Every farmer’s experience is unique. Your experience will depend on your land, the season, the crops, and what background you bring to your farming career or lifestyle.
Check out the farmer stories and then join the tight-knit South Fraser farming community.
Leasing is a Great Way to Access Land: Mike Bose
Farmer Mike Bose is passionate about Surrey. His family has been farming here for more than 100 years.
“Surrey has always been a great place to farm and it’s a great place to start a new farming business,” says Mike, who manages his turkey farm on top of vice-chairing the City of Surrey Agriculture and Food Security Advisory committee (not to mention serving as a director at Surrey Cares and Mutual Fire Insurance and coaching minor hockey). “It offers proximity to a variety of different markets if you’re a smaller scale operator.”
But finding land can be a challenge. That’s why Bose is also a fan of Surrey’s new land-leasing FarmableNOW website which connects landowners with farmers. “The cost of buying land in the Lower Mainland is high,” he says. “Resources like this one are going to help more farmers access land.”
The website comes at a time when many established farmers are thinking about retiring, yet they don’t always have successors to take the reins.
“While there’s a will to have the land farmed, much like its always been, the reality is the culture has changed. Not all farmers’ children want to farm,” says Mike. “Often, those who are most interested in your land and willing to pay immediately aren’t farmers.”
So it makes sense for established farmers to connect with newbies looking for land. “Established farmers can also provide invaluable information that is not always covered in farming programs, like knowledge of the unique terrain and weather of the Fraser Valley,” says Mike. As a fourth-generation Surrey farmer, he should know.
Business Smarts Make Better Farmers: Naty King of Hazelmere Organic Farm
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.
Get to Know Your Commodity Association: Paul Gill of M&M Pacific Coast Farms
Most farmers specialize in one or two crops. With so much of their livelihood bound up in a small market segment, they need the best, most up-to-date information on growing, harvesting, and selling their crops. Paul Gill, owner of Surrey-based M&M Pacific Coast Farms, knows exactly where to turn for that data: BC’s commodity councils.
Family owned and operated since 1979, M&M grows and sells blueberries – picked fresh daily, cleaned, packed, and ready to eat – along with blueberry jams, jellies, honey, syrup, and other products.
Paul recommends all farmers get in touch with the BC Agriculture Council as a first step.
“It’s a great resource for new farmers,” he says. The organization represents more than 14,000 BC farmers and ranchers, and close to 30 farm-sector associations across the province. In addition to advocating for its members, the council works hard to promote local products, providing programming, funding, and expertise to improve BC agriculture.
What’s more, almost every type of crop has its own BC commodity council: blueberries, apples, root vegetables – you name it.
“These groups are great, too, as they do a lot of farmer-based research and marketing,” says Paul. Their meetings give farmers a chance to get together with other growers, industry experts, scientists, and more. “They can be the point of contact if, say, you’re looking for someone to help monitor your fields, or to do custom work if you can’t afford to own certain machinery,” he says. “As a blueberry farmer, the amount of information the BC Bleuberry Council makes available to farmers is unbelievable.”
Be Prepared, Whatever the Weather: Ron Tamis of Rodriso Farms
Ron and Pam Tamis took over a family beef operation in 2002, starting out with just 11 head of cattle and 1,000 bales of hay. Over the years, they’ve added a pumpkin patch, sweet corn, potatoes, squash, and a variety of other vegetables. The whole family helps out on the farm, including Ron and Pam’s three young boys.
“The best part about having a small-scale sustainable farm is that we can make a living for our family and do it together,” says Ron.
One thing the Tamises have learned over the years is to monitor the weather – and be prepared for anything. In general, the Fraser Valley has a perfect combination of climate, soil, and environment for growing. Thanks to mild winters and plenty of precipitation, a variety of crops thrive better here than anywhere else in the country. But farmers still need to be aware of the environment, and prepare for anything the elements can throw at them, says Ron. Contingency plans will help ensure you don’t lose your crops.
“In Surrey, moisture used to be the biggest issue you’d face as a farmer,” he says. “But the past few years are trending hotter and drier, which means you need to rethink crop selection.” For example: are you growing something hearty enough to contend with a drier overall climate? Should you invest in an irrigation system? You also need to be aware that climate patterns are cyclical. For rainy years, you’ll still need a good drainage system.
“While we’re blessed to have an ideal climate for growing a variety of different crops in the Fraser Valley, we also need to be aware that nothing ever goes as planned,” says Ron. “It pays to think about what you’d do in case of any possibility.”