Category Archives: New Farmers in the Field

Farmer Correspondence: Succession Planning Workshop

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training opportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

About Sharon

Sharon Kerr is a former 4-H Extension Worker.  For the past 47 years she has ranched in the Bulkley Valley with her husband, Harold. They are still actively ranching with their son Dallas and his wife, Laine. As retirement looms the Succession Planning workshop was a very timely event to assist them in planning for the future.

Learning About Succession Planning

Succession Planning workshops in Burns Lake and Smithers were facilitated by BC Ministry of Agriculture Agri Food Business Development Specialist, Clint Ellison, along with consultant Howard Joynt.  John Stevenson, Skeena Region Agrologist was on hand providing local input. During the morning session Joynt and Ellison, guided participants through part one of the two part succession planning process by having the group develop a model farm/family and work through possible solutions to the transfer of the ownership.

Howard Joint, P.Ag. reviewing farm financial
Howard Joint, P.Ag. reviewing farm financials

Rules and laws affecting transfers were discussed as the group worked through the four step process.

  1. Collecting data: financial information, personal information, and other documents such as wills, agreements and leases.
  2. Review of critical issues: ownership, control, security, on farm living and equal vs equitable treatment of children.
  3. Setting goals: is it feasible to transfer the farm and secure the needs of parents and children?
  4. Succession planning tools: rollovers, Capital Gains, Capital Gains Reserves, Capital Gains Deductions and other tax issues, business arrangements, life interests, security, methods of owning property and will planning.

Discussions with an accountant and/or lawyer during part one was noted as possibly being helpful.

John Bakker, CGA, from Vandergaag and Bakker in Smithers
John Bakker, CGA, from Vandergaag & Bakker Certified General Accountants

The afternoon session covering part two of the succession planning process looked at the role accountants, financial advisors, lawyers and insurance agents might play in completing a succession plan. Accountant, John Bakker of Vandergaag and Bakker and Donald Giddings and Sonali Sharma of Giddings and Company law office discussed some options for dealing with the transfer of farms and farm assets.

It was emphasized that documents relating to the purchase of property and income tax records make it much easier and less costly for accountants and lawyers to assist with succession planning and the inter-generational transfer of land and assets. Bakker worked through an example of the transfer of milk quota.

Giddings noted there are several options in transferring assets. Under the Wills Variation Act, Giddings says spouses and children cannot be cut out of a will.  If children are to be treated differently then an explanation of the distribution of assets with good reasons may help if adult children challenge a will.  Trusts are an option to protect property and for those over 65 Alter Ego Trusts can be utilized to avoid challenges to a will.

Sonali Sharma, artcling student with Giddings & Company Law Office
Sonali Sharma, articling student with Giddings & Company Law Office

Sonali Sharma, articling student with Giddings briefed the group on the new Family Law Act that replaces the Family Relations Act.  Under the new legislation a spouse is not automatically entitled to property held by the other spouse prior to the marriage.  Property accumulated following a marriage is deemed to be family property.     The death of a spouse and the re-marriage of the remaining partner can create issues but there are ways of coping with such situations.

In summing up the succession planning process it was emphasized that one of the biggest challenges is in covering off debt service while looking after the needs of parents and children. There is no right or wrong way and no “one size fits all” approach.   It was noted that some bank products exist that could be helpful.

Succession planning can be an emotional process and a fairly complex project.  It is among the specialized business planning services that are available to eligible farmers with 85% of costs up to $3,000 paid for through the BC Farm Business Advisory Services. E-mail: BCFBAS@gov.bc.ca or going to the Advisory Services Tab at: www.smartfarmbc.ca

New Farm Correspondence: Prince George Vegetable Trials

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training opportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

Dave Rempel is a Master Gardener who  has lived in Prince George for thirty years. He grew up in the Fraser Valley’s Sumas Prairie, tending the family garden and working for raspberry farms . When he relocated to Prince George, he bought a small two-acre piece of property towards Tabor Lake. He had always envisioned building a garden on this property, but quickly learned that cold temperatures, clay soils, and buried refuse would made succesful gardening a challenge.

In 2008, Dave completed his Master Gardener certificate at UNBC. As a teacher by trade, he has contributed many volunteer hours to expanding the love of fresh food in the Prince George community through workshops and lectures for the home vegetable gardener. His Master Gardener training inspired him to collect data on his own gardening trials. On January 8, 2014 he shared his love of garden vegetables to a crow of 30 avid gardeners at UNBC who were eager to learn of his successes growing food. The event was hosted by the David Douglas Botantical Garden Society as part of their Weed-Free Lecture Series.

Dave began his lecture by warning the audience that his experiments and vegetable trials are not scientific in nature. He had done his best to standardize major variables in his tests, but nature, not the labratory, stills runs his garden. As such, the vegetable trials he ran from 2009 on should provide a platform for discussion more than definitive results.

The primary goal for Dave in documenting his garden results was to measure success in the following areas:

  1. good vigour – healthy and disease free
  2. early-maturing – important for a cold climate
  3. longevity – plants don’t bolt to quickly
  4. yield – how much of teh good stuff do you get?

Dave also expressed a preference for open-pollianted varieties of seed

Here are Dave’s results

Broad Beans

Dave only tested Witkiem Harvest and Windsor for one year. In that year, the Windsor plants grew much larger but the Witkiem had a better yield. Dave commented that he wouldn’t likely test that broad beans again as they take up to much space in the garden for the amount of vegetable they yield.

Bush Beans

Dave planted several varieties of bush beans but teh results were very mixed. Others in the audience had their own suggestions for bush beans varieties. In the end, the bush bean varieties that received positive recognition were Tema, Provider, Delinel, Strike and Igloo.

Pole Beans

Dave planted Nekar Konigin pole beans and Aintree Scarlett Runners

Beets

Dave expressed a personal interest in yellow beets, which never seem to perform as the red beets, but he can’t help but love the beautiful colour they exhibit in canning, and yellow beets that don’t bleed. Dave planted several but most recommends Touchstone Gold and to some extent, Golden Detroit

Brussel Sprouts

Dave’s brussel sprout experiemnets had mixed results. in 2010 hybrid varieties Jade Cross, Bubbles and Oliver excelled compared to open pollinated varieties Catskill and Long Island, which were too slow to mature, but in 2011 the Jade Cross and Catskill both did well

Kohlrabi

Dave recommneds Giant Purple, Giant White and the Superschmeltz varieties. Vienna White and Vienna Purple typically went woody very quickly. Kongo was early-maturing.

Leeks

Jolant consistently performed as a summertime leek and Hannibals were good storage leeks

Spinach

All varieties of spinach seem to bolt quickly in our region due to day lengths, but seeding spinach in August can yeiled a good fall harvest

Swiss Chard

Fordhook Giant produced the largest leaves,while Silverado produced the smallest. Bright Lights performed the best in poor soil and light conditions

 

New Farm Correspondence: Guide to Land Access Workshop

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

About Cam

I am finishing my final year of an Environmental Studies degree at UNBC, and looking forward to getting more agricultural experience around the province in upcoming growing seasons! My experiences this past summer as an intern at an organic farm and aquaponics operation, hauling hay bales at a cattle and lamb farm, and cultivating our own plot of veggies taught me a lot about farming and the workload required in organic agriculture. I’m reading and learning a lot about permaculture and edible forest gardening, and look forward to implementing these progressive approaches when I finally have some land of my own.

Learning about Farmland

land access 2009 imageWhile the idea of having farmland to call your own is appealing to many of us, the task of finding and securing land can be daunting. The time required to navigate through complicated regulations and processes is substantial, but fortunately there are resources available to help us new farmers find land to cultivate. Jillian Merrick from Beyond the Market spent a few weeks in the fall travelling the Highway 16 corridor, delivering presentations on access to agricultural land for the benefit of prospective producers in our region. Whether you are looking to rent an acre to develop your skills or buy a quarter section of pasture, doing your homework beforehand could save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.

After introducing ourselves and hearing a bit about agriculture in the Regional District of Fraser Fort George, the Prince George session got underway, complete with information on what options are available, how to pursue them, and how much farm land costs in northern BC. An obvious but oft overlooked tip for land-seekers is to know the history of your potential purchase by talking to neighbours; they may know something about the land that will affect how you develop and use it in the future. Visibility, security, and invasive and noxious weeds are other important aspects to keep in mind for farmland, which may be somewhat dependant on your intended uses of the property.

