FarmStart’s Farm Viability Series – Starting This December

Do you know what’s making money on your farm? Are you thinking about trying a new marketing strategy or crop? Are you asking yourself if you can farm the way you want – and be financially viable?

FarmStart’s Farm Viability Series is a chance to dig deep into financial tools for evaluating and improving your current or future farm business. The series of 4 Webinars, in partnership with NORDIK Institute and AMI, explores financial literacy for ‘working less and making more money’, setting prices, managing debt and accessing land.



Webinar #1:  Mind Your Business! Financial Literacy and Effective Business Management for Farmers
Richard Wiswall – December 8th, 2015 – 12 noon-1:30pm EST
Registration closes Monday Nov 30th 2015 at midnight.

What does it mean to be “In Business”? Why should you keep records? Because Richard said so? No! To better manage your farm business so you can work less and make more money? Yes! Now that you are in the farming business, learn the language of business. Be a highly effective manager, learn the macro and micro tools of financials, and benefit from some quick tips for success. The webinar will cover financial statements and efficient office practices.

Mind Your Business! is a more advanced course that follows Richard’s Planning For Profit. In 2013 Farm Management Canada, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and the Central Ontario Agricultural Conference hosted Richard for a web presentation archived as an Agriwebinar. Richard has generously agreed to answer questions from the Planning for Profit Agriwebinar as well as Mind Your Business! during the question period on Dec 8th, so maximize your time with him by watching Planning for Profit in advance and taking lots of notes!


Webinar #2:  Get Ahead of Debt: The 5 Things Farmers Should Know When Preparing For Farm Debt
James Craig – January 7th, 2016 – 12 noon-1pm EST
Registration closes Dec 31st 2015 at midnight

Are you looking for your farm’s first loan? Or is your farm looking to expand and needs to take on more debt? With farms, the word “debt” can be intimidating. But it doesn’t need to be.

Join FarmStart as James Craig speaks on the 5 things farmers should understand when preparing for farm debt. Familiarize yourself with debt concepts, understand how lenders analyze loan applications, and learn some new tips to advance your farm business.


Webinar #3:  What It’s Worth: Pricing Produce for Profit
Chris Blanchard – January 19th, 2016 – 7-8:30pm EST

Being a sustainable farmer is more than the farming methods you use, it also means ensuring you can stay in business regardless of your marketing outlet.  Chris Blanchard will help you navigate pricing strategies to meet your customer needs and your farm’s bottom line.

This webinar is offered by the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN). If you are registering for this webinar ONLY, do so at ACORN’s website. If you are registering for the 4-part Farm Viability Webinar Series, access info for What It’s Worth will be provided as part of the Series through FarmStart.

For more webinars by Chris Blanchard, join ACORN’s Winter Webinar Series. Other topics include Capturing and Organizing Data and Marking Horticultural Crops to Food Stores. Winter learning galore!


Webinar #4:  Land Access Strategies
by Farmers – to be held in February – details coming soon



Single Webinar – $25 each

All 4 Webinars – $70

3-part course + 4 webinars = $250  (If you’re near Guelph or Chatham, ON)


To register:

Questions? Contact Margaret at:


Webinar PosterSocial media

Farms the Way You’ve Never Seen Them Before!


Technology has been a major force in being able to farm more effectively and efficiently. Here are 6 videos demonstrating the beauty of agriculture that can be captured with personal farm drones!

1. Captivating footage of one family farm using their personal drone.


2. Drone footage of Bristle Farm’s 2014 whole corn harvesting process!


3. Farmer shows his fun side while using feed and cattle to make a smiley face.


4. Amazing drone footage of harvest season in Australia!


5.Watch the beauty of one farm through the transition from Winter to Spring.


6.An Average day on a dairy farm in Canada.


Top 10 “To Do” Items for Your Farm Business This Year

January is always a good time to “start fresh”, tackle farm business projects we have been putting off, and plan for the year ahead.

Here are 10 Things to do for your business this year:


1.  Review your will (or get one!)

Of course no one wants to think about their death, but having a will is critical in protecting the future of your business and your family. Who will take care of things if you should pass? Will the business be passed on to others or sold ?
If you already have a will, when was the last time you reviewed it? Have things in your life changed and is your will up to date with all your current assets ?

2.  Review insurance policies

Another task that can easily be put off. This may include health, life, or farm insurance.   Likely it will only take a few minutes of your time, but it is time well spent should something ever happen to you or your farm!

3.  Review your payables/receivables

This is the first step in preparing your yearly budget. Take the time to go through your bills, loan statements and other accounts to make sure you know what you owe and of course what is owed to YOU !

