Hands-on experience critical for non-farmers to learn the ropes
by MYRNA STARK LEADER
KELOWNA – Lightfoot Farm owner Simon Answerth is the sole graduate of a three-year farm incubator program spearheaded by the Central Okanagan Community Farm Society and run in conjunction with Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna.
Two years into the incubator program, he also completed a one-year business mentorship program organized by the Young Agrarians.
Together, the projects enabled him to learn to grow market garden vegetables
“It gave me the leg up I needed,” says Answerth who adds that the real-life experience, plus watching YouTube videos of people like Curtis Stone, taught him how to farm.
The former electrician is digging into one of two acres of irrigated land in the Glenmore neighbourhood of Kelowna that he’s leasing for $500 a year from a professor at UBC Okanagan. The owner used to have horses but was looking for someone to farm his property, which is already home to a mature cherry orchard and a newly planted high-density apple orchard.
Backed by 15 years’ experience in the construction sector, Answerth, who grew up in Australia, has divided the acreage into 45×45-foot sections. Part of the land will house two 100-foot-long hoop houses.
“I’ve ordered about 60 to 70 seed varieties,” he says, showing off new digs that include a frame greenhouse for a nursery. He’s in the midst of running power to it from the house and hand-digging the trench, a reality for penny-pinching producers keeping costs in check.
While he knows he’s ordered too many varieties, this is an experimental year to determine what grows best on unfamiliar ground. Last fall, he seeded garlic plus a cover crop of fall rye, peas and oats to prepare the soil for spring seeding. He’ll grow root veggies and lots of salad greens, keeping track of everything in a spreadsheet to determine the best growers and sellers. Lightfoot Farms isn’t certified organic, but Answerth will do what he can to be a low-input grower.
He’s converted a small, former tack room into a heated production area for microgreens such as pea, radish and sunflower shoots. Past experience has proven them to be good sellers in 10×20-inch flats.
“They’re a bit finicky to grow but this will be easier than growing them at home. I can grow them all year long here and the restaurants love ’em. During the summer, it’s a seven-day turnaround and you get $20 a flat,” he explains.
His market includes local restaurants and farmers’ markets in Lake Country, with Peachland and Kelowna possible this year. He loves the markets, but breaking in as new vendor when there are large, long-time sellers, is challenging. Shoppers have habitual stops so he thinks small markets where there is less competition for ongoing vegetable sales might be better venues.
He continues to pursue restaurants, including craft breweries that want unique foods to pair with their specialty beers. These businesses typically take larger bulk orders, which makes economic sense. He’s also sold wholesale to grocery stores. Diversifying his market is smart, and required.
“It’s easy enough to grow it; the issue is marketing,” claims Answerth who was initially surprised that cold calls didn’t result in more business. Despite strong interest in buying local, his CSA program didn’t take off. He believes it’s because people were weary of putting down money up front.
He’s also contemplating direct sales from the farm gate but he fears having to have staff on hand to service customers will be costly. He knows the operation needs to run lean to maximize profit.
“A lot of good farmers talk $100,000 an acre income,” he says. “If we can double what we made last year, seeing we’re on double the space we had last year, I think that’s quite achievable.”
Since the pilot program required him to have his own hand tools, he was able to bank some money. That, plus a bit of a nest egg, has enabled him to carry on farming. Yet without owning land, traditional financing, even for smaller purchases like a walk-behind tractor, is tough to secure.
Answerth is disappointed that more people didn’t graduate from the incubator program, which originally had nine people. Without such opportunities, it will be tougher for non-farmers like himself to enter agriculture.
“We’re lucky we could make the jump, but a lot of people can’t,” he says.
Vol. 105 Issue 3
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
What on earth?
Opposition slams ALC bill
Sidebar: Protection & pushback
Editorial: Truth in labelling
Back Forty: So you don’t believe in climate change
Viewpoint: Don’t blame the cows for global warming
Ag council’s lobbying efforts produce results
Learning a new skill
Foundation’s nest egg for funding projects increases
Province will hold the line on piece rates
New CEO aims to kindle team spirit at co-op
FIRB decision prompts rethink of pricing scheme
Beekeepers see potential in technology transfer
AgSafe markes quarter century
Raspberries hit hard by harsh February
Blueberry growers anxious for new varieties
Biological controls for pests in demand
Sidebar: Pesticides in play
Growers urged to focus on fresh
Westgen celebrates 75 years of excellence
Top seller was no-show at Holstein sale
Spring show attracts exhibitors from Quebec
Cheesemakers unite to grow niche market
Range use permits under greater scrutiny
Sidebar: Range use plans go digital
Market Musings: Top bulls sell for top dollar at spring sales
Grapegrowers share sustainability objectives
Grape specialist honoured for dedication
Hazelnut production expands across BC
Sidebar: Pest pressures
Supporters take to AITC’s Sips & Sprouts
Research: Cultured meat fails to impress researchers
UAVs undergo testing for pesticide delivery
Sustainability goes beyond saving farmland
Father and daughter roll with the last of the steel wheels
Woodshed: Susan Henderson is warming to country life
Wannabe: Farming is more than just a job
Surplus, cull fruit finds new purpose as tasty snacks
Jude’s Kitchen: Special food for special moms