YA Business Mentorship Network – Many Microbes Soil Lab

Posted by Melanie Buffel on August 15, 2023

Young Agrarians is celebrating the ninth year of the Business Mentorship Network (BMN) program in BC and the expansion of the program across the Prairies! The BMN offers business mentorships  to a diverse array of new and young farmers. Through one-on-one mentorship, peer networks and online workshops young farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.

YA business mentorships have helped over a 100+ farmers to generate more revenues, grow more food and put more land into production. Immediate results have led to on average of 64% more farm revenue, a 72% increase in food produced, and a 48% increase in land under production. We are thrilled to bring the stories of  these farmers to you for inspiration!

Applications open for Mentees across Western Canada in October 2023.

Mentor applications are accepted year round.

Check out the program page on our website for more information!

I am Melanie/Mel Walker and I work with my partner Jesse Frank on Many Microbes Soil Lab. Our farm mentor is the incredible Kristen Namour. We’ve also received great support from other YA folks like Melanie Buffel and Kiyomi Ito.

Where do you farm?

This summer we moved to shíshálh (Sechelt) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) territories where we’ve been grateful to meet and build relationships with folks and the land. Previously we leased farmland on W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich) territories through the BC Land Matching Program.

What do you farm?

By trying things out, meeting people, and assessing our skills alongside the landscape, we have come to realize we’re not exactly food farmers. We know we love working with farmers and supporting them in building biologically complete soil. Our food system and ecosystems rely on it. In terms of what we produce, we make compost, which is essentially about bringing a community of microrganisms to the same place, giving plants the resources they need to grow healthy food for people, pollinators, and the land. So, I guess in a way, we farm microbes.

What inspired you to get into farming?

Honey bees were my gateway bug to the land of the small. When I got into beekeeping, I had to learn what was blooming and when. Planting for pollinators led me to gardening which led me to love the soil organisms working in harmony with plants.

How did you learn how to farm?

I appreciate learning from small scale farmers and growers firsthand about their experiences. Stories of wins and losses, joys and challenges, tell me a lot about what it means to be a farmer and a caretaker of land. I have huge respect for the farmers that engage in knowledge sharing and transparency.

Jesse has been learning the biological approach to soil health via Dr. Elaine Ingham. I’m learning how to transfer my administrative skills to the business of agriculture and ecological restoration. Every day we’re learning on the ground about how to put theory into practice. I’m constantly reminded: everything good we do, we do together.

What type of business structure is your farm? How much land is under production on your farm?

The business is a sole proprietorship. We’re seeking our next project on shíshálh territories (Sechelt) on the Sunshine Coast where we hope to collaborate on restoration and/or regenerative projects.

What are you producing?

We make inoculating compost, compost tea, compost extracts, and other living amendments. Continually practicing our compost production is fun and challenging. We fine tune the recipe based on the available inputs, and enjoy noticing all the ways building soil changes depending on various crops, seasons, ecosystems, and so many other factors.

What types of ecological farm practices and/or responses to climate change realities do you engage in?

Composting, of course, which includes thermophilic, vermiculture, and composting in place. We also use methods like cover cropping, intercropping, polycultures, and livestock integration to get that sweet carbon back in the ground.

Why did you apply for business mentorship?

We needed accountability and a regular practice of checking in with our vision as it compares to our daily tasks. For years this work has been a side business as we worked in other industries. Doing this program was a chance for us to actually walk into this work and present our intentions in a more formal manner.

What is the greatest business challenge you face as a new farmer?

Hmmm, I think just the classics: money, time, the will to go on despite the crushing realities of late stage capitalism.

What is your primary business goal for the season?

We want to price and promote our consulting services and compost products.

What business tools could you not live without?

Notion, Excel, Quickbooks, and a sense of humour.

If you had a farming robot what would it be?

A compost turner! We could make So. Much. Soil.

How can we find out more about you, your farm, and its products?

Our website is ManyMicrobes.co and we’d love to connect on Instagram @many_microbes

This program is made possible with the generous funding support of Vancity, Endswell Foundation and Columbia Basin Trust.