Written by Lucia Stephen
"Small farms have clear support and momentum – and it’s time for the government to see that."
“We grow 2.5 acres of mixed vegetables, herbs and flowers in a region that is considered a ‘hot spot’ for young farmers,” says Émilie. “I think we’re lucky – within just a few years, there are now more than 20 small-scale organic farms in our region that are really working together to help one another succeed. If you need anything, there are at least two or three farms nearby for support. Though choosing a life in farming can be stigmatized, we believe the community we have here represents the future, and it looks very positive.” Though maintaining adaptability and resilience in the face of a shifting economy and climate have always been a central value for the farm, the arrival of COVID-19 put the team to the test – mainly in figuring out whether they would be able to attain or even exceed their annual profits, and how the farm would adapt to a fully online ordering system.
But like many farms, Les Jardins du Chat Noir faced concerns about how to safely manage distribution. “As June approached, we were trying to figure how to manage our drop-off points, but it came together quite intuitively,” explains Émilie. “We mask up, keep our distance and use a ton of hand sanitizer – it’s been fine and our customers have been responsible in maintaining the same precautions.” “My partner Maude and I joined as co-farm managers/owners in 2019,” says Émilie. “Because the farm offers both CSA and farmers’ market sales, it was important that we establish a smooth system that could provide a central resource for all of us to develop and track our crop plan: weekly inventories, seed orders, customer invoices, etc. Based on what I learned from my agri- cultural studies, I already knew of some strategies that could offer help, but certainly, finding a hugely supportive program, like Tend.com, has been a real game-changer.”
Defined as a service “for farmers by farmers,” Tend.com promises “one software platform to manage your small-scale farm” and provides a centralized system for small- scale growers with multi-channel sales. Created by a team dedicated to building the best tools tailored for small-scale farms, the service covers a lot of ground, including all aspects of the small farm’s operation, from planning through sales. “Within one day of using the free trial and seeing a clear path to saving time and money, I was totally converted,” says Émilie with a laugh. “The days of creating several complex spreadsheets are over! We do our crop planning on Tend.com in November. Everything - seed and amend- ment orders - is integrated, so we have a very easy, all-in-one system to use. It monitors many different things, including our weekly inventory lists and all of our online orders.”
The fall and winter months are a great time to test new farm tools and strategies, and by doing so, farmers can find ways to consolidate systems to reduce overhead and increase efficiency. “Ultimately, using Tend.com makes our lives easier and allows us to focus on other ways to sell more and improve our overall business model,” says Émilie. “It also has the ability to integrate with a Shopify platform, and with its new Pick & Pack feature, we can see all of our orders as one aggregated list – making the management of various farming tasks a lot smoother.”
With so much going on, what’s on the horizon for Les Jardins du Chat Noir? “Adjusting our CSA program to spread out through half a year, and growing lots and lots of fruit!” exclaims Émilie. “This year has made the importance of growing more powerful than ever and I’m feeling so grateful for doing what I do. After two years of experimenting with agriculture full-time and never wanting to ‘shut-off’ at 5 pm, I’ve realized that being a farmer is the path for me. I want to give myself the best possible work environment every day of my life. And really, our field is that place.”