YA Business Mentorship Network – Moonlit Ridge Farm

Posted by Melanie Buffel on November 15, 2023

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 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.

Application intake for BC mentees is now  CLOSED.
Limited seats available for AB, MB and SK mentees – APPLY NOW!

Mentor applications (paid position) are accepted year-round. 

Check out the Business Mentorship Network page for more information!

Want to learn more about our Mentees (or Mentors)? Below you’ll find a Q&A where you can learn more about one of the 2023 cohort and their experience of the year supported by the Business Mentorship Network. If you’d like to read about the experiences of other Mentees/Mentors, head to our blog here.

Meet a Mentee: Moonlit Ridge Farm

Our names are Chantal O’Hara (she/her) and Jeff O’Hara (he/him) and we operate Moonlit Ridge Farm in Cache Creek, BC and we are mentored by Mark Fisher at High Slope Acres. We respectfully acknowledge that the land we farm is within the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation.

What were your goals for this season and what did you do to try to achieve them? 

Our goals started off as just figuring out winter growing to supply our village with much needed fresh winter produce. We adjusted this quickly after talking to our mentor, Mark. We still wanted to focus on winter growing, but we also wanted to create a Farmers Market in our area that would be profitable for our farm in the summer months too.

With help from Mark we mapped out our gardens and dialed into what would be most profitable in a small area. We also figured out how to flip beds multiple times. We used many spreadsheets to figure out what crops made sense to use and when to plant everything. 

For the Farmers Market, Mark helped with deciding if it would work here and where to start. We went through the BC Farmers Market Association. Myself and three other local business owners have successfully created a really special farmers market that has exceeded our expectations for our farms’ revenue.

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? 

We far exceeded our financial goals this year. We sold the majority of our harvests and the rest we used for preserves. We made great connections to our customers through the market that has helped launch our new online hub for supporting local farmers, ranchers and bakers throughout the winter. We have made amazing connections with other vendors that are now selling with us on our website. 

The growing part of the season could have always been better, but I have to cut myself a break here. We are farming with three young kids and Jeff still works full time off the farm, so it can be hard to do it all right now. We were also evacuated early in May (when all the tomatoes and peppers should have been going in the ground). That really set our harvests back a lot for half of our peppers and tomatoes (half we got in before the flooding). The flooding season was terrible, hitting our sheep field so hard that we are still trying to repair it. We lost a lot of top soil, new invasive species, deposits of sand, garbage and broken fences. It’s been a big hit for our farm unfortunately.

What resources did you find most valuable to support your business during the season? 

Things we found most valuable were spreadsheets, the Local Line selling platform to allow us to set up a virtual farmer’s market, and the experience and support of our mentor Mark.

What were your best sales channels/avenues? 

Our newly formed Ashcroft Farmers Market and our website using the Local Line platform.

Why do your customers buy from you (what is your unique value proposition in your market)? 

People come to us for our sourdough bread, lettuce and microgreens. Most of our customers like the personal connection and the fact that we grow organically and don’t spray. The best feedback we get consistently is that our lettuce and microgreens stay fresh for so long in the fridge. But the best praise we get always has to do with creating the Farmers Market itself. It’s pretty consistent that the people in our area love the experience of the Farmers Market and are thankful they have a place to come and get local food and hang out on Sundays.

What was the most important thing you gained from the YA Business Mentorship Network Program experience?

Solidarity for sure. It is easy to feel lost or unsure as a first generation farmer. You don’t have a lot of people to reach out to. The monthly meetings helped me a lot when things got really hard during the floods and it was also great to share joy in others successes. Having Mark to ask all the questions to and to give the push in the right direction. The ups and downs as a farmer are a lot, and it’s really nice to have a community now.

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop? 

Planning. Planning gardens, harvests, timing, cash flow. 

The Young Agrarians Farm Business Mentorship had a very positive impact on our business. I can’t even put into words how helpful this mentorship has been. This has launched us forward by probably three years. It has given me a lot of confidence in decision making and planning my crops and also gave me a lot of support when things felt like too much.

What were one or two big, hard lessons this season you would want to share with other farmers? 

Plant before the flooding season begins, even if it may seem too cold. It is better to get things in the ground than delay for 2-3 weeks and then have little to no harvests. You can’t do it all, even if you want to. Focus on the wins, especially in spring when everything seems like so much without any reward yet. 

What were one or two victories, small or large, that you had this season? 

A big victory was the launching of the Ashcroft Farmers and Artisans Coop and the associated Ashcroft Farmers Market. It created a revenue stream for the summer months and helped us make such great connections over the summer to sell out our Winter CSA offering. We have also created a virtual Farm Stand by partnering with six other local farmers to provide access to a wider variety of products than we grow ourselves. 

Find us at: https://www.moonlitridge.ca/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/MoonlitRidgeFarm/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/moonlitridgefarm/

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

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