4.  Finish up year end financials (if your year end is Dec. 31st !)

Congratulations to you if you happen to be one of the few people who have all their year end financials in order!   If not get busy and get them cleared up so you can start the year fresh, knowing your books are up to date .

5.  Do production plans for the coming year

This will vary a bit, depending on what you produce. It may include grazing, crop, breeding or forage plans.

6.  Prepare a financial budget

I know you all just groaned to your selves at this one. Preparing a budget can seem overwhelming but it can be quite simple if you have the right tools.    If you need some help with this one don’t be afraid to ask for support !

7.  Figure out every business members goals for the coming year

Sometimes we get so busy thinking about the future of the business that we can forget to check in with the family and co-workers to hear what their own goals, plans and challenges are. As we start a New Year, why not sit down and listen to the needs of the people within the business!

8.  Set goals for your business

Slightly different than our personal goals, these are goals for the business as a whole. Are their changes you want to make, targets you want to hit in regard to production or finances?   How will you do that?

9.  Figure out your cost of production

Do you know how much profit you are making for every unit produced? How much is that cow really making you, or how much are you profiting from the bushel of wheat?

10.  Take a vacation!

No kidding. No one can work ALL the time and stay happy and healthy. Everyone needs to re-charge so we can operate through those busy months with energy and enthusiasm. Even just a weekend get away, or a night a week doing something you love can make all the difference to the success of your business.

This may seem like a lengthy list, and you probably won’t achieve all of these things overnight.  Over time though, remembering to have these key elements of our business in order will support us in creating a successful future.

All the best to you in the coming year!



Foodshed: Alberta’s Edible Alphabet – Interview with dee Hobsbawn-Smith

1. What does it mean to eat local? Why is this important?

I have a ‘concentric rings’ view of eating local as opposed to a set radius of distance. It ties in with the meaning of the word ‘foodshed’: a foodshed is a given geographic region’ s food, from gate to plate. So my concentric rings theory goes like this: Think of ripples spreading outward. If you can, grow a little garden. If it’s grown sustainably in your province, buy it in your province, especially meat. Then work outwards– B.C. for stone fruit and wine; eastern Canada for maple syrup; then North America for citrus and olives. The final ring is global, for those irresistible specialties-chocolate, coffee, tea, vanilla, dried figs and dates that simply don’t grow in Canada and that I don’t want to abandon. That kind of deprivation can lead to resentment! But things like fresh mangoes and pineapples are really best eaten in their own foodshed. And as for the year-round “global food whatever you want whenever you want it culture, food out of season,” well, it’s best to wait and eat it in my own back yard. Local food really does taste better.

So I don’t say we should ONLY eat local foods, just that we buy as much as we can from local producers, especially our protein sources which sit so high on the food chain and require so much water and resources to produce and to ship.

In real life, we spend our money on what we value.

Why eating local matters has many answers. Here are a few.

Local food is seasonal food. Food follows the rhythm of nature, a beat we find hard to hear in cities. And local food is more likely to be picked ripe, so it contains more nutrients. This really matters: fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Locally grown food doesn’t travel as far as most conventionally raised food, and local growers are more likely to select heirloom species of plants and seeds, with more flavour than varieties that are bred for the transporter’s or wholesaler’s convenience. So genetic diversity is encouraged, an important consideration in an era when seed and chemical companies like Monsanto are working hard to control seeds.

For the number-crunchers, according to several studies, farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas suburban development costs more than it generates in taxes. On average, for every dollar in revenue raised by residential development, government must spend $1.17 on services, thus requiring higher taxes of all taxpayers. In contrast, for each dollar of revenue raised by farm, forest, or open space, government spends only 34 cents on services.

Local food reflects its place, or terroir. Minerals, soil, aspect, water quality, air-all are incorporated into plants and animals as an expression of their locale. We are, as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin observed in the 1800s, the chief and complete sum of what we eat. If we consume food of our place, surely place is reflected in us.

And this too: buying food from someone we know gives consumers a chance to say thanks. Gratitude is a lovely seasoning.

