Our Farming Partners: Al and Hélène

In every blog post, I try to show our gratitude for the many people who have supported us in our venture. There is no one we are more grateful for than Al Boyko and Hélène Tremblay-Boyko. They have provided us with access to land, welcomed us into their home, and taught us the practical aspects of organic farming. Smart, compassionate, hardworking and funny, Al and Hélène have been the best partners we could ask for. While they have enthusiastically jumped into our hemp-growing project, their original goal was to find successors to their farm to keep their land in organic or sustainable production when they are ready to retire. In this blog post, I will give you a brief profile of Al and Hélène, and Breadroot Farm, to show our gratitude and in hopes that it might help connect them with future farming partners.

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Our first tour of the pasture on our first night at Breadroot Farm

We connected by chance when I built a profile for the XY Hemp Corporation on FarmLink. After Hélène’s first e-mail, I was able to browse the website she created for Breadroot Farm, which provided me with so much information about their philosophies and farming practices. We arranged an initial phone call, to explore what each of us could bring to a partnership – and if we were interested in pursuing one, given our different goals. As we shared information about our hopes and plans for the future, a plan began to emerge for our joint venture. We continued to discuss the plan for the next four months as we developed a crop share agreement, cropping plan, financing terms and organized our first visit to Breadroot Farm. It was thrilling to be building a relationship through collaboration and we were so impressed by the generosity and understanding our future partners were showing us. It was so great to be able to find landowners who were active on this online land-linking platform, open to a new type of agriculture, interested in teaching new farmers (with no previous experience!), and willing to share the risks of our first crop together.

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Chad and I were nervous about our first meeting, but our concerns quickly dissolved when we arrived in Canora, Saskatchewan in May 2015Another libra lady, Hélène and I connected quickly through a shared intellect and appreciation for balance and partnership. A former french immersion teacher, Hélène is an excellent and patient teacher (Chad and I are also former french immersion students!). I have a deep appreciation for Hélène’s intelligence, including her knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and eagerness to learn new things. She is also highly organized and helps with the website administration of The Farmer’s Table, a sustainable agriculture initiative to sell fresh food straight from farmers to families in Regina and Saskatoon. Aware of the balance between hard work and play, Hélène is also very festive and a gracious host. She likes to engage in celebration through song and food and has welcomed musicians, chefs, and many aspiring farmers into her home.

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Chad and Hélène making ketchup.

Hélène channels these gifts into so many worthwhile causes. She is active in her compassion through her work with Development and Peace, and caring for the elderly and homebound residents in her rural community. Hélène is also very passionate about the struggle of rural peasants throughout the world and is conscious of the impact climate change will have on these vulnerable populations. She recently travelled to Paris to participate in COP21 with Development and Peace and other non-profit organizations. Through this lens, she has been able to teach Chad and I about organic farming by not only explaining how it is done, but why it is important to our world.

Al is an absolute delight; he has a quick wit and ever present sense of humour, which is so necessary given the ups and downs of farming. Like many farmers, Al has a never ending set of skills including mechanics, mathematics, negotiation, as well as a deep knowledge of organic farming practices. Al helped me set up the calculations to determine how to calibrate the seed drill for hemp, and helped Chad and I set up the experiment to ensure we were putting the right amount of seed at the right depth. He also patiently taught Chad how to drive the tractor with the harrow on the back, which was a challenge for two large men in a very small space! Al likes to tell stories, which were endlessly entertaining for Chad and I, and delivers lots of his advice in the form of short one-liners. Anyone who knows me knows that this is the best way to communicate with me. Our favourite saying was “How long COULD it take”, which helped Chad and I remember that not all things would happen on our tightly organized schedule.

Al and Hélène are also entrepreneurs themselves, as independent farmers, co-operative founders and former owners of a bakery in Preeceville, Saskatchewan. Al baked delicious, organic, whole grain bread almost every day while Chad and I visited, which was such a treat for us. They are also founding members of The Farmer’s Table and active members of Farmer Direct Co-op, a small organic co-operative (and the buyer of our organic hemp). Al and Hélène sell their grass-fed beef, as well as seasonal vegetables, through the Farmer’s Table and sell their grain crops through Farmer Direct Co-op. They take a really active role in their farms operations, the marketing of their products, and their community.

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Amsterdam, SK, is between Breadroot Farms and Canora, SK.

 

Breadroot farm is beautiful place in the Good Spirit region of Saskatchewan. The farmland has been certified organic since 2000 and they began raising organic grass-fed beef in 2008. Because they have worked so hard to nurture their land and maintain their organic certification, through OCIA (their current certifier is TransCanada Organic Certification Services), they are looking for partners who will carry on with sustainable agricultural practices. Some of their land will be placed in trust with Farmland Legacies, who will lease it to farmers who share a commitment to sustainable agriculture. However, Al and Hélène also believe farm land should be owned by farmers, and have held some aside to sell to future partners looking to establish themselves in the area. Lastly, there is a lovely conservation easement covering some of the pastureland owned by Breadroot Farm, which provides crucial habitat to prairie wildlife.

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Wildflowers in the conservation easement.
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Prairie Lillies.

 

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The yearlings…always so curious.

