Many young farmers start new farm businesses, often on leased land, pour their heart and soul into it, and then life shifts. What happens to the budding business? Transition planning isn’t just for seasoned farmers who have been running their farm for decades. 

Even as you’re navigating start-up as an entering farmer, plan to pass on the value of the work you have put into the land and the business. Transitioning a young farm business, especially one operated on shared land, provides continuity for both the landholders and customers, as well as a potential return on investment to the current farmer by way of selling the business or infrastructure.

  • When you’re starting up your business, think about what it would look like to eventually pass it on to someone else. 
  • Have foundational conversations with the landholder well in advance to lay the groundwork for the idea of your business on the land one day being passed to another farmer.
  • Keep good written records and establish Standard Operating Procedures from the get-go. This will not only make any potential transitions easier, it will help you out in your day-to-day by making you more efficient!
  • Consider the true value of your farm business. What do your financials say? What are the assets and liabilities of your business? 
  • Consider whether the branding/farm name will be transitioned, or just the business assets and customer base.
  • Consider the customers as stakeholders and get their support early.

Elana and Maddy harvesting dahlias at one of their urban plots. Photo credit: Ayla Amano

City Beet Farm is an urban farm founded in 2013 by Katie Ralphs and Ruth Warren. They grew the business on leased residential lots in the Mount Pleasant/Riley Park neighbourhood of Vancouver, building relationships with homeowners who were happy to see their lawns converted to food production. They marketed their products through a CSA. 

In 2016, they decided to transition the farm business to pursue other work opportunities and save up to buy land. They set the value according to the annual revenues of the business, and advertised through social media and farm organizations. They found their successors, Elana Evans and Madeleine Clerk, through UBC’s Farm Practicum alumni list. 

The transition was managed informally between the two pairs. They signed a contract, the new farmers paid a deposit with financing from Vancity, and then paid the remainder in increments over the next 10 months. Katie and Ruth provided mentorship over the transitional season through YA’s Business Mentorship Network. They maintained all but a couple landholder relationships over the transition and many of their customers the first season were previous CSA members. 

Since taking over City Beet, Elana and Madeleine grew the business enough to double the amount of land under cultivation and hire two employees in 2020. They operated City Beet until the end of 2020, when they in turn put the business up for sale and transitioned to new owners. As part of the transition, they received support from Young Agrarians to frame the offering, and were referred to a business appraiser who helped them assess the value of the business. New owners Liana and Duncan are looking forward to their first season growing at City Beet!

Roger Woo of Farmhouse Bard at his CSA pickup. Photo credit: Sara Dent

Roger Woo founded The Farmhouse Bard in 2017 in Surrey, B.C. after finding land through the B.C. Land Matching Program. His market garden operation focused on Asian vegetables, and he marketed his produce primarily through a CSA program managed by the Hua Foundation. 

After two seasons on the land, life took him in a new direction as he moved east to be closer to his family and pursue a career in tech. He was keen to transition his leases on neighbouring pieces of land as well as his CSA program to a new farmer, and worked with the B.C. Land Matching Program to identify a good fit. 

The new farmer, Yuko Suda, was going into season two of her farm operation, Brave Child Farms, when she took over Roger’s leases, purchased farm infrastructure from him, and picked up his CSA program. Both landholders were happy to welcome Yuko on to their land and see the farming continue.

Brave Child Farms also specializes in Asian vegetables, with an emphasis on Japanese vegetables. In this case, with the Hua Foundation managing the CSA and recruiting members, having them engaged and in support of the new farmer made the transition much smoother. 

Yuko took on a business partner after her first year on the land to grow her farm business, and the two of them are now wrapping out their first season together and preparing the farm for winter.

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