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.
Application intake for BC mentees is now CLOSED.
Limited seats available for AB, MB and SK mentees – APPLY NOW!
Mentor applications are accepted year-round. Check out the Business Mentorship Network page for more information!
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: Fairfolk Farm
My name is Pinette Robinson (she/her). I own and operate Fairfolk Farm with my husband, Brandon Piché. Our farm is located 45 minutes NE of Edmonton, Alberta on Treaty 6 territory.
My mentor is John Mills from Eagle Creek Farms near Bowden, Alberta.
What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them?
We started our market garden last year, and this year was our first year at market. My main goal for the season was to sell at a farmers market over the summer, and for that to have been a good experience. My mentor helped me get prepared for going to market in a lot of ways, mainly by sharing some of his experiences being at market, and to get me set up to track both my crop planning and my market sales and revenue. This helped hugely by keeping me focused on what I needed to do to get ready. As a newbie at market I was quite nervous about it, so it was great to have someone to go to for moral support and advice.
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?
Markets went well. It was a really exciting and rewarding experience, and I’m already looking forward to next year. There is definitely room for improvement, but overall, I think it went really well for being our first season. We are already planning how to increase our revenue next year and go to more markets. Being new at this, I didn’t really know how much to plant of certain vegetables, so I didn’t have a lot to sell for the first couple weeks. To increase the amount of products, I decided to make garlic scape pesto. It was so popular that I quickly sold out and started creating other pesto varieties. Pestos have now become a stable at our stand. Next year I will be planting more of the early vegetables, and will also put more focus on the really popular items such as green beans, peas and carrots.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season?
All the YA resources have been super helpful, and continue to be. This season I have mostly used the tracking spreadsheets, but over the winter, when I am planning for next year, I will be using a lot more of the resources provided.
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
We only sold at one market this year, so I can’t really compare that to other sales avenues. But I learned that markets are definitely busier during the school holidays, so if you need to pick only a few weeks out of the season to go to market, make sure it’s during the holidays. The market I was at over the summer is an all-year round market that moves indoors in the fall/winter. I have extended my market season by a couple of weeks to see how the outdoor market season compares to the indoor season.
Why do your customers buy from you? What was the best piece of feedback or praise you got from a customer?
At the market I was at this summer, I was one of only two mixed produce vendors. What set me apart from the other vendor was my selection. There was some overlap in what we were growing, but a lot of things that I sold were not sold by the other vendor. Also, while Fairfolk Farm isn’t certified organic yet, we don’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. I made sure to tell people about this, and to tell them our story. I think people like supporting small, local farmers, who have a unique story to tell. Throughout the season, I have gotten a lot of compliments for both the name of the farm and our logo. As well, people really liked the way the stand looked. People also really liked the value-added products I was selling, such as homemade pesto and highbush cranberry sauce.
What was the most important thing you gained from the YA Business Mentorship Network Program experience?
The most important thing I gained from being part of the business mentorship program was to be able to tap into the experience of my mentor. It is really valuable to have someone to ask for advice. And to have someone who can provide solutions, perspective and solidarity when things aren’t going well.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
My mentor helped me get a lot more organized in terms of record keeping, both for planning purposes, but also for organic certification.
How did Young Agrarians Farm Business Mentorship impact your business overall?
The Business Mentorship program has helped me in so many ways. The amount of resources available to mentees through this program is immense, and are available to you even after the program is over. I plan on using many of these resources in the future. It’s been truly great having a mentor, and continues to be great. I’ve gotten so much more done on the business management side of things than I would otherwise. The program kind of forces you to sit down and think about financials, planning, insurance, etc. It also gives you someone to be accountable to, so you are more motivated to stick to the deadlines you set for yourself. I feel so much better about this season than I did about last season, and I am really excited about next season.
What were one or two big, hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
- There is never going to be enough time for everything you think you’re going to have time for.
- Get yourself set up in a way where you don’t rely too much on other people. Other people are busy too, and their schedules may not work with the schedule of your garden.
What were one or two victories, small or large, that you had this season?
One big victory was going to market for the first time, and getting experience in that aspect of things. Another victory was growing celery and celeriac successfully for the first time.
What future plans and goals do you have for your farm and how will you achieve these?
We are going to get chickens next spring, so expect to be able to sell eggs at market next year. We also plan on going to two markets next year, and then further increasing the size of our garden and the number of markets we attend over the following few years.
What will you do differently next year?
There are a few things that are going to be done differently next year, and will hopefully make things easier. This year we purchased an automated drip irrigation system. Having that next year, right from the time we start seeding will make everything a lot easier. Also, we are going to be doing a lot more work early on, to prevent weeds. We will be using tarps where we can, and covering the rest in hay or straw. Lastly, we are going to be setting up a system to convert all the weeds into fertilizer and compost, so we can start building soil.
Share a story of something interesting/ funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.
At the start of the season this year, my daughter was just 7 months old. She is now 13 months old. It has been a really awesome experience seeing her interact with her environment while out in the garden with me. And seeing her go from only being able to sit in one place to then crawl around to now walking around. I am so happy that I get to share this experience with her and that I am working on something that I can continue to share with her as she grows. One thing that I discovered early on was her love of eating soil (yikes!), so I’ve had to keep a close eye on her every time there’s been bare soil around.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
This winter I am looking forward to a bit of rest. Then I am looking forward to continuing my meetings with my mentor to set things in place for next year. I am planning on finalizing a business plan for the farm and getting things set up so we are on the right path to get organic certification in a few years.
How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?
Fairfolk Farm is on both Instagram and Facebook as @fairfolkfarm.