YA Business Mentorship Network – Sunflowers Urban Farm

Posted by Tori Ames on November 23, 2023

Terra Pombert - Sunflowers Urban Farm - 2023 AB AMN Mentee

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. 

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: Sunflowers Urban Farm

Terra Pombert Sunflowers Urban Farm-Beaumont, AB

Traditional Lands of Treaty Six and Métis Nations

Mentored by Mike Kozlowski-Steel Pony Farm Red Deer, AB

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

My goals for this season were to improve my planning, record keeping and marketing of my farm. This included developing a marketing plan for social media, obtaining/maintaining 10 CSA customers, developing a grow plan, improving my record keeping and building connections with another flower shop and/or restaurant. I also wanted to enable online ordering.

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?

I did meet some of my goals, some I began to develop and others I couldn’t get to. I was able to obtain 10 CSA customers and had fairly consistent marketing, albeit I didn’t develop the marketing plan I had hoped to do. I was unable to improve my record keeping throughout the season, however I did start to develop a production plan. I did maintain my existing relationships with a flower shop and restaurant and supplied a farm-to-table dinner, which was a new venture. I was unable to set up online ordering, but this will be a goal I hope to complete over the winter months.

Overall, I am happy with my goals and season even though I was unable to achieve all my goals. My mentor helped me to better understand my business processes and I will be utilizing the knowledge and experienced gained to support business growth and innovation in the coming years. I thought I would have more time to spend on my business this summer and get a consistent grow plan and increase my sales/profits. Instead, my circumstances changed and I had to reduce the time I spent on farming and chose not sell at the Farmers Market due in part to supply shortages. I reduced my land base this past season and had to adjust to this change in my supply and reflect on how I choose to grow and what products I should focus on.

Terra Pombert - Sunflowers Urban Farm - 2023 AB AMN Mentee - Goji Berries

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

My mentor was the most valuable resource. I also think the resource tab in the BMN workbook has some very useful information and the overall process of the mentorship, goal setting and webinars.

What were your best sales channels/avenues?

My CSA, restaurant and flower shop were my best sales channels.

Why do your customers buy from you? What was the best piece of feedback or praise you got from a customer?

My customers love my fresh produce, they comment on the flavour as well as the noticeable impact on their physical health (digestive etc). My unique value is probably locally grown and freshly harvested produce. I also am starting to grow some products that are difficult for restaurants to access, so I think I am finding my niche as a producer.

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

Confidence and planning skills. I feel more confident in how I intend on developing this business in the future and have begun to expand in that direction. Also learning what others are doing, especially those with a similar model gave me ideas on how to grow aspects of my farm offerings.

What specific business skills did the mentorship help you develop?

Crop planning and working backwards to achieve my financial goals. I think my mentor also helped me to critically look at my business and processes. He shared his experience and reasons for growing some crops and not others. I also gained some insight into potentially collaborating with other farmers in the future to grow my CSA offerings.

Terra Pombert - Sunflowers Urban Farm - 2023 AB AMN Mentee - Grapes

How did Young Agrarians Farm Business Mentorship impact your business overall?

This experience has been important for better business planning, focus and confidence in my venture and skills. I have a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a farmer. Learning that I am not alone and that others are trying to contribute to and improve our local food system has had a significant positive impact on my energy and hope for the future.

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

Focus on improving one thing at a time, I think I took on too much this season and should have focused on one improved process. For example, this year I wish I had focused on either succession planting or harvest record keeping and learnt how to do one really well before working on the next. Taking on too many improvements and new systems can be overwhelming, leading to less successful outcomes.

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

I think my biggest victory was learning how to better manage and harvest herbs. I realized I struggle to harvest at times as I love my plants and enjoy the beauty of my permaculture garden and thus hesitated to harvest it all. What I learnt was that my perennial herbs love to be harvested and will continue to grow and provide more. I am finding balance between providing nature and habitat and creating products for processing and sale.

Terra Pombert - Sunflowers Urban Farm - 2023 AB AMN Mentee - Pepper Preserves

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

I plan on expanding on my key products and marketing those to retail outlets. I intend on enabling online ordering and focusing my production on value-added products that can be sold all year long if not sold fresh (ex. fresh/dried herbs). I intend on growing my CSA subscription by better crop planning to ensure I will have the supply they need. I also have been developing my relationship with existing retail businesses and hope to build on these partnerships to increase access to local products in my community.

What will you do differently next year?

I will start my crop planning and advertising in January to ensure I am organized ahead of the season. I will attend one market a month. I will focus on harvesting and preserving rather than just harvesting what I need for my weekly order. I will also spend more time finding new market channels into retail outlets and find ways to support each other and drive local business in my community.

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

This year I wanted to plant peas, lots of peas. So, I planted lots of peas. What I didn’t do was look at how tall they would grow. They grew way taller than I expected and thus my supports were not sufficient to contain the monster pea vines. They were a mess but a very productive one until we got some hail. Lesson of the day: read the package carefully plan supports accordingly.

Terra Pombert - Sunflowers Urban Farm - 2023 AB AMN Mentee - Squash

What are you most looking forward to this winter?

Creating and experimenting with making products, developing my crop plan for next year and learning to crop micro greens and edible flowers indoors to hopefully expand my business to growing a couple products all season.

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

You can find my farm on the web as Sunflowers Urban Farm: www.sunflowersurbanfarm.com 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sunflowersurbanfarm/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sunflowersurbanfarm/