The workshop also covered information on farm business structures, an important consideration for a future farmer. Sole proprietorships are common and straightforward, while partnerships and cooperatives provide options for couples, families, or communities to invest in an agricultural endeavour together. Corporations are costly to start and maintain, but their separation from owners and limited liability provide a good option for larger operations. Community farms were also mentioned, in which the farm is owned, operated, and managed by a group of people who all contribute to the business in finances, labour, or other skills (such as accounting or marketing). The right structure for you depends on your intentions and aspirations, and may be affected by how you intend to sell your farm products.

The fun part of the workshop (in my opinion) was looking at available land and getting an idea of what is available and how much it would cost. Land in the north is generally much less expensive than land in other parts of BC, when similar sizes and types of property are compared. Prices per acre range from $500 to $3000 for large undeveloped lots, while developed and small lots closer to towns tend to range from $3000 to $20,000 per acre. However, the best option for young farmers with limited financial capital is often to not buy land at all. There are a number of business arrangements and agreements that can give a farmer access to land, without the hassle and commitment associated with a purchase.

land 2.0 imageRenting and leasing land are the most common forms of land-access agreements, and the costs and benefits can be negotiated by the landowner and farmer. Communication between the landowner and farmer is essential, and a memorandum of understanding, contract, and/or license can be a good way to ensure that the arrangement is clearly defined. Long-term options are available, such as a registered lease (which can stay with the land even after it is sold), although it is important to note that a lease on a portion of title that lasts 3 years or more is considered a subdivision, and may not be possible on ALR land. Other options include a rolling lease, which is renewed annually, or a leasehold subdivision, which can be approved by the ALC and give the leaseholder the ability to use the leased land for a greater length of time. While the formal paperwork should include details on acceptable uses of land, access rights, ownership of improvements, and other specifics, creative solutions are acceptable; a crop-share can give the landowner a portion of produce or profit from the farm, without requiring upfront cost to the farmer.

Another option for up-and-coming farmers is the incubator farm, a parcel of land on an existing farm that is given to a young farmer for a season (or several), with guidance from experienced farmers. Models and resources regarding both progressive and conventional arrangements can be found online, and a plethora of information on other land-access arrangements is available from government ministries and non-governmental organizations. Two resource guide were distributed during teh workshop: The Land Conservancy of BC’s Guide to Farmland Access Agreements, and Young Agrarians’ Land Access Guide 2.0.

While the information in workshops and land access guides is valuable and worthwhile, it is generally recommended that you consult a lawyer before signing any legally binding documents. Best of luck to those of you looking for land!

New Farm Correspondence: Agroforestry Open House

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

About Cam

I’ve been a student at UNBC for four years, and I can’t wait to farm this summer! I’m part of a small crew of students who will be growing food on a chunk of Foreman Flats that hasn’t been cultivated in over 20 years. I’m always interested in learning about food production, through both agriculture and harvesting wild foods, and I’m looking forward to lots of learning through experience this season. The birch syrup workshop was a great opportunity to learn about a non-timber forest product that I hope to produce and consume from now on!

Learning About Agroforestry

agroforestryopen houseWhile the primary purpose of farming is food production, any experienced farmer understands the importance of the forest, not just the fields. While the term ‘agroforestry’ may be unfamiliar to many of us, basic agroforestry practices are already integrated into many farms across northern BC. Agroforestry BC defines it as a “land management approach that purposefully integrates the growing of trees with crops or livestock”, including common strategies like shelterbelts or windbreaks along the edges of fields, and new approaches like forest farming to simultaneously produce timber and foods such as berries or mushrooms. Different climates offer different opportunities for agroforestry, and northern farmers could benefit from implementing existing tried-and-true methods and participating in ongoing agroforestry research in our area.

In an effort to spark interest and action around agroforestry, the Resources North Association (RNA) hosted an Agroforestry Open House on September 23rd. The event gave the agricultural community an opportunity to learn about agroforestry, with plenty of resources and handouts (and food) provided to fuel discussion. In addition to agroforestry-specific information, a wide variety of other farm-related information was available, including mentorships for new farmers, business management for existing farmers, and ideas around urban agriculture and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Opportunities for agricultural innovation in the north are abundant at the moment, and it seems like information, support, and even funding are available to those interested in experimenting!

