Starting a farm from scratch can be an overwhelming prospect. You need a business plan, an understanding of financials, risk management, financial backing and more.
Enter the Business Bootcamp for New Farmers. This online program, presented by the Young Agrarians, gives new and aspiring farmers an opportunity to connect with other first-generation farmers and business experts as they work on the business plan for their farm.
“Participants typically are coming with a bit of farming experience, whether that was working on another farm or apprenticing or volunteering on farms or things like that,” explained Alex Pulwicki, e-learning coordinator with Young Agrarians. “They have a pretty good idea of what kind of farm they want to start, but they don’t really know how to actually go about it and start the farm.
“The goal of this program is to touch on the different aspects of business planning, specifically for farms; to support people as they try and figure out all the different pieces that have to align for them to start their own farm.”
Taking the first step
Karin Lindquist is one of those aspiring farmers looking for guidance as she works on her farm business plan. She wanted to start her own farm business for a very long time. Lindquist grew up on a mixed family farm northeast of Barrhead, learning farming from her father until he died in a farm accident in 2007.
“It’s been Mom who has held the farm ever since,” said Lindquist. “Currently, it’s primarily an acreage, with the neighbour—who holds tenancy—maintaining the land as annual cropland.”
“What drew me to (the Business Bootcamp) was that they were going to be going over the biggest, most important aspects of the farm business plan, aspects that I knew with absolute certainty I needed to learn more about.”
Karin Linquist, Business Bootcamp participant
Lindquist eventually hopes to have a pasture-based farm operation of mixed livestock focused on selling eggs and meat, and possibly diversifying into honey and a U-Pick wild berry orchard. Even before participating in Bootcamp, she was already researching farm business plans and how to formulate them.
“What drew me to (the Business Bootcamp) was that they were going to be going over the biggest, most important aspects of the farm business plan,” said Lindquist, “aspects that I knew with absolute certainty I needed to learn more about.”
Offering support and encouragement
New farmer Alena Amstutz and her husband, Scott Todd have been trying to write their farm’s business plan for two years, but haven’t made much progress. When Amstutz saw a notice about the Business Bootcamp, she said she knew they needed to be part of the program.
“This was the perfect opportunity,” said Amstutz, adding that it was wonderful to exchange ideas with other participants, learn and help one another during the course. Participants continue to support one another through a Facebook page, where they can share resources, encouragement and success stories.
“It was great to get a real perspective from people that actually farm. Just talking to all those people with all those wonderful ideas gave me a real boost of energy, fresh ideas, and new perspectives. I would even recommend it if you’re not farming.”
Alena Amstutz, Business Bootcamp participant
Amstutz and Todd, who both have a farming background, recently started farming part-time and currently have pigs and chickens. They hope to add to their land base, and scale up their operation to a mixed farm that follows regenerative practices and holistic grazing. The pair also train horses full time, so that is a big part of their future plans as well.
“It was great to get a real perspective from people that actually farm,” said Amstutz. “It was wonderful to share a dream with others and plan together with people instead of all on your own in some dark chamber.
“Just talking to all those people with all those wonderful ideas gave me a real boost of energy, fresh ideas, and new perspectives. I would even recommend it if you’re not farming.”
Combining industry experts with hands-on experience
Each Business Bootcamp is broken down into 10 different sessions, with each session focused on a different topic. The topics cover the basic elements of a business plan, including visioning, branding, finances, lending and marketing.
For each topic, Young Agrarians brings in a business expert and a first-generation farmer to give participants an idea of the steps needed to bring their farm to life.
“For example, for the branding session, we have someone come in who is a consultant who helps small businesses develop a brand and a feel for their business,” explained Pulwicki. “Then we have a farmer who recently started a farm, and she talks about the process she went through working with a designer and what kinds of things she was looking for and gives advice to participants.”
Business Bootcamp draws its business experts from a variety of sources, including social media, personal referrals and existing relationships. Sponsorships from Rural eHub and Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) enable Business Bootcamp to offer a wider range of speakers and content.
“Because of this funding, we are able to bring in more speakers and it really strengthens the content that is being delivered.”
Initially, plans called for one Business Bootcamp, but when the 30 openings quickly filled up, a second course was added, and then a third. Plans are already in the works to offer additional Bootcamps in the fall.
“We’ll be running Business Bootcamps for as long as people want to sign up for them. I’m really grateful to be able to meet all these people from all over the place,” said Pulwicki, adding that Bootcamp participants reside throughout Alberta.
“It’s pretty cool that we get to connect with so many interesting farms and people that want to produce everything from vegetables to flowers to beef to yak – it’s all over the map. ”
Alex Pulwicki, Young Agrarians e-learning coordinator
“It’s pretty cool that we get to connect with so many interesting farms and people that want to produce everything from vegetables to flowers to beef to yak – it’s all over the map. (It) is exciting because people are finding things that they are passionate about, finding these niche markets that are really community based.”
In order to keep Business Bootcamp affordable for participants, the Young Agrarians have set a sliding scale for registration fees. The cost to participate ranges from $250 to $350, based on the participants’ ability to afford the full cost of the program.
The timing was right
While the global pandemic led to many programs, workshops and training sessions being cancelled or postponed, the skills people learned early in the pandemic set the stage for Business Bootcamp’s success.
“We had the idea of doing some sort of business-related programming within Young Agrarians for a while, but it never was easy to do,” explained Pulwicki. “But, then with COVID, suddenly it became very easy to make it happen because people became very familiar with online video calls and working online together.
“It really has been an advantage because if we were to be gathering in person, I think the program wouldn’t be as effective.”
If Business Bootcamp was offered in person, explained Pulwicki, people would most likely have to drive long distances to attend. As a result, the content would have to be compressed into a few sessions over a short period. By offering the program online, the content can be spread out over 10 weeks and people have time to digest the material, work on their business plan, and ask better questions.
For Lindquist, the program design meant doing the ‘homework’ first to prepare for each session. Then she could come to the session, share what she had come up with, and ask questions.
“I enjoyed that,” said Lundquist. “It was much more participatory, and it was a great way to generate ideas that we didn’t think of before.
“While the program wasn’t exactly a means to work on and literally build a farm business plan, it was much more to help give us a guideline in where to go. There were a lot of people with varied backgrounds and varied goals and aspirations … and so this participatory approach was definitely ideal.”
Each Bootcamp concludes with participants sharing their “aha” moments and their next steps in bringing their farm to life. Pulwicki said it is exciting to see the great offline connections being created between participants as they form a community.
“If you’re considering joining the Business Bootcamp, go for it. It’s worth the time and money,” concluded Lindquist. “You’ll meet some fantastic people and learn a lot!”