Aliyah Fraser is growing space for women in agriculture
Running a business

Aliyah Fraser is growing space for women in agriculture

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the stories of the amazing women in small business that are conquering male-dominated industries and working to #breakthebias.

Name: Aliyah Fraser

Location: Kitchener, ON, Canada

Business: Lucky Bug Farm

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What does your business do?

Lucky Bug Farm is a small-scale market garden where I grow a variety of vegetables and herbs based on ecological principles, on a quarter-acre of rented rural land in Waterloo Region. Throughout the summer and early fall I sell my produce at my local farmer’s market in downtown Kitchener and through a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. 2022 will be Lucky Bug Farm’s second season in production. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

I decided to start my own business—and particularly a farm-based business—because there was something that felt so simple and fulfilling about growing food for people and building relationships around that food. 

I originally went to school to be an urban planner, but after working in the land use industry for around a year after graduating, I felt that there was a huge gap between the stated goal of urban planning and the reality of the profession. I wanted to do something that had a direct and positive impact on people’s lives but I didn’t know exactly what. That’s when I found out about Cheyenne Sundance, Founder and Farm Director of an urban farm in Toronto called Sundance Harvest and saw myself represented in agriculture for the first time. So, while I was still working as an urban planner, I took part in a mentorship run by Cheyenne called Growing in the Margins, and learned the basics of market farming. In early 2021, I decided to start Lucky Bug Farm.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year?

It is incredibly difficult to run a business alone, at least at first. Last year I was the farmer, the market vendor, the social media manager, the sales and marketing team, the accountant and bookkeeper, and so much more all at once. As much as I thought I was prepared, there was a ton that I didn’t know and had to learn coming into this year, most importantly about building a schedule and routine that works for both me and my business. 

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

I’ve seen a meme online about people starting a business to “work their own hours'' instead of the standard 9-to-5, Monday to Friday working schedule, who end up working 24/7. I feel like this has been true for me so far. In some ways I enjoy it and in others, not so much!

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? How did you learn about it?

I had a lot to learn about both commercial growing and owning a business. I gained a lot of knowledge from farming alone last season but still had a lot to learn about entrepreneurship. So last fall I took a program offered by my local small business center for people who’ve recently started businesses or would like to start one. The program taught us about how to build a realistic business plan, prepare a cash flow document and eventually present it to a committee for the opportunity to receive grant funding. I was really grateful to receive some of this funding to help cover the costs of moving to a new growing space this year.

How does running your own business make you feel?

Running Lucky Bug Farm has allowed me to express myself in a way I haven’t ever been able to before in my work. I’m able to channel my values into my work and to have people respond to that really makes my heart feel full.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner?

I think one of the biggest challenges has been the precarity of farming on rented land. The basis of ecological farming is the soil. We add organic matter like compost into the soil to “feed” it, and in return, microorganisms and fungi in the soil “feed” the plants that we grow. Having to move growing spaces immediately after setting up a plot and the infrastructure that comes with it was a huge blow. But I’m thankful to have found a new growing space for this year that I hope to grow on for many seasons to come.

What are your proudest moments?

It makes me really proud to go to the farmer’s market and have people stop by week after week to chat about how they cooked what they’d bought last time and how much they enjoyed it!

What are the next big plans you have for your business?

Last year I didn’t know what to expect and only went to the farmer’s market bi-weekly but this season I’ll be going to the market every single Saturday. I’ll also be increasing the size of my CSA program this year from five people to 35 people.

What are three things that you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner?

A balance of listening to the advice of others and listening to my gut. Not all the advice you get as a business owner will be applicable to your context and you shouldn’t let everything you hear steer you away from what you feel is right for your business. Second, my family, friends, and my partner who have always believed in me, sometimes more than I believe in myself. And third, learning from my “failures” instead of letting them scare me off.

What challenges do you feel are unique to female small business owners?

I think that all women who own businesses—but especially women who own and operate farm businesses by ourselves—constantly have to prove that we are physically strong enough to do this work, in a way that men are rarely asked to. 

What is it like working in an industry that some might see as traditionally male-dominated? Have you come up against any bias?

It’s tough! I’m really lucky to be farming in an area that has a lot of established farms that are owned and operated by women. But as a Black woman, when I go to market with my partner who is a white man, he has to tell people that I am the farmer or else they will assume that it’s his farm.

Is there anything you want other women to know about working in your industry?

I want other women to know—and in particular, other Black women who are looking to start their own market garden—that there is space for them in this industry. Even if it may not seem like it at first.

What advice would you give to other women starting their own business?

I would tell other women starting their own business to start small. I feel like women are conditioned to try and do everything at once but when it comes to business, especially at first, less is more. I would also tell them not to be afraid to promote themselves shamelessly without a second thought! 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

I live with my partner Thomas and my kitty Frankie, and they’re the ones who help me get through a tough day.

How can female business owners support one another and their community?

By being a source of knowledge to women who are starting new business, sharing resources, and finding opportunities to give back whatever and whenever possible.

What’s your “power song” and why? 

This answer changes seasonally because I really love music but right now I’d have to say “Dead Right Now” by Lil Nas X or any of Megan Thee Stallion’s songs!

To learn more about Lucky Bug Farm and to support the business check them out on Instagram and Facebook. 

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