Agroforestry, however, is by no means a new experiment – careful placement of trees, hedges, and bushes on and around the farm has benefitted farmers for centuries. In a conversation with a local vegetable and cattle farmer, I learned that cows will graze on young deciduous trees while leaving the conifers alone. Since spruce, pine, and fir are more valuable as lumber than poplar and cottonwood, using cattle to manage forest composition contributes to a profitable woodlot while also providing pasture among the trees, or ‘silvopasture’. Already used by farmers in the north, this strategy is one easy way to integrate forestry and agriculture within one farm system.

In other situations, however, deciduous trees are the desired outcome, and can be managed to provide fibre and fuel as well as windbreaks, snow fences, riparian conservation, and runoff control. Research from the USDA’s National Agroforestry Center describes several ways to use poplar and willow as short-rotation woody crops (SRWC) that rotate through a harvesting cycle ranging from 1 to 10 years. In multi-row stands, alternate rows can be harvested after the previously harvested row has grown back to a sufficient size, providing a permanently forested line (for erosion control, windbreak, visual barrier, etc) and producing wood biomass. These rows are commonly grown at the edge of a field, but can also be planted between rows of crops, known as ‘alley cropping’.

These methods are simple ways for farmers to begin implementing agroforestry on their farm, but more complex strategies can produce a wide variety of edible and marketable non-timber forest products with relatively low labour requirements. ‘Forest farming’ or ‘edible forest gardening’ involves designing forests to produce food while also creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that requires little maintenance. While it originated in the tropics and often uses fruit and nut trees, this approach can still be applied in the north using hardy fruit trees, native berry bushes, herbs and other plants that can be harvested for consumption as food or medicine. Since these systems take several years to reach maturity it may be worthwhile to start planting your food forest now, and expand and modify the forest in the future as research provides advice on how to implement this approach in the north.

There are, however, some farms in the Central Interior that already generate revenue from the forest; Moose Meadows Farm near Quesnel sells syrup and other birch-based products from their woodlot, and also harvest conifer boughs for decorative wreaths. They can be contacted directly, but the Resources North Association is also organizing tours, courses, and more networking opportunities for farmers interested in agroforestry. RNA has engaged in partnerships with government departments and other organizations to begin establishing a community of practice around agroforestry in northern BC as the industry develops.

Growth of the industry in other parts of the province is already well underway through the Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative (funded by Agriculture Canada and delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation BC), and more information can be found on the Agroforestry BC website . With a growing agricultural sector and deep roots in forestry, agroforestry could be the perfect opportunity for economic growth and sustainable production of food and forest products in northern BC.

Posters and resources from the Open House in Prince George are available through RNA at http://www.resourcesnorth.org/rna/573/2013+activities, where you can also find information about the upcoming “Agroforestry and Environmental Stewardship Tour” of Murray Creek on October 16th, a rehabilitated riparian site near Vanderhoof.

RNA Agroforestry
Photo of the Agroforestry open house courtesy of Cam Bell

New Farm Correspondence: Birch Tapping

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

 

About Cam

Cam (right) with local rancher Dave Abernathy (left) and Heloise Dixon warren (centre)

I’ve been a student at UNBC for four years, and I can’t wait to farm this summer! I’m part of a small crew of students who will be growing food on a chunk of Foreman Flats that hasn’t been cultivated in over 20 years. I’m always interested in learning about food production, through both agriculture and harvesting wild foods, and I’m looking forward to lots of learning through experience this season. The birch syrup workshop was a great opportunity to learn about a non-timber forest product that I hope to produce and consume from now on!

 

 

Birch Tapping with Moose Meadows Farm

With spring on its way, many of us are itching to get outside and do something in the warmer weather. Unfortunately it’s too early to sow seeds, but it’s a great time to tap trees! The collection and use of sap from birch trees (Betula papyrifera) isn’t very common in northern BC, but the nutritious liquid has been used for centuries by people in other northern regions like Scandinavia. This non-timber forest product has immense potential across Canada, combining an annual run of sap with the Canadian tradition of sugaring-off, the boiling of sap into syrup.

