The average startup time for a tech company is about three to five years. Marc Angelo Coppola says that for a farm, the time it takes to get a startup on its feet spans an entire generation. At the moment, the learning curve is the least of his worries.
Marc Angelo grew up on the outskirts of Montreal, and describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. Starting with a skate park in his teens, he is consistently moving and shaking whatever industry he’s in. After over a decade in digital marketing, Marc Angelo is stepping away from the digital space to innovate in the dirt: He’s made the leap into full time farming.
When Marc first encountered the land that would eventually become his, it was a series of GMO corn and soya bean fields, covered in pesticides. The stretch of land is now called Valhalla Farms, and it’s roaring back to life with more enriched soil, sustainable farming practices, and crops that include garlic, lettuce, mushrooms, and tomatoes and so much more.
Being a first generation farmer means that you’re approaching the entire project with no infrastructure. There is no generational knowledge, no equipment passed down, no land. This means that you’ll have to learn a few things the hard way (for instance: you can’t schedule out planting your garlic – you’ll be waiting on the frost, and nothing can make the frost arrive before its ready). A new farmer will also need an enormous amount of capital to get started with the bare essentials of land, a crop to plant, and the equipment needed to plant and harvest.
Because of this high barrier to entry and the longer tail on making a profit, Marc Angelo says that the economic model of many farms will need to change.
For Valhalla Farms, that means opening up the farm to memberships; members receive discounts on produce, courses, and events that center around farming and fresh food. They also have a core group of farmers all working the same land, something like vendors under the Valhalