Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck farm 15 acres of veggies, herbs, fruits, cut flowers, vegetable transplants, and cover crop in River Hebert, a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada. They started Broadfork Farm in 2011 on leased land, and then purchased their own property the following year. I spoke with Shannon about their move, and subsequent goals for their small farm business.
During their one-year lease at Windhorse Farm in Lunenburg County, “both sides were generous enough to go above and beyond,” said Shannon. She attributes their positive experience there to open communication. They spent a long time and put a lot of effort into coming up with the lease agreement, including discussion on all possible needed inputs, including compost and water usage. While they did not think water would be a concern that year, the well ran dry early on in the season, and the farmers were glad to have an open dialogue with their hosts.
While the lease agreement remained positive, Bryan and Shannon wanted to purchase their own land for several reasons. They had a vision for their farm, and needed their own land to make it happen. They had put a lot of energy into other people’s farms thus far, and in 2012, were at a point in their lives where they wanted to focus their energy on their own property. They wanted to build infrastructure, plant perennials, and obtain organic certification. The hunt for land began.
Shannon and Bryan were vocal about their search for land, and their friends and customers seemed happy to get involved. People at their farmers market always had leads on land that they might be able to farm almost every week. What ultimately panned out was a call from someone who had heard of them through ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network), and referred them to her elderly neighbor, who was looking for someone to buy her property. She wanted to meet the next potential landowners before she sold it to them, and she wanted young farmers to do something with the land that would jive with her own vision for the farm.
This site in River Herbert was 3.5 hours away from where they were leasing, and they had not planned to leave their community there, but this woman’s land had good vegetable-growing soil and a farmhouse, besides being affordable for Shannon and Bryan. The 15-acre parcel would become Broadfork Farm.
They right away set out to get a mortgage, which was not the smoothest ride for Shannon and Bryan. Farm Credit Canada told them that in order to become eligible, one of them would have to get a full time job off the farm. Since they were not interested in getting an employee, that was not an option for Broadfork Farm. They next went to their credit union, which happened to not deal with farm mortgages. Finally, they went to the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, and they were approved! They did an assessment of Shannon and Bryan’s property, farm business plan, and finances, and Shannon and Bryan were approved for a mortgage.
Their year leasing gave them a practice round, making them ready to dive into their new market in River Herbert. Their record keeping procedures and website were already off the ground. Now that they had their own land, they could work towards organic certification, as well as invest in more infrastructure. They built high tunnels, having been able to improve upon their original greenhouse design that they used at Windhorse farm. Instead of scaling up in acreage at their new farm, they instead downsized a bit, and increased efficiency. Their goals for expansion include being more efficient and using things better, instead of getting bigger. They also want to keep their farm at a scale on which they do not need an employee, as they strive to make their own livelihood, and hope to avoid the cycle of looking for and relying on employees.
When asked what her advice for new young farmers, Shannon said, “Put yourself out there.” Since so many people in their local community knew they were looking for land, as well as fellow ACORN members, they heard about lots of different opportunities in their area. Building relationships has been important not only for building their new market and meeting friends and customers, but also in the ways they’ve leased and purchased land.