Young Agrarians is celebrating the tenth year of the Business Mentorship Network (BMN) program in BC and the second year of the program in the Prairies! The BMN offers farm business mentorship to a diverse array of new and young farmers. The mentorship is offered over the course of a year. Through one-on-one mentorship, peer networks and online workshops new farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.
Applications for mentees across Western Canada are open October 1st to 31st, 2023.
Mentor applications (paid position) are accepted year-round. Apply here!
Check out one Mentee’s story below and how the BMN made a contribution to the success of their farm.
Want more? Head over to our BMN Blog for more mentorship stories.
Meet a Mentee: Busy Bea Florals
My name is Josephine Junas-Grant (she/they) and I run Busy Bea Florals along with my husband, Collin Robertson (he/him). We are located along the East side of Blackfoot Recreation Area an hour East of Edmonton on Treaty 6 Territory. Our farm produces dried flowers and herbal teas.
Who is your Mentor?
Our mentors this season were Elizabeth Boschma and Eckehart Marenholtz of Chickadee Farm Herbs. They are located near Flatbush, AB and grow a wide variety of teas and culinary herbs.
What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them?
Our goals this season were to start selling teas in shops, increase the amount of garden in production, and get a better handle on farm financials.
Did you meet your goals / did it work out? What went well this season relating to your goals? What didn’t go as you expected and what did you do instead?
Some of our goals were more successfully met than others. We ended up moving in May and transition years can be a little hectic and unpredictable. We are all set up to sell teas in shops now, which required us to get access to a commercial kitchen for packaging and work on systems and traceability of products. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach our production goals, but we are not too concerned about that because we are set up for success next year and reduced the amount of stress this year with smaller harvests. We simply didn’t have the garden space or facilities set up to deal with a significant increase in production. We are currently breaking ground on new gardens to make this possible next year.
We also had plans to make a hybrid solar dehydrator for teas, but moving and taking care of two gardens 30 minutes apart meant we struggled to find the time to complete that project. We converted the basement into a tea drying facility for this summer and have plans to build the dehydrator this winter. I was grateful we didn’t plant as much as I had initially planned because it would have been a struggle to manage it all. Buying a farm and getting moved was still such a huge step for us. We have been looking for the right piece of land for 4 years and we found it!
Our other goal of understanding farm financials is definitely a work in progress, but we learned a lot this year. We did a better job keeping track of expenses and got a good invoicing system figured out. Dried flower inventory has been a struggle, but I am working on that now as I get everything in to storage for the winter.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season?
We use Quickbooks a lot for invoicing, expenses, and general tracking. It works really well because our bookkeeper can access it and reconcile the books in minutes. We also have a couple of invaluable spreadsheets that make keeping track of the season a lot easier. We have a seeding and transplanting gantt chart, that is like an extension of my brain during planting season and a traceability sheet that really helped streamline things throughout the summer.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
Since our focus is on dried flowers and teas we do almost all of our selling from September to June. It spreads our work out really nicely throughout the year. Our best sales channels have been through one off craft markets as opposed to weekly farmers markets. We also sell at a few shops in Edmonton, Hideout Distro and Maven and Grace. It has been great to have a place where customers can consistently find our product when we are an hour out of the city. It is a great way to draw in new customers too. This year we have done dried florals for quite a few weddings. It is nice to have larger, one off orders and so fun to create memorable, unique pieces for wedding celebrations.
This summer we also started doing some fresh wholesale to florists. It was not in the plans at the beginning of the season, but it spread cash flow throughout the year. We will be expanding that portion of the business more purposefully next year.
Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)? What was the best piece of feedback or praise you got from a customer?
We grow dried flowers and herbal teas that connect people to the vibrant, seasonal nature of living in a Northern Climate. Dried flowers are a unique, sustainable, long lasting alternative to fresh flowers, especially in the winter. People often can’t believe they aren’t fresh! Our tea blends are fragrant, thoughtful, and they have a strong sense of place.
