Posted by Melanie Buffel on July 10, 2024

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! If you are a new farmer or the next generation to take on your family farm and need support to figure out the business aspects of your farm consider applying for the 2024/2025 cohort. The BMN offers business mentorships to a diverse array of new and young farmers/ranchers/producers. 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.

Apply for the 2024/2025 program here – applications processed in October .

Check out the Business Mentorship Network page for more information!

We want to introduce you to each of the new farmers in the 2024 cohort to hear about the arc of their farming journey, what their hopes are for the season ahead and what inspired them to reach out for business mentorship. To access more of these stories head over to our blog here.

Meet a Mentee: Krysten Wiggens at the Farm Next Door

We are Krysten & Devon from The Farm Next Door and are grateful to be working with Emma & Scott from Bent Plow Farm this season. We are farming in Cranbrook, BC — the traditional and unceded territory of the Ktunaxa, the Kinbasket (Secwepemc), Syilx, and Sinixt Peoples Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis Ĩyãħé Nakón mąkóce (Stoney).

What inspired you to get into farming?

We have always valued growing our own food. Resilient food systems are super important to us. I would even go as far as saying we fantasized about just how much food we could produce for ourselves and, to be honest, we still do.

We started very small with a tiny makeshift greenhouse that we hand built on our first property- just a town lot. We upscaled to a larger outdoor garden at our last place on Vancouver island (which was a .61 acre property). Our passion continued to grow, right alongside the veggies. While living at that property, we shared a fence with a neighbour whose passion for growing all things and raising chickens was contagious. We really looked up to her drive, knowledge and ability to grow and produce what she did. She sold at her farm stand and Krysten dreamt about doing something similar.

When we purchased our current property in Sept 2022, we took ownership of a greenhouse that was way beyond our wildest dreams and so the process of starting to farm was sort of organic. With all of that growing space we could grow more cukes, tomatoes and peppers than we could eat and can in a year so we started selling some to our community as well.

The other aspect that attracts us to farming is the schedule flexibility that farming offers. Yes, we rarely get a day off, but we can accommodate our children’s schedules – a luxury that is not available when you’re working for a company and your schedule is predetermined.

How did you learn how to farm?

Krysten took the “Growing Food Online” course through Gaia College and won a grant to attend the Organic BC conference. She also participated in the Fall 2023 Business Bootcamp through the Young Agrarians. 

What informational resources do you use on a regular basis or have you used in the past to operate your farm business?

For crop planning/succession planting, I have found a lot of good information on the Johnny’s seeds website. Since the greenhouse is our main squeeze right now, I’m a big fan of The Greenhouse and Hoop house Grower’s Handbook. I also love the website Backyard Chickens as there is endless information about everything and with many people being a part of that website, there is real time support if there is an emergency with a sick chicken, etc. With no past experience of running a business it has been a steep learning curve to dive into the business side of farming but oh no necessary! It’s one thing to grow as a hobby, where you are not watching your expenses because it is just for fun. Once you shift to becoming a business you need back up! 

What type of business structure is your farm? (Sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation)

Our farm is a sole proprietorship with Krysten doing all of the planning, ordering and physical care of what we are growing and raising. Devon leaves for one week at a time, followed by him being “off” for one week. But let’s face it – he never really gets time off because when he comes home, its farming time. Devon plays a major role in infrastructure and designing new systems (i.e. greenhouse irrigation system, brooder heating system, fencing, etc). It makes for an extremely busy schedule but our goal is to become self-employed in future and we won’t get to that point without putting in the work! 

How much land is under production on your farm and what do you produce?

We have a 2500 sq ft greenhouse, 70 laying hens (adding 165 layer chicks on March 19th), 3 ewe lambs that we will be breeding to grow our little flock and offer lamb meat. We have started a small outdoor garden space for garlic, onions, herbs and plan to expand that every year. In the greenhouse we are focusing on pickling cukes, canning tomatoes, hot peppers and lettuce this season!

What kind of land agreement do you have (lease, own)?

Nothing really exciting here, this is our land where our home is located. 

Did you access any financing to buy land or start your farm business?

Currently, we haven’t taken any loans specifically for the farm – we are reinvesting income and using a personal line of credit when needed. 

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

We grow produce using products acceptable by organic standards. We are new to this land within the last 1.5 years but will continue to employ regenerative farming techniques – striving for biodiversity on the property. We also compost all of our manure to feed our plants. We are also going to cover crop certain areas of our property. 

Why did you apply for business mentorship? What do you hope to work on this year in your mentorship?

I applied for business mentorship because I am very committed to growing our farm business. I want to access as many tools as possible, as a way to accelerate our growth. It is hard being a first generation farmer and learning everything the hard way. Having the opportunity to work one on one with an experienced farmer is SO valuable. This year I hope to work on our primary business goals which are: higher yields, better record keeping, and increased marketing. 

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

The greatest business challenge we face is a lack of time – trying to balance infrastructure improvements, marketing, bookkeeping, animal care, plant care, and life with small children is a real challenge

What are your primary business goals for the season?

This year my goals are to increase greenhouse yields, develop a strong system for record keeping and organization, and develop and execute a marketing plan for our farm. 

What business tools could you not live without?

I couldn’t live without excel spreadsheets, the Wave accounting app, social media (for marketing), and google forms (for market research surveys).

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