2. How did you get interested in local food?

I am a farmer’s daughter, grand-daughter, great-grand-daughter., and an advocate, not an activist. I put my beliefs on the page and plate to enable people to make up their own minds; I think farmers and chefs are the real activists. At cooking school in France and in Ireland, I saw and ate and cooked foods from the back yard and the waters right off the coast. My mentor, Madeleine Kamman, took her students to farmers’ market in France during cooking school in 1985; during that trip I have recollections of her sniffing red currants at the market and casting a close eye on the locally made reblochon cheese on trips to local cheesemakers. Local was the norm for me. When I opened my restaurant Foodsmith in Calgary in 1992, I was lucky to have some local growers come to me. Then, after I sold the restaurant in 1994 and began writing and teaching, I also did farmgate tours. I had people asking me -in classes, during tours, by email to my Herald column days – where and who the good farmers were, and how to find what they grew.

3. What is the best way to access local food?

Buy raw ingredients, direct from the producer. Plant a garden, even if it’s just a few greens or a potful of carrots. Shop at a farmer’s market or local-foods store instead of the supermarket. Join a community garden, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or box program. Visit a u-pick farm.

4. Living in a colder climate, such as Alberta, how can consumers ensure that they eat local year round without compromising nutritional variety?

I’m no nutritionist, I’m a chef, but common sense suggests this: we live north of the 49th. That means we simply can’t get some local foods in winter. It’s best to eat in season, but also, to preserve the harvest-can, dry, freeze-to reduce winter dependence on imported foods.

5. In your book, you mention that the goal you had when writing the book was to “illuminate the faces and personal lives of farmers”. Why is it important to know your farmer?

There are many reasons knowing your farmer matters.
Studies show a multiplier effect– that every dollar spent on local food contributes $2.50 to the local economy, almost double what a dollar spent in a supermarket generates. What’s easier to understand is that selling direct puts eighty cents in a farmer’s pocket, as opposed to 10 cents when she sells to a wholesaler or distributor. Direct sales keep Albertan farmers on the farm. So buying local – especially if you buy direct from the farmer, at a farmers’ market or through a CSA-puts more money directly into the farmer’s hands.

Beyond that, I believe in community. It’s a big circle, and we are all part of the act of food. As Wendell Berry wrote, eating is an agricultural act. Eating and cooking and growing food are all communal acts: Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, calls consumers “co-producers”. In eating together, in sharing food, we support our community, and that is a rare and precious thing in an era of non-community in increasingly huge and impersonal cities.

The number of farms and farmers across Canada is on a steady decline, according to the latest Stats Can 2006-2011 figures (and figures for preceding years). The size of farms is increasing. The conclusions we can draw from those figures are not reassuring. If we do not support local farmers NOW who raise crops sustainably for the local market, we will not have as broad a choice or control over what we choose to eat in coming years.

I believe in the importance of choosing: I want to be able to ask my farmer how my food was grown, if it is being raised sustainably, if it is from non-GMO seeds, how animals are cared for, if they are pastured, what their diet is, if they are subjected to antibiotics, all those questions of provenance. Local food has visible provenance, and restores food to its ancient role as “food”, not “commodity.” Local growers can tell you details on what field and which cow. They can explain what animal husbandry practices they abide by, and exactly how and where our food is raised. As far as GMOs go, a 2006 survey by Decima showed that most Canadians mistrust genetically modified food as risky to consume, and mistrust the motives of corporations with a GMO agenda.

6. Given the laborious nature of running a farm, and the fact that running a viable farming business can prove difficult, how do we get young people to get interested in small-scale farming?

Good question.
A societal re-think about the importance of farmers to us, that’s all. Nothing too big. Well, really, a huge thing. Better pay for farmers-that may mean higher food prices. Offer more respect to farmers: it’s a career, not a cop-out. Provide networking and educational opportunities, including mentors and job-shadowing. Find ways to improve farm safety. Make our food production system safer and more transparent. Open and support small local abbatoirs and meat processing plants that kill fewer animals per day in more humane, safer, more traceable conditions.

Find ways to make access to farm land easier and less costly: could be leasing, or farmland conservancies that help match retiring farmers without inheritors to wanna-grow youth with no land.

7. Any words of wisdom to young farmers starting out?

Find a mentor who is successful; older farmers know lots! Specialize: find a niche and start small. Don’t automatically go into large-scale anything, especially if it means a huge debt load. Try to avoid the 2nd job syndrome: a farm has to be financially sustainable for it to remain viable in the long term. Charge what your time and work is worth. Investigate non-traditional alternatives like Slow Money and CSAs, where customers/clients are more involved financially. Network: join like-minded organizations like Slow Food to feel connected and share information: you are not alone.
Learn to market your food and yourself effectively, and become a person who is comfortable interacting with people. Learn how to tell your story in an authentic and engaging way. Everyone loves a good story, especially about their food. And please don’t call it a product. What you grow or make is food. It’s someone’s supper, not a commodity.