What was the most important thing you gained from the YA Business Mentorship Network Program experience?
We gained so much info and confidence about tea production and regulations. The information available is pretty unclear and all of the phone calls and emails we made before the program were less useful than a handful of meetings with Eckehart and Elizabeth. They have saved us so many headaches and have literally set us ahead by years with their open sharing of knowledge and resources.
It was also so valuable to go and visit their farm recently. Seeing the way other farmers do things and the unique systems they have in place is one of my favourite parts of Young Agrarians programming in general.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
The program has helped a lot with our organization and project management skills. Before this season, traceability wasn’t really a part of our vocabulary, but it is clearly so important as we start to scale up. It takes a certain amount of planning and consistency that we are working on building into the business as we grow.
How did Young Agrarians Farm Business Mentorship impact your business overall?
This season was super cool because while we were transitioning to the new farm we were receiving mentorship from Eckehart and Elizabeth at the same time as I was helping mentor a farm apprentice through the YA Apprenticeship Program at Good Note, the farm we were landsharing at before. Both providing and receiving mentorship has been such a huge confidence boost. There is still so much to learn, but we can see a clear path forwards from here.
What were one or two big, hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
Temper your expectations. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We definitely didn’t meet all of our goals this year, but it doesn’t feel like a failure in any way. I do tend to have more big ideas and plans that can be realistically pulled off in a season, but I am starting to work that into the equation a little more. We still accomplished so much!
We also learned that it is really hard to juggle multiple gardens. It was really the only option this year, but production would have been so much smoother without the 30 minute drive. If our apprentice wasn’t living at the location of the other garden, it could have been a lot worse.
What were one or two victories, small or large, that you had this season?
Buying the farm! It feels good to be settling into a place that we will likely call home forever. We searched for a long time and we were certain that the right place would come up if we were patient and just kept working towards our goals. We also managed to take some time off this summer for a few camping trips, folk fest, and to spend time with family and friends pretty regularly which felt like a huge win. It is easy to forget about personal time during the growing season and we are working on keeping that as a guiding light in our business planning.
What future plans and goals do you have for your farm and how will you achieve these?
Garden expansion and infrastructure building are big goals for next year. We are already breaking ground on the gardens now, but we are trying to make sure we don’t create more than we can deal with next year. We will be building the solar dehydrator to speed up tea production and we have a skidshack that we are working on getting set up as a processing facility next year.
What will you do differently next year?
We will only have one garden (yay!) and we will be adding a bunch of varieties that are just for fresh arrangements. People usually start out fresh flower farming and add dried in as a value added product, but we’re kind of going about it backwards, so keep an eye out for that!
Share a story of something interesting/ funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.
We ended up making new friends in an unexpected way when our neighbor accidentally rolled his quad into a beaver pond. It took hours to winch it out onto the dam and tow it back to his place. It was actually fun and a great way to spend an afternoon getting to know our neighbour! Since then he has helped us move a little cabin on our land with his back hoe and a pile of fence posts as rollers and we look forward to any time some problem or project needs an extra set of hands because it is another opportunity to do some problem solving together. We live at the end of a remote, winding road and we weren’t sure what our neighbours would be like when we moved. Unsurprisingly, they are all lovely and we know any of them are just a phone call away.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
I am really looking forward to making and sharing beautiful arrangements with the blooms that we’ve squirreled away all summer. I just love doing markets and getting to share them with everyone. When we aren’t at markets you can find us out cross country skiing with our dog, curled up by the fire with our cats, or making delicious soup with our garden veg.
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?
We are on:
Our website: www.busybea.ca
Facebook: Busy Bea Florals
We have a few markets lined up already for the season including Wholly Handmade on October 21-22 and again on December 16-17, and a few more in the works. Keep an eye out on Instagram and Facebook as we announce the rest of our dates! You can also order custom arrangements and wreaths through our website, or head over to Hideout Distro or Maven and Grace to grab a bouquet any time