A group of future birch-tappers learned the basics of birch syrup from Heloise Dixon-Warren a few weeks ago, near the beginning of the sap season in our area. Earlier that day, Heloise and her husband Ted had collected 600 litres of sap from the trees at Moose Meadows Farm near Quesnel, which would soon become sweet syrup after several hours of evaporation. We learned all about birch trees, the syrup industry in Canada and the entire production process, tasted more than a dozen different syrups, and added a few new words to our vocabulary, including ‘degrees Brix’, ‘refractometer’, and ‘coppicing’. Commercial-scale processing involves considerations similar to any other value-added product (sanitation, quality control, marketing, etc), but small-scale production can be simple, rewarding, and delicious!

IMG_0339
Celebrating Birch – a recommending reading resource for birch trees and its many uses.

First, find birch trees at least 8 inches in diameter, but find them quick – the sap only runs for two or three weeks in April, and near the end of the season (when the buds start to emerge) it can change colour, become cloudy, and smell sour. Keep in mind that you will be carrying heavy buckets from your trees to your kitchen or sugar-shack, so choose your trees carefully. Drill a hole according to the size of your spiles (tapping supplies can be purchased from Moose Meadows Farm), angled slightly upward, and tap the spile into the hole. Hang a plastic bucket below or fix tubing from the tap to the container; use lids to prevent debris, insects, and rainwater from getting into your sap. Aluminum buckets are not recommended for birch sap collection due to the acidity of birch sap, but any food-grade plastic container will do. Sap should be collected and processed daily, but subzero temperatures help the sap stay fresh. Sap should be stored in a cool place after collection, and can be enjoyed as a cool, slightly sweet, crisp beverage full of amino acids, vitamins, and many micronutrients.

Birch samples from all over Canda displayed with spiles and tubes for tapping
Birch samples from all over Canda displayed with spiles and tubes for tapping

As for the syrup, there are some important differences between birch and maple. While maple sap is boiled into syrup at a ratio of 40:1, birch sap varies from 80:1 to 120:1, depending on the concentration of sugars in the sap of your birch trees. This increases the effort and cost required to produce syrup, but also the value of the finished product. Producing syrup does not require a commercial kitchen, although it is advisable to have Northern Health approve your facilities as a ‘food premise’, and it is important to measure pH, temperature, and other variables throughout the process. Initially, sap can be heated to a rolling boil, but as the water evaporates and sugars concentrate, reduce the temperature to prevent scorching. The sugar in birch sap is primarily fructose, giving it a fruitier taste than maple syrup, which is mostly sucrose. Sugar concentration is measured with a hydrometer or refractometer, similar to measuring alcohol content in beer or wine, in a unit called degrees Brix. Syrup must be 60 degrees Brix to prevent spoilage at room temperature, but some producers mix partially-boiled sap with other sugars to reach stability and soften the flavour of the syrup.

As there is no regulation of birch syrup across Canada, a variety of syrups and blends may be labelled as birch syrup, even if they are not pure syrup. Pure birch syrup has a unique flavour popular among chefs as flavouring, not necessarily as a condiment like maple syrup. Its applications are endless, from jams and jellies to sauces and marinades, and even in beer and wine. Several companies across Canada and the USA currently produce birch syrup, which can complement other farm products very well. The timing of the sap season is a perfect transition from winter into summer, and can provide annual income from well-managed woodlots.

Birch syrup production is an excellent opportunity for farmers in our region, and can easily be incorporated into agri-tourism. The process of sugaring-off is an interesting activity that can be turned into an exciting event; invite other local producers, host a pancake meal (with the appropriate permits, of course), and explain the process to farm visitors while simultaneously promoting your farm and products. Stable birch syrup can be sold as a low-risk food item at markets or at your farm, and a litre can be sold for as high as $100. Birch sap and syrup has recently been classified as a farm product, and income from syrup sales counts towards farm status. Further regulation, research, and collaboration will foster the growth of the birch products industry in Canada, but the success of Heloise and other producers has already proven the viability of this unique, value-added, non-timber forest product. Whether for commercial sales or personal consumption, birch syrup is a sweet start to spring – try it yourself!

