moving back to the Cowichan Valley in 2018 I saw an opportunity to grow food again for myself. In the spring of 2020, during the pandemic, I felt a real drive to grow local organic produce for the community. I am extremely passionate about producing local, sustainable food. 

What stage were you at in your farming career, when you decided to jump into the Business Bootcamp?
I was about to start year 5 of my market garden with about 24-30 customers. I am a one person show for the most part, but was able to hire some labour for picking.

What motivated you to take the Bootcamp?
I wanted to learn ways I could expand my farm and connect with other farmers. I was so excited to learn about marketing, money and branding. I am just so passionate about it all. 

What are you most excited about from the Bootcamp?
I think learning about the marketing and branding. Finding “my” customers for the right fit. Making sure my visions will fit the right people. 

Where are you at now after taking the Bootcamp?
This past season I was “status quo”, but I implemented a few new farming techniques and tried cut flowers to go along with my boxes. I also changed my veggie box pick-up to the farm in a small stand. I also had limited hours, at the farm, to sell extra vegetables. In the past I had many different pick-up points in the Cowichan Valley, but that wasn’t sustainable, and I wanted customers visit the farm for its beautiful landscape. I want to expand my farm and eventually work less at teaching. I also want to organize a couple tours of the farm this summer. I also am thinking an event at the farm this summer like a dinner outside. I partnership with other friends and colleagues is in the works. 

What was a big “ah ha” moment you had?
I was farther along than I thought with some of my planning practices, but still had much to learn. I think some good advice is to build your farm slowly over a few years and slowly work less at my old job. 

What did you think of the format of the course?
I like the format of the zoom and the breakout rooms. I also missed one class but was able to watch later. Grouping the breakout rooms into regions was also helpful. So, I could chat with people closer to my climate zone. I also enjoyed the survey questions at the end of the lessons. 

Who was your favourite speaker?
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names. I had a good connection with our host Alex. I also like the family that sold beef up north and had a successful stand/store and events at their farm. It was good to hear their process on how they slowly built their business up.

Tell us about any connections you made with people outside of the scheduled calls.
I made a few connections outside of the course and had questions answered by some of the cut flower farmers.

What was your favourite topic covered?
The topic of finding capital money and/or trading favours with other farmers. There are more ways to find money besides the bank and many ways to get help through government programs. 

What are your next steps? What is your long-term vision?
I would like to get more fencing and take over more land at my parents’ farm. I would love to make enough money to hire some help for the next growing season.  My goal would be to ultimately expand for the next growing season or the next. Some bigger ideas would be to drill another well closer to the garden and have a permanent veggie stand. Eventually get out of teaching in the classroom and have a partnership with the school district to develop a school curriculum with farming at its core.

What inspires you to put in the work of starting a farm?
Living with the seasons and not always working a 9-5 job. I feel that farming allows me to be more in tune with the cycle of life. Being outside and problem solving is my favorite thing. I love watching all my vegetables grow and chatting with the customers when they come and pick them up.

Get in touch with Tattam Valley Farms through their Facebook: Tattam Valley Farms 

Find more information about the Business Bootcamp for New Farmers program by clicking here!

Check out the rest of this interview series!
Pinette Robinson of Fairfolk Farm
MC Pace of Salt & Sickle Farm
Guru Khalsa of Earthmother Farm
Trent Romanow of Cluck and Clove Farm