YA Business Mentorship Network – Ural Farms

Posted by Tori Ames on November 30, 2023

Anton Goulko and Dorothy Penner - Ural Farms - 2023 BMN AB Mentees

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: Ural Farms

We are Anton Goulko and Dorothy Penner of Ural Farms, located in Woodlands County, AB, and this year, we were mentored by Shauna Bokenfohr of Bokey Blooms Farms.

This season is a prime example of the challenges of starting a farm and maintaining a full-time job, sprinkled with a variety of other issues. 

The usual challenge of working away from the farm is a lack of time to do all the work that needs to be done. And there is always something that needs to get done at the farm. 

For us, we had plenty. Last fall we transplanted more than 500 mature (6-year-old) haskap bushes in hopes of boosting our production. This season we needed to make sure that they survived and we still have literal mounds of dirt that needed to be cleaned up after our transplanting efforts. 

Anton Goulko and Dorothy Penner - Ural Farms - 2023 BMN AB Mentees

Balancing Act

Both Dorothy and I both have demanding full-time jobs. I work in the construction industry and of course, the farming season and the construction season tend to align. When the weather is nice, work needs to be done on both fronts. 

Dorothy runs outdoor kids’ programs. Spring and Fall are busy with running programs for school field trips and summer is busy with summer camps and high school summer school sessions. One of the highlights for this year was that Dorothy won multiple awards for her programs and a personal award for exemplary Outdoor Coaching. She has been developing her programs for a few years now and it is very rewarding to see all her hard work being recognized. 

With the increased popularity and recognition of Dorothy’s program comes increased demand. These days Dorothy is busier than ever and that makes it even harder to find time for farming. 

Guidance and Support

Shauna with Bokey Blooms Farms has been incredibly helpful as our mentor. She quickly understood the challenges that we faced and she guided us to figure out solutions. 

First thing that she asked us to do is to figure out how many days we can spend at the farm, make a plan for each one of those days and try to stick to it. 

It is very humbling to realize that you only have 36 weekends to do all the work. Just a bit over a month. Making a further plan was quite challenging since we lacked experience to know how long some of the activities can take with the tools that we have on hand. Still, we tried and came up with something workable and what we thought was realistic. 

Reality Check and Unexpected Setbacks

Once we started implementing this plan in order, we quickly realized that digging through the mounds of dirt takes way more time than we hoped for and requires a lot of effort. We don’t have access to a lot of machinery, we have a small walk-behind tractor (BCS739) and recently purchased a second-hand 30-year-old 26 HP Ford tractor. 

But to work in between the rows to clear out dirt we couldn’t get any equipment in. We had to do it all by hand. 

And then the wildfires started, we were one of the lucky ones who were spared by the fires. Flames stopped a few kilometres away from us. Not so lucky for many others. Our hearts go out to them. Woodlands County had a lot of fire-fighting efforts in place early this spring.  When the first set of fires closed down portions of highway 43, we made the decision to stay home and stay out of the way.  This was nerve racking but we felt that it was the best decision at that time.  As a result, we could not get onto our farm for a few weekends, and our short season got even shorter. We couldn’t get bird netting up in time, and we lost the majority of our harvest this year. 

Readjusting through Hardship

This loss may actually be beneficial to us. Instead of expanding energy into berry production, our new plants had time to put their effort into roots and growth. Time will tell if my optimistic outlook is right. 

And I needed my optimism. My health significantly deteriorated this year, some days I could hardly walk, and on the good days, I still need a cane to keep me upright. This is really hard for me to admit. Those who know me, know that I was very athletic. I was a long-distance runner, martial artist and a coach. Dorothy and I met because of our athletic interests. I used to do 20-30 km runs on the weekend for fun, and this summer I struggled to walk around the block. 

The plan that we made at the beginning of the year was now pointless, our efforts slowed down to a snail-pace and we had to shift into maintenance mode. Then when we had professional photographers scheduled to photograph our covered wagon campsites, we had to cancel due to strong winds and flooding which followed us through to the end of August. 


A Ray of Hope

Through all of this, having a mentor really was a blessing for us. Shauna still kept us engaged and in the right mindset. She didn’t judge, she supported us, even when we had made no progress on our farm. Her kind attitude and encouragement kept me personally afloat.

When we couldn’t harvest ourselves, we went to Bokey Blooms Farms to see how Shauna’s process works. The scale of our operations are very different, Shauna has more than 5,000 plants, while we barely have 1,000. Her process seemed to be refined and seamless to us, and we learned a lot about how we can improve our operation.  

Having Shauna’s support and understanding made it that much easier this season. 

Things to Look Forward to

Overall this year was a bit of a setback for us. Yet Dorothy and I are not giving up. I am learning how to work with my current limitations. Dorothy is working through her newfound success. Our plants survived and even thrived this season, and we even had a bit of a surprise late in the fall. 

A couple of years ago we inoculated some aspen logs with a variety of mycelium to see if we could grow mushrooms on logs. This fall we found that some of the species took and even produced the first few mushrooms. We were very excited since there are very few studies on using aspen and poplar for mushroom production. For us to have something produced is promising. We hope to start producing large quantities of log-grown mushrooms in the next few years. Stay tuned!

We want to thank Shauna, Young Agrarians, our neighbours and friends for helping us through this year. This mentorship program taught us valuable business skills and required resilience to succeed. 

Thank you all. 

Dorothy and Anton, 

Proud Ural Farms owners and operators.

Where to Find Them:

Find out more about Dorothy and Anton, their farm, and their products by following them on:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/UralFarms

Instagram – @uralfarms

Hipcamp – Ural Farms – Hipcamp