Kim Kalyn Photography
Kristen Jordan comes from a family of farmers and ranchers. She grew up in Alberta and was accustomed to the long hours involved in being a farmer. She inherited an orchard (with her brother) on Shuswap Lake in 1986; however, farming wasn’t a career the 20 something woman considered. “I had no interest in it whatsoever,” she says from her Vancouver Island home. At the time, she was doing contracts for the United Nations and the Canadian International Development Agency working on environmental and food security projects in East Africa.
“It was about 10 years ago, when my son was born, I realized I didn’t want to travel any more. I had kept the orchard, but the forest had overtaken it and the bears had eaten all the apples,” she says. “I was living in Victoria and didn’t want to move to the Shuswap. My parents had moved here too. I wanted to start a cidery, partly because of the orchard I already owned, and partly because I wanted a career change.”
Jordan did her research and realized markets and growing conditions were perfect in the Victoria area. In 2002, she and her then-husband started a business plan, took cider-making courses, and in 2004 bought 10 acres of land and incorporated Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse.
“It was primarily sheep pasture,” Jordan explains. “We planted 1,000 apple trees that fall. The cider house was completed in 2006 and in 2007 she opened the doors for business. And my, how that business has grown.
“We divide our business into different territories,” she says. “We have wholesale customers throughout B.C., but primarily on the Island and the Lower Mainland. In addition, we sell to wholesale customers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Yukon and into Washington, Oregon and Minnesota.
Sea Cider’s sales have always been done in house; first, with her doing all the selling and then with a full time salesperson. “We’ve looked at the potential for market expansion, but we aren’t selling outside of North America at the time. The strategy is to take the sales that come most easily and where we see the greatest demand.”
Noticeably absent from her list of clientele, are buyers from Ontario. “We don’t sell into Ontario yet, because it is easier to sell into the U.S. from a regulatory point of view. In some ways we look at it as a positive thing [selling into Washington, Oregon and Minnesota]. The market is primed for cider right now. We compete with a couple dozen cideries and we are about the most expensive cider on the shelf. We are certified organic and the quality of our cider over all keeps us in the U.S. market.”
In the beginning, Jordan did it all. Today they have a full time production manager and a lead production assistant. There is a sales and marketing coordinator and several sales associates, full and part time.
The cidery holds private events, corporate events, group luncheons, and weddings on site. “That brings in more awareness and revenue,” explains Jordan. “It’s shrinking as a percentage of our income, but it is only because our wholesale is growing so much.”
“These days it is all about planning for growth and business development. Ours is a diversified operation with apples as the core theme. We have tour and tastes, private events and our wholesale business.”
When not overseeing the cidery, Jordan can be found in her office tweaking spreadsheets and trying to figure out different scenarios. As for the future of farming itself, Jordan is highly optimistic. “The future looks bright for young farmers who recognize the importance of diversifying their income sources. Farming today means you have to be computer literate and marketing savvy. You need to brush up on your spreadsheets and your business planning.”
Most important, she says, is to reach out for advice. “Farm Credit Canada offers short courses on financial planning and financial ratios and those were hugely helpful to me.”
Then there’s web presence. “Having a great website is also an important tool in today’s world to get the word out about business. You don’t have to spend lots of money for a good website; if you are computer savvy you can do it yourself. If you aren’t, hire somebody!
“It’s important to know when to outsource for what you aren’t good at. We are often blind to our shortcomings. I tend to spend most of the time doing things I like to do and I neglect things I don’t like to do – even if those things are important – so I hire someone to make sure those things are done.”
Jordan reflects on her beginnings. “In a sense I got into the business of farming as part of a lifestyle choice. However, the only way to farm sustainably is to think about it as a business and think about the notion that you are growing widgets. You have to have a passion for growing things – in my case heritage apples. I know I can’t continue to do it unless I treat it like any other business. I think the biggest epiphany I had is whether you call yourself a farmer or a businessperson, you are a problem solver first. You need the stamina, a healthy dose of optimism to stay in the game.”■