Building a small farm business is hard
Anyone who has done so knows you put in tons of hours, get little sleep, and fret over every little detail.
Most of us are not intuitively aware of all the intricacies of how to take a dream and make it into a business reality. We may want to do it, but actually getting there requires effort, nerve and fortitude. A roadmapalways helps.
So when organizations like the Columbia Basin Trust and its partners help organize events like the just-concluded Basin Food & Buyers Expo in Invermere, the lessons and the valuable connections that flow from them are worth every single penny spent.
Amanda and I have been going to FABx every year it has been held since inception in 2018; either in person or online during COVID restrictions.
And every time we do, we come away eyes-wide with opportunities and learnings about how to make our honey production business better.
What We Get From FABx
This time we’ve made connections with half a dozen new wholesale buyers who want our growing list of creamed, specialty and liquid honeys, bodycare and beeswax products. That’s gratifying, and it helps our goal of positioning ourselves as a significant retail/wholesale honey supplier in B.C.
We haven’t lost our guiding goal of being beekeepers and taking care of our hardest little workers. That will always be a foundation stone for our business. Look after the bees, and they look after us.
But we also know that there is a world of people out there who want our healthy, wholesome products. How to get it to them and build a profitable business is, of course, the underlying premise of events like the Basin Food & Buyers Expo.
Basin Business Advisors
I wish that I had room to tell you of all the wonderful lessons that came from these two days in Invermere. But here are a few. Danny Turner, the chief at the Basin Business Advisors, put a fine point on why starting at farmers’ markets is good. But if you want to scale up you need to form relationships with packers, distributors and wholesalers. The BBA offers support, counselling and mentorship to small businesses Turner also owns and operates Just-A-Mere Organic Farm in Creston.(We pollinate his cherries and apples.)
Ballantine, who built Central Park Farms in Metro Vancouver into a powerhouse direct-to-customer business, caused me to re-examine the way we interact with customers, and how to build deeper relations with the many stores that already stock our products.
There was also a huge amount of discussion about the use and need for regional food hubs, such as the new Creston Valley Food Hub and Innovation Centre, which offers a co-packing facility, commercial kitchen and new industrial-sized freeze-dryer. That alone is a significant community asset for small-scale food producers who may be challenged to build their own processing facility.
Farmers’ Market & New Products
After the event, the doors were open to the public to buy at an impromptu farmers’ market. Here you could get anything, from jams from Saunders Family Farm, to fruit and vegetables from Creston’s Rosewood Orchards (for whom we pollinate), to Lark Coffee, who owner Llana Cameron sources a women-owned farmers collective coffee that we use in our own coffee-infused creamed honey.
It was also an opportunity for Amanda and I to unveil the newest in our line of seasonally-available creamed honey products: cranberry-orange and pumpkin spice. Oh, we still produce our signature Swan Valley liquid honey from our Kootenay Wildflower hives, but we’re also finding opportunities to build our Honey Bee Zen-branded creamed and varietal honeys.
Every time I come home from such an event I am juiced up about opportunities. Someone once coined the phrase about “drinking from a firehose” when trying to take it all in. I always come away feeling like I am drowning in information.
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