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: Fisher’s Farm Natural Goods
My name is Maddie (she/her) and I run Fisher’s Farm Natural Goods in Sturgeon County AB, Treaty 6, the home of the Métis, Alexander, and Michel Nations, in Sturgeon County AB.
My mentor is Paulette Sparks of Wild Country Gardens.
What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them?
My main goals for Fisher’s Farm Natural Goods were to:
- expand my laying hen poultry operation
- educate myself on expanding my garden management in order to sell a crop for next year
- improve existing perennial beds
- grow and sell tobacco seedlings
- create an income stream from foraging/the forest
- prioritize rest and fun
I really tried to expand my poultry numbers by buying and raising more chicks and taking care of the health of my existing flock. I discussed with my mentor Paulette about how she manages and takes care of her garden and harvests, and some crops that may work well for me to sell at market. I did expand and improve my perennial beds with planting mints, lemonbalm, parsley, horseradish, and comfrey – thanks Paulette for the horseradish and comfrey! I did grow some tobacco seedlings but unfortunately I was not able to sell them. I have been selling wild foraged berries and herbs to friends and herbalists which has been nice! I have been trying my best to rest and relax, but as all farmers know that you can rest in the winter but in the summer it’s time to work!
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?
Pretty much all of my goals worked out to some extent but also didn’t work out the way I was expecting them to. That’s how it always is!
Unfortunately I lost most of all the chicks I hatched to foxes and dogs. So I’m at a smaller operating number of chickens than at the beginning of the season and have had to cut off customers. However, the chicks that are alive and growing are doing well!
I definitely feel comfortable enough for next year to grow a small garlic market crop. I feel a lot better about taking care of the soil and my garden plants!
All of my perennials have done well but of course I was hoping to plant more and have larger beds. However, they will expand each year, and perhaps next year I will have harvests to share of horseradish and teas.
My tobacco seedling venture was a failure as I started out sowing the seeds too late. Then, when I tried to sell them on Kijiji and Facebook, I was banned as it is illegal to sell and market tobacco products. Once I had realized my ads weren’t getting any views, we received a massive downpour and all my seedlings drowned. So I gave up on the idea of selling tobacco plants!
Selling foraged berries and medicinal herbs has been very rewarding and pleasurable as it is nice to spend time in the forest. It is nice to be able to provide herbalists with local healing products and also have fun on the land while harvesting.
I find I have not been able to get much rest this season as I am working 3 full time jobs: poultry raising, beekeeping, and a job in the city. I have had the chance to make it to the pool almost once a week and have been making time to connect with friends and family over a nice farm to table meal though, which has been very nourishing in so many different ways.
What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season?
I have relied a lot on Microsoft Excel for keeping on top of finances and inventory. And the use of my phone – for contacting customers, reaching out on social media, receiving and transferring funds, and taking photos!
What were your best sales channels/avenues?
My best sales channels were my existing customer base as they keep coming back to support me and Fisher’s Farm Natural Goods!
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?
I sell chicken and duck eggs; unpasteurized honey, beeswax and candles; wild foraged plants; and, farm experiences.
My unique value proposition for the poultry operation is: the availability of duck eggs which have a niche yet loyal market; the quality of a natural free range lifestyle for the poultry; and the use of local quality feed.
My unique value proposition for the beekeeping operation is: the production of high quality, local, natural and unpasteurized honey and beeswax; farmer and customer support for healthy bee populations; and the ability to create unique farm learning experiences to help engage others in beekeeping and supporting local beekeepers.
My unique value proposition for wild foraging adventures is: the ability to source locally grown, unsprayed, high quality native and introduced medicinal plants that are harvested in a state of intention and respect.
My unique value proposition for farm experiences is: the ability to connect youth and adults with farm life, healthy soils, and healthy animals; the ability to provide knowledge and skill development in a friendly and safe environment; the close accessibility to major central Alberta cities and towns; and connecting the public with where and how their food is produced.
For all the products and experiences I offer on the farm, I believe a lot of my customers value that they are supporting a local womyn farmer who is trying her best to improve the health of the soil and the lives of the beings around her!
The best praise I ever received from a customer was when a regular of mine insisted she pay more per dozen eggs because she believes the quality warrants the higher price.
What was the most important thing you gained from the YA Business Mentorship Network Program experience?
I was really happy to connect with my mentor Paulette mainly for the solidarity in being womyn/women farmers and the challenges and joys that come from that. I also enjoyed sharing knowledge and skills back and forth as with her years of experience and trial and error it was great to be able to use her experiences to improve my farming. I also enjoy her kind and smart demeanor.
What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?
I learned a lot more about financial forecasting and calculations, which I will definitely be using coming into the winter and tax season.
How did Young Agrarians Farm Business Mentorship impact your business overall?
I really needed a community of farmers and it was nice to find support and solidarity with them. Even if we never met in person I know that my cohort had compassion and understanding because they all have been there before. It also helped me get more concrete in my goals and the direction in which I want to take my farm.
What were one or two big, hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers?
You cannot plan for life and big events (deaths, births, break ups, health scares, disasters) and you must go easy on yourself and have compassion. Set up your farm systems and business so that it can operate with minimal energy if you need to take time to focus on other aspects of your life. It’s okay to also cut certain projects or ventures out of your business – it’s best to focus on your passion rather than spin your tractor wheels in mud with a lot of different projects. Which I know can be hard while living on a farm!
What were one or two victories, small or large, that you had this season?
I’ve enjoyed seeing my garden flourish with minimal effort on my part. I also love watching the young chicks grow up and mature! We also successfully repopulated all our beehives, all which did really well over the summer and are looking strong going into their winter hibernation.
What future plans and goals do you have for your farm and how will you achieve these?
I feel I am ready to move away from producing products and rather moving towards creating experiences. I am really being called to host farm tours focusing on beekeeping and poultry caretaking, as well as other skill building events such as garden planting, hide tanning, poultry harvesting, candle making, lotion and salve making, canning, fermenting, and a lot of other fun events! I believe reaching out and connecting to local libraries, parent-toddler groups, and homeschooling groups will help to connect people with the farm experiences I want to offer.
I will hopefully have a garlic crop to sell for next year and I plan on achieving this by asking my sibling to help plant and maintain the garden throughout the growing season, and letting my existing customers know about my garlic harvest well before harvest day even comes.
I’m hoping to keep up with my poultry operation and I would like to expand the numbers of my laying hens. To do this successfully though (and to prevent predation), I will ask my neighbour to come and put up secure fencing this fall in hopes that when our numbers expand in the spring time they will have safe runs to live in.
What will you do differently next year?
I will conduct financial calculations over the wintertime and adjust my pricings and offerings for the coming spring that will better reflect my input and needs for the farm and my personal life. I will also not work during the summer at a job in the city because it takes too much time away from the important things on the farm.
Share a story of something interesting/ funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.
I randomly picked up some guinea fowl chicks from a friend this year and I found out that they eat mites, lice, and ticks! Which makes me happy and also makes the farm and the chicken coop a lot healthier as well.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Resting, sleeping, and focusing on crafts and indoor projects.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on:
Facebook at Fisher’s Farm Natural Goods