Natasha Anderson is member of the Key First Nation from Treaty 4 territory and is currently farming at Amara Farm, a small-scale, certified organic market farm on the unceded territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. In the Fall of 2021, Natasha took part in the Business Bootcamp, an 11-week online business planning course for new farmers. She sat down with the Young Agrarians team to talk about her experience in the Business Bootcamp and her vision for a collaborative farm community centred around Indigenous culture and food sovereignty.
For Natasha, there is no singular moment she can point to when she knew she wanted to be a farmer. She didn’t grow up on a farm, and studied and worked in environmental science before her foray into farming. Looking back, however, she can see seeds that were planted early on that led her to where she is today.
“I’d like to think that some of it is just in my DNA, because I’m partly Ukrainian from the Prairies, so they’re definitely farm people. I know my ancestors as well on my dad’s side, the Anishinaabe side, they definitely stewarded land and food. I feel like it’s been something I’ve been drawn to naturally for one reason or another.”
“My mom always had a big garden and was super into gardening, and so maybe some of that inspired me. I also love food and I love feeding people and I get a lot of joy from seeing the (no pun intended) fruits of my labor. To look at something and be like ‘I grew this!’, it’s such a powerful thing.”
As an artist, Natasha was also drawn to the creative nature of farming.
“I am an artist as well as a farmer, and I feel like there are a lot of commonalities there. For me farming is such an art. A lot of people see it as a science, and there are definitely scientific aspects to it, but a lot of it is art. You’re adapting every day, deciding how you’re going to come at something, what you want to create. For me farming is a very creative process.”
Natasha’s long-term goal is to work with other Indigenous people in the Comox Valley to create an Indigenous-led farm that is focused on food sovereignty. Right now, this involves building relationships with other Indigenous folks in the area, asking questions like,
“What is the vision and how can we work together to make food sovereignty happen for those folks that have been traditionally left out of the food systems, and of course, as we know, pushed out of farmland a lot of times?”
Natasha acknowledges that this process of developing a shared vision for food sovereignty will take time, and is open to where it might lead. Above all, she wants the farm project to be collaborative and driven by the needs of the community. When it comes to growing your own food, Natasha says,
“I feel like everybody should have that choice if they want to do that.”
As she develops connections in her local food system, Natasha is also honing her farming and business planning skills, gaining work experience on organic market gardens and taking part in business planning courses like the Business Bootcamp. When asked about what motivated her to take the Bootcamp, Natasha says,
“I don’t have a business background – I have a background in environmental science – so I’d never taken any business courses. I thought it would be a really good tool for my toolbelt if and when I ever embarked on my own business journey. And I just thought it was so cool that Young Agrarians had a business course that was specific to farming. I could take a general business course but that doesn’t talk about all of the specific, very unique things that come with a farm business… For the past couple of years I have had one foot in farming and one foot still in the professional world, so [the Bootcamp] also helped me have the confidence to finally say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do this for real.’”
The Business Bootcamp also helped to demystify many of the aspects of business planning that Natasha found intimidating, such as finances. The financial planning modules with Chris Bodnar ended up being some of her favourite sessions!
“I think because it was so new to me, I really liked those modules. [Chris] is a really down to earth guy, but also super knowledgeable and a good speaker.”
One of Natasha’s “ah ha” moments happened when she saw the enterprise budgets shared in the course. Seeing how much it cost to produce different crops broken down in that way really helped to clarify a lot.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe this exists, this is amazing.’ It was super helpful to have all of that information in one spot.”
Natasha also says hearing from different experts each week made the course more dynamic, and she enjoyed learning from their multiple perspectives and teaching styles. At first, the idea of doing course work outside of the live sessions gave her flashbacks to university and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep up, but she quickly realized the Bootcamp course work was manageable even with a busy schedule.
Since finishing the Bootcamp, Natasha has continued to work on her business plan and has joined the BC Land Matching Program to begin the search for the right piece of land. Being able to share a clear business plan has really helped in conversations with landowners.
“It’s a really good starting point at least to give to people and be like, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking. What do you think?’”
For Natasha, building a strong relationship with a landowner is more important than finding the perfect piece of land.
“I’m really thinking a lot about the relationship that I’m going to have with the landowner. That is first and foremost to me.”
While infrastructure like fencing, irrigation, and buildings would be a huge bonus, Natasha’s ultimate desire is to be matched with someone who has shared values around Indigenous food sovereignty and is open to having conversations about what that might look like in practice.
“I really want to have a strong cultural aspect on the land, so that might mean having a ceremony, or having people gather and do different things culturally,” Natasha says.
In her spare time, Natasha has also started volunteering with LUSH Valley, a non-profit food action society in the Comox Valley, helping in their community garden. This is another way Natasha is making connections within the local food system, and comes back to her desire to shape her farm vision to the situation on the ground, rather than rushing in with her own ideas and agenda.
“Again, I’m hoping to build some relationships and partnerships in the community, and see what’s going on in the food world, where the gaps are and what the demands are. Because I could just be like, ‘I’m going to start my thing’ and just do it, but I really want to get a sense from the community that needs it most – where would they like to see it and what do they want to work on?”
Natasha is also continuing to develop her business skills through programs such as the BC Indigenous Agriculture Development Program and the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation, both of which offer business support and funding opportunities.
She encourages other farmers who are interested in starting their own farm business to be intentional about the steps you take on your farm journey, whether that’s finding the right fit for a farm internship, developing a business plan, or looking for land.
“Don’t rush, and don’t expect it to happen overnight, because it takes time. It takes quite a bit of time and effort and energy,” Natasha says, adding, “Don’t give up, you can do it!”
Before signing off, we asked Natasha about what she loved most about farming.
“One of the things that I love the most about this work, about farming and being on the land, is the simple little moments of joy that happen. It could be anything – it could be you’re weeding, and you look up and see a bumblebee flying from flower to flower, and you just take a moment and listen to it. It can be so incredibly humbling. I feel so present all the time when I farm. I think that’s why I love it, because it forces you to be there in the moment doing whatever it is you’re doing. There’s so many little moments that happen like that for me. I’m amazed every single day about how alive nature is. It sounds corny, but I love it so much, the abundance that we see. I feel like we’re constantly fed this idea that the world is a dumpster fire and maybe that’s true, but also it’s really abundant and it’s really beautiful. If you take the time to look at it, you will see that, and put your hands in the dirt and feel it – you can feel how alive it is and how beautiful it is. That’s why I love it.”
We couldn’t have said it any better!
Follow along with Natasha’s farming adventures (and see her amazing beadwork!) on Instagram: @natashadebra
Want to join the Business Bootcamp? Learn more about the program here.
Need business support for your farm? Check out all our farm business resources on our Business Tools page.