YA Business Mentorship Network – Okanagan Herb Patch

Posted by Melanie Buffel on December 18, 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 and AB mentees are now  CLOSED.
Limited seats available for  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: Okanagan Herb Patch

My name is Carlos Rodriguez and I operate the Okanagan Herb Patch in Kelowna, BC on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the syilx/Okanagan people. My Mentors have included Daniel Garfinkel at Athiana Acres and Chris Bodnar at Close to Home Organics.

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

My goals for the season were to build brand awareness, gain a customer base at the farmers market, and establish a long-term lease for the next few years to come.  I built brand awareness by having free samples for people to try at the market, and attending community events such as Feast of Fields.   The customer base grew out of the people who tasted product and returned for more.   I now have a few faces I see on a regular basis at the market.   The long-term land lease is in place at a new location which has been farmed, organically, in the market garden style for 6 years.   It’ll be a great benefit to walk into that much hard work and pick up where the previous farmer left off. 

Did you meet your goals / did it work out? What went well this season relating to your goals? 

At the start of the growing season I had a few milestones laid out to pave the way towards my goals.   I managed to achieve most of them, with only two remaining to be reached.   I think what went well overall was a focus on achieving small tasks/milestones on a regular basis.   This kept me focused on the bigger picture without leading to overwhelm or disappointment.     The farming side of things didn’t go so well this year.   I think it was a combination of weak seedlings, mismanagement of watering, and poor fertility.   (Quite the trifecta!)

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

I found good support on the ‘no-till growers’ forum.   Many vendors at the farmers market I attend have offered valuable advice, likewise, a few farmers in the area have turned out to be a great source of support.  

What were your best sales channels/avenues? 

The farmer’s market turned out to be my focus, with only one restaurant ordering consistently.   Though I will focus on the farmer’s market again next season, I would like to continue to build the restaurant/wholesale portion of my business.  A major challenge last year was consistency in my supply, which was caused by a lack of space.   Next year, that won’t be an issue. 

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

The farm-fresh value-added UVP is why my customers continue to come back for my products.   Yesterday I was at a satellite market and someone recognized my brand and my sauce.  She said her daughter buys my sauce, and that ‘her kids put it on everything’!! That felt good, and it’s how I want my product to be used. 

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

The BMN has been a great resource in the inner workings of a small business.   All of the workshops early in the year were helpful to gain a base knowledge of how to navigate these waters.   Further, the perspective of other new farmers in our group meetings was quite helpful.   They served as a good reminder of how hard this is, and it felt good not to go at it alone. The mentorship specifically supported me to develop my budgetting skills and revenue projections for the season.

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

Grow more volume of less variety and have it consistently.   Secondly, FAIL FAST.   Don’t get stuck on a failure (or identified to it)… learn from it, and keep pushing forward. 

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

I hit my sales target at the farmer’s market a few times and am gaining a few loyal customers at the market.  

What future plans and goals do you have for your farm and how will you achieve these? 

A main focus for next year will be: ‘slow down, to speed up’.  I’ll hone in on a few key value-added product that did well and make a push to get then into retail.   Similarly, starting as small as possible on the new space (and building soil with cover cropping) will allow me to sharpen my growing skills on a few varieties while continuing to gain traction at the market.   In the garden,  I’d like to establish more perennials, and have crops that are uncommon to our markets.   I’ll use greenhouses to overwinter perennials not hardy in my zone.   

What will you do differently next year? 

SO MANY THINGS!! One of the core values of my business is to be ‘always improving’, and so with that in mind, I’ve made many notes on how to change and tweak things for better efficiency and productivity for next year. 

Share a story of something interesting/ funny/weird that happened on your farm this season.

In the spring I was informed by my landlord that our previous land agreement was not going to go through.   This was a major wrench thrown in the works for my first full year in business.  I scrambled to find more land, and dedicated much of my time and energy into securing something for next season and beyond.   Through this process, I met many generous people who helped me by either providing connections, advice, and in one case… land!  Now that I have a secured agreement in place for the foreseeable future I can let go of the nervous energy that comes with being a farmer without land, and focus on growing!

What are you most looking forward to this winter?

I like the shift in pace that the winter provides.   I’m looking forward to some cross-country skiing, a short trip down to a tropical beach, and some time to catch up with friends.   Also, seed buying and crop planning are great ways to pass the dark-cold days. 🙂

Where can we find you online? 


IG and FB: @okherbpatch

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