Al and Hélène have ambitious goals for their farm. They wish to live in:

  • in a vibrant community made up of a balance of young and mature families engaged in organic, sustainable living and farming,
  • where there are abundant natural resources including productive land with areas set aside for wildlife habitat,
  • where there are healthy water, mineral and energy cycles,
  • where a land legacy system is in place to ensure land access for future generations, and
  • where mentoring is ongoing and knowledge is shared from generation to generation.

We are incredibly grateful to be working with Al and Hélène on our hemp venture, and we would like to support their search for long-term farming partners who are interested in establishing a life in rural Saskatchewan. If you are interested in learning more about Al and Hélène and life on Breadroot Farm please visit their website: https://sites.google.com/site/breadrootfarm/

or send them an e-mail!

breadrootfarms@gmail.com

 

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Land Access for The XY Hemp Corporation

March 25, 2015 The XY Hemp Corporation completes a significant step in our business plan: signing the crop share agreement with Breadroot Farms.

The crop share agreement is a hybrid between a traditional crop share contract and a production agreement. This flexibility has allowed us to craft a truly unique partnership with our organic producers, Hélène Tremblay-Boyko and Al Boyko. We are growing 60 acres of hemp this summer and sharing input costs and profits from the sale. This structure allows The XY Hemp Corporation to share risk, costs and access mentorship from experienced organic producers.

As young professionals, C and I have limited experience with agriculture. An 8-month co-op term at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture exposed me to different land access arrangements for young farmers. These alternative models of land access include incubator farms, land linking, co-operative farming and farmland trusts. Breadroot farms is actively searching for young agrarians to take over sustainable operations on their farm through land linking initiatives such as FARMLink. Al and Hélène have also set aside land for a farmland trust called Farmland Legacies. Our joint venture is a blend of land linking and co-operative farming.

Star Spangled (Future) Hemp Field on Breadroot Farms, SK
Star Spangled (Future) Hemp Field on Breadroot Farms, SK

In exchange for a land rental fee, a 30% share of seed sales and reimbursement for machinery operations, Breadroot Farms is providing The XY Hemp Corporation with 60 acres of pristine organic land and the mentorship of organic farmers with over 20 years of experience growing field crops in Saskatchewan. The location is perfect for hemp seed sales: close to the Manitoba border where the majority of hemp processing occurs.

Al and Hélène have grown a wide variety of field crops, but have never grown hemp. C and I were able to apply for a license to grow industrial hemp from Health Canada with permission from Breadroot farms. This application has been received and processed and we anticipate our license to be issued at the end of April, 2015. We have also accessed the support of Larry Marshall, an experience organic hemp farmer in Northern Saskatchewan. With these three incredible resources, C and I will learn so much about farming this summer.

The crop share agreement is the first contract on a series that sets our dreams into motion. Our next major milestone will be a production contract with a seed buyer. The XY Hemp Corporation and Breadroot Farms are currently reviewing several contracts and are very excited to move forward together!

-K

P.S. My pitch video is still up for votes online, please watch and give it a little “heart”

Pitch It! Plan It! Build It!

Start-up companies need lots of support, from our friends and family who understand why we are working late and always on the phone, to the incredibly valuable advice offered to young entrepreneurs. This week, The XY Hemp Corporation is meeting and working with start-up accelerators in Victoria and Edmonton for additional support.

The Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs (ICE) at the University of Victoria has been an excellent resource during the development of our business plan. After an initial intake meeting, we were directed towards Lean Stack, an online platform that helps entrepreneurs define their products and markets more clearly. These one-page descriptions of our products and customers are perfect for showcasing where we are now, and where we want to be in five years.

We are  participating in a few pitch and plan competitions through ICE this spring. My video submission for PitchIt! is online now, so please watch it and give me a little “heart” so The XY Hemp Corporation can win $500. I will be presenting the elevator pitch live for a panel of judges on March 31st, for another cash prize of $300. These funds will help C and I travel to Saskatchewan this summer to work with Breadroot Farms.

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ICE entrepreneur coach, Robin Milne, has been absolutely amazing. He has helped get my pitch and plan together by providing advice, resources, and letting me just talk things out. Recently, he helped to edit a short company description to submit to TEC Edmonton. The submission was successful and we have an initial meeting with TEC Edmonton Thursday March 19. The XY Hemp Corporation is looking to access the support of a larger start-up accelerator, and TEC Edmonton is the best in Canada!

TEC Edmonton was named the number one start-up incubator in Canada and the number three university business incubator in North America in 2014.  We are most interested in the services provided by the business development, technology management and entrepreneur education teams. TEC Edmonton is an ideal partner as we move beyond the pilot and expanded production phase and into processing industrial hemp. The TEC Venture prize is also an amazing opportunity for start-ups to access capital for expansion, and we hope to be able to compete in that competition after we have solidified our processing goals.

We are extremely grateful for the support we have already received, from Breadroot Farms, Larry Marshall and ICE, just to name a few! With their help we have developed a viable business case for 2015 that will be presented at the ICE PlanIt! competition on April 2nd. If we are successful in that competition, The XY Hemp Corporation will win $5000, which will contribute to our input costs and the transportation of hemp seeds to the commercial buyer. Farming is uncertain and more capital will give us more flexibility when responding to growing conditions this summer. We are very excited to work with ICE to pitch it and plan it, and hope to work with TEC Edmonton in the future to build our dream.

-K

P.S. link to PitchIt! video is: http://uvicpitchitonline.hscampaigns.com/ . Remember to click the little heart!