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How these first-time farmers blazed a trail to business success

For a new farmer building a farm business from scratch, a sound business strategy is a must. With no family-based network to fall back on, these farmers turn to the resources, acumen and innovative thinking that brought them to farming.

There’s a lot to learn from their business experiences.

Farm market inspiration

For Stephanie Lipp and Leo Gillis of Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador, mushroom farming wasn’t always on their radar.

Having spent most of their lives in the Greater Toronto area in various non-farming jobs, it wasn’t until a chance visit to a Mississauga farmer’s market in 2018 changed their life’s path.

Lipp, who was known by her friends for her intense dislike of mushrooms, popped a blue oyster gourmet mushroom in her mouth, and the rest is history.

“I couldn’t believe how amazing they were,” she says. “It was instant passion.”

Plan the business

That started a series of events that led them to leave Ontario and head to Newfoundland, Gillis’ home province. By the time they began their operation in 2020, the one thing Lipp rapidly learned is the value of a succinct business plan.

“I didn’t understand why it was so important,” she admits. “But really digging in and writing down your thoughts and ideas, it became very apparent that a plan was needed. Not only that, but it also needs to continue on as a living document.”

As they began to build out their micro-scale mushroom farm, they quickly outgrew their space. They’re now developing a 4,000 square foot indoor farm in Bonavista, one of North America’s most eastern points.

Grow the entrepreneurial spirit

Lipp and Gillis also found out that mushroom farming is about a lot more than just fungi.

Finding the right contractors, experimenting with mushroom growing techniques, navigating Facebook ad marketing, financial forecasting and food safety have been good learning curves for the entrepreneurial couple.

“Having the knowledge and skill to make it happen and the work ethic is very important, but if you don't build the business, there won't be reliable sales channels or a strong growth plan and it won’t be financially viable,” Lipp says. “We’ve discovered how interconnected the various aspects of our business are.”

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During the late summer and early fall, pea leaf weevil (PLW) adults are feeding on peas and faba beans before moving to overwintering areas (perennial legumes). PLW prefer faba beans over peas, but can cause economic damage in both crops. Scouting for PLW this growing season may be able to provide farmers with an indication of population levels for next year to inform seed treatment decisions. There are several weevils that may cause leaf notching, but only the PLW is a pest of peas and fabas, so it's important that you get an accurate ID of weevils in the field. PLW will disperse by flight in the spring, moving to pea and faba bean host crops. Foliar insecticides generally do not provide worthwhile protection, so making an informed seed treatment decision will help manage this pest.