When a group of North Okanagan agricultural entrepreneurs joined together last fall, many felt like their business had hit an impassable roadblock.
Lost farmgate sales, COVID-19, and marketing efforts that weren’t seeing a return led eight small business owners to the REACH agricultural business accelerator program. Through Community Futures North Okanagan, the participants gained access to the tools and support they needed to scale up and succeed.
“The REACH program put real data onto what I was doing instead of going on intuition,” says Doug Gordon, Owner and Beekeeper of The Okanagan Honey Co. “You don’t know. You might be spending half of your time on something that only makes you 10 per cent of your profit. It was really nice to get all those numbers, put them all on paper, and figure out what’s actually happening.”
Based on the success of the pilot program and the response of REACH members, CF North Okanagan recognized the continued need for the program.
“When we introduced the program, we sought to bring the agricultural business community greater support in identifying opportunities that will help them stay strong and resilient,” says Kazia Mullin, Business Services Manager, CF North Okanagan. “Now that we’ve seen how great the need is and what a difference it makes, we wanted to bring this opportunity to more producers.”
Starting in October, the 22-week program moves participants through five phases of business development to identify gaps and opportunities. Along the way, REACH members will participate in workshops, gain access to federal and provincial grants and funding, grow a network of peers in the North Okanagan, and engage in one-on-one coaching with program facilitator Andrea Gunner—a leading agrologist and agricultural consultant who also runs a pastured poultry operation in the North Okanagan.
“It’s such a delight to very gently guide people and watch them take flight,” says Gunner. “The business growth that has happened through the program is incredibly inspiring.”
When the program ends in March 2022, participants leave the program with an actionable plan that paves the way to reaching long-term and short-term business goals.
“Last year’s participants entered the program looking for support. Many felt like their business was done because of COVID. Their marketing model didn’t work anymore. They felt stalled,” says Gunner. “By the end of the program, REACH was full of enlightened people. Not because of me, but because of their hard work and their new community of people running a business with the same obstacles. Having that support group was tremendously empowering for them.”
Rising food supply costs also present a challenge to agricultural entrepreneurs, Gunner says.
“As someone who cares about my community and people who are disadvantaged, that’s of great concern to me,” says Gunner. “But there’s also an opportunity for someone to fill that need. REACH can help you find those opportunities and efficiencies by helping you look at your business with a different mindset.”
Now, six months after the pilot program ended, Gordon says his biggest takeaway was identifying and overcoming his business’s weaknesses.
“It’s just really helpful to have that solid information,” says Gordon. “I feel like I actually know my business better.”
To learn more and apply for the REACH program, presented in partnership with Accelerate Okanagan and the Regional District of North Okanagan, visit www.futuresbc.com/reach. The deadline for applications is Sept. 30.