Farming is never just about farming, and nobody knows that better than Naty King, owner of Surrey’s Hazelmere Organic Farm.
“As with any other business, you’re competing with others in your field, and you need a good base in financial management, and creativity to take advantage of opportunities,” she says.
Thirty years ago, Naty and her late husband, Gary, left behind careers in finance to grow organic produce and raise their family in Hazelmere, a quiet corner of South Surrey. Today, the farm is going strong, supplying organic vegetables and culinary herbs to Lower Mainland grocery stores, wholesalers, and restaurants.
As she points out, the farm’s success isn’t due to growing talent alone. “There are certain skills you need to have outside of being a good farmer: basic financial management, so that you can plan, manage, and adapt based on how your farm is doing, as well as creativity in selling and marketing your products,” she says.
Accounting comes in especially handy when things don’t go according to plan. “You’ll need to manage your finances to ensure that you don’t lose your livelihood,” says Naty. New farmers are the most vulnerable to change, and need to be the most adaptable.
When an opportunity comes up, business smarts are a good skill to help decide whether it’s worth pursuing, or whether you need to cut and run. For instance: “While boutique restaurants may be a great place to sell your goods, be aware that they are often small in scale and operating on thin margins, and can’t always be relied upon to make large orders,” she says.
Marketing skills will help you establish a customer base. Consider your farm’s brand: will you present it as a family destination with pumpkin patches and corn mazes? Or perhaps as a trustworthy behind-the-scenes supplier to local businesses?
“Channel your passion and love of what you do into how you talk about your work, to attract a variety of different clients,” advises Naty, who gets the word out about Hazelmere at community events focusing on conservation, organic farming, and farm-to-table cuisine.
But to sum up: if you want to be a successful farmer, get ready to share your passion and sharpen your pencil – because growing is only one piece of puzzle.