The Canadian Agriculture industry is changing, and Ashala Daniel is doing her part to change with it through her shared business, Three Feet Below.
This business is no ordinary business though. She and two of her fellow peers from the Richmond Farm School (Esther and Katie), were given the opportunity start this three-year endeavor that includes leasing ½ an acre of land to produce crops while still receiving mentorship. It’s a unique incubator program offered by the city of Richmond and the Richmond Farm School to give program grads the opportunity to start farming right off the bat and start growing a business.
I spoke with Ashala to gain insights on this unique programs and what life is like in the agriculture industry, and here’s what she had to say!
How did you know that the Agriculture industry was where you wanted to grow your career?
It was kind of was a step-by-step process but, I think a pivotal moment was when I went out to the cherry farm in Richmond which is where Coquitlam runs their farm school out of. I met with a lady who was a fourth year at that time, and she walked me through the farm and showed me where all the classes and learning happens. I had worked in offices my entire life, and I was feeling like my body was getting wrecked from sitting behind a desk. I have been an avid gardener for a long time and something clicked for me that I knew agriculture was something that I wanted to do full time. It has definitely made me feel better emotionally, physically, mentally.
How is Three Feet Below different from other farming businesses?
We are small scale, only farming on ½ an acre, have to grow by organic standards, and it’s very different in that we are a functioning business, but we still have mentors available to us and a mentorship program that allows us to continue learning. A lot of people think of farming as hundreds of acres but were trying to form a business on ½ an acre.
How does the Richmond Farm School incubator program work?
The city of Richmond owns the land and they let Coquitlam use it. Then we pay a lease that is very low, and is meant to be a part of this incubator program so that graduates from the Richmond Farm School can farm right away and have these three years of growing a business and making it work while still accessing the mentors.
What are your goals for your business?
Ultimately we want to succeed in these three years. We’d like our first year to be lucrative enough that we are easily able to move into the second year but we’re not necessarily looking to make a profit with start-up costs etc. are high. We would like to create a name for ourselves and a customer base that allows us to have a more solid business plan to get a bigger lease after these three years, move into commercial space, and basically to keep expanding.
Where do you see your career within agriculture going?
I want to be starting a commercial kitchen, and this is the city part of it which would keep me in the city to some degree. But ultimately I want to live outside of the city on a bigger acreage and to be able to still keep doing what I’m doing (growing good, processing food, selling everything through that sector). For the foreseeable future I would like to stay in farmers markets. I like the idea of being able to form relationships with the customers and for the customers to be able to meet the farmers that their buying from.
What has been the biggest challenge thus far for you when starting your agriculture career?
I think I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to not live at the farm. It’s way more of a time commitment than anticipated, I would much rather be able to live there on the farm.
How do you think that students and new grads going into the industry are impacting Canadian agriculture?
I think a lot more young people are really interested in where their food comes from, like the idea of being outside, and growing food. My son is now working on one of the most successful farms in BC and I hear a lot more from him how many you apprentices are coming through and how passionate they are. I think we’re only going to see more and younger farmers, and the trick for them will be to find land.
What is your advice for those starting a career in agriculture?
I think that ultimately you have to come out of an agricultural program and want to create your own opportunities. And, don’t do it if you don’t love it. The only way to move forward is to love it. I’m constantly surprised by how little people know still about agriculture.