For more information, or to purchase tapping supplies or “The Birch Syrup Production Manual”, contact:

Moose Meadows Farm

2861 Nazko Road, Quesnel

250-249-5329

mmfarm@goldcity.net

www.moosemeadowsfarm.ca

New Farm Correspondence: Joel Salatin’s Secrets

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

 

About

Mandi, Jordan and pup Zim
Mandi, Jordan and pup Zim

Mandi Schwarz and her husband Jordan bought 40 acres last summer and hope to begin farming soon. you can follow their trials and tribulations on their blog at lone-pine-farm.blogspot.ca

 

 

 

 

 

Joel Salatin’s Secrets to Beyond Organic Farming: You Can Farm

Prince George Participants at day two of Joel Salatin's Secrets to Beyond Organic Farming
Prince George participants during day two of Joel Salatin’s Secrets to Beyond Organic Farming

On March 20, 2013, I attended Joel Salatin’s talk You Can Farm, the first of a series of three one-day-long sessions streamed live from the event Secrets of Beyond Organic Farming in Calgary.  Joel is regarded as a rockstar in the world of small organic farms; he has teamed up with other nearby farmers to offer a wide selection of organic goods to local customers.  As a relative newbie in our local farming community, I was excited to spend the day both learning from Joel and chatting with other local farmers.

The day started with an overview of Joel’s ideas regarding organic farming.  He did a quick poll of his live audience in Calgary, and determined that while they had varied reasons for wanting to farm (including food security, community, and sustainability, among other reasons), not one of them mentioned farming for profit.  This is typical of new organic farmers from around the world – we are apparently a kind-hearted bunch!  He encouraged us to think outside the box, with ideas for getting started (use mobile farming systems such as chicken tractors and electric net fencing so you can borrow or rent land and farm small parcels), setting up infrastructure (avoid single-use, capital-intensive items and focus on function, not form), and avoiding trouble with bylaw restrictions (befriend your local politicians and sell items creatively, such as ‘buy a bag of compost, get some milk for free!’).  We were also reminded that farming should be thought of as a business right from the start; we should try to keep our emotions separate from our business, especially when it comes to marketing.  Yes, we think we have the best potatoes in the region, but not everyone else will agree!

The second half of the morning was spent on a whirlwind photo tour of Polyface Farm.  Joel showed us his barns (open-sided, multi-use buildings that house house a rotation of chickens, cows and pigs based on the time of year), his lumber bandsaw (which he uses to plane boards from his 400+ acres of forested land), and his farm shop (which is, quite literally, where his customers come to shop!).  We took a quick tour of the pastures, where cows are moved each day and followed closely by chickens, which spread the manure, eat the bugs, and add their own fertilizer to the fields.  Pigs follow a similar rotation through their fields, creating a cycle of a short period of disturbance followed by a long period of rest, which closely mimics the natural cycles of forest fires, herd migrations, and other natural events.

After lunch, we dived right in to marketing.  Joel stated, “If you get nothing else out of today’s session, this right here will make it worth it: you want your customers to become dependent on you!”  We learned of how Polyface Farm has partnered with other local farms to provide a wide variety of goods to their customers, such as honey, apple juice, and vegetables in addition to the beef, pork, chicken and eggs they produce, becoming a one-stop-shop.  These partnerships have leveraged the economies of scale to lower costs for everyone involved, as all the goods can all be marketed the same way and be delivered on the same truck.  This strategy is utilized for all of the available markets: on-farm sales, restaurant contracts, and the Metropolitan Buying Club of independent customers.  There is even a team member bringing groups onto the farm as a form of agrotainment.

Finally, we got into the last session of the day: team building.  Even if your farm is just a team of two, this is very important, as a disjointed working relationship often spells disaster for small farms.  Joel encouraged us to develop a mission statement for our farms and write job descriptions for each person, which minimizes confusion about duties, responsibilities, and areas of expertise.  “The biggest killer of enthusiasm is silent expectations,” Joel said.  “At the end of the day, what makes or breaks the the farm is the harmony of the house and the business, not the design of the egg mobile or the size of the pasture.”  Having these difficult conversations as we set up our farms is crucial to laying the foundation for our future successes.  At Polyface, each member of the team is allowed to keep their own fiefdom and grow it in their own way as long as it fits the farm’s mission statement; in this way, everyone feels valued and knows they are integral part of the farm’s success.

This was a very interesting and informative day, and it encouraged me to grab a copy of Joel’s book Folks, This Ain’t Normal from the library and check out his farm’s extensive website, http://www.polyfacefarms.com/.  I also got the chance to chat with some of my fellow attendees during the breaks (there were 17 of us in total watching from Prince George), during which I confirmed my intent to purchase heritage chicks from one farmer, and directed another to my online notes (which can be found at http://lone-pine-farm.blogspot.ca/p/resources.html and include my notes from this session).  This was definitely a day well spent by both my husband and I as we start our journey into organic farming.

 

New Farm Correspondence: the Pacific Agriculture Show

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to travel to major agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in other regions and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

 

About Tessa

Tessa and her family

My name is Tessa Young. My husband Matt and I, along with our daughter Elliana moved to Prince George with big dreams of farming. This last spring we were able to buy a small farm and finally start making our dreams a reality. This summer we made hay and raised pork. Along with that we have a small flock of laying hens and two horses. We are loving this life and way of raising our family. Our dream is to make our farm a reliable business and farm full time at home. We headed to the Pacific Agriculture show looking for more information on starting our farm, including all the practical details we still need to learn so much about.

 

Friday, Day 1 at the Pacific Agriculture Show:

A falcon as part of the Raptor Ridge Birds of Prey demonstration

We headed out to the Pacific Ag Show on Friday morning, not entirely sure what to expect but excited. It was held in Abbotsford at the Tradex, and with warm temperatures and the sun just peeking out, it looked to be a very promising day. I was hoping to find useful information about starting our little farm, seed catalogues to take home and other resources. Matt was just itching to see the tractors! Neither of us were disappointed.

Three steps away from the car, the fun began. Matt’s first words were “Wow! See that tractor. That is a Fendt, spelled F-E-N-D-T, German made, pretty much the Cadillac of Tractors! See how wide the front tires are on this one, and check out the joystick on that one.” That pretty much set the tone for the first day. We explored every tractor, comparing loaders, interiors, controls, screens, hitch assemblies and more. At one point we noticed it was only us and small children that were enthusiastically climbing into every tractor, but we didn’t mind.

Between tractors we made a lap checking out all the booths and what they had to offer. This is where I started gathering my information. By the end off the day I was afraid my bag was going to split it was so heavy with publications, seed catalogues, magazines and other useful and interesting information. We found lots of people to talk to as well, with experiences everywhere from farm taxes and environmental plans to robot milkers and falconry. The first day was quite an experience and we were excited to go back for more.

 

Saturday, Day 2 at the Pacific Agriculture Show

Because we loaded up with as much as we could carry the day before, we aimed to have a lighter day on Saturday. We planned to look into all the things we wanted more information on, after having a chance to look through all the goodies from the previous day, and since we were bringing some family with us, we decided it would be a bit more of a social day too. We thought it might be a shorter day, since we were bringing our two year old daughter along. As it turns out, we could stay as long as we wanted; we got an energy buzz from a really cool tractor calendar, and she got the same off all the free candy.

Saturday was a much busier day at the show but it was quiet first thing in the morning. I was able to check out some neat booths that were crowded the day before. The most interesting to me was the Raptor Ridge Birds of Prey. They had some owls at the booth that you could meet up close. In the quiet of the morning I was able to talk to the trainer and learn some really neat things about owl biology and behaviour. We were able to get a good look at the robot milking booth which was also very interesting. Our daughter just loved the petting zoo and I couldn’t resist the frisky little goat kids either. Later in the day, we were able to meet up with people we knew – me with old 4-H friends and Matt with a friend who has helped us buy and work on our tractor. Matt was able to go around and price out different loader options, which was really useful, and we asked more questions based on the previous day’s experience. By the end of the day we both felt like we had gotten everything we had hoped for out of the Pacific Agriculture Show.

Tessa’s snapshot of just some of the displays at the Pacific Agriculture Show that took place January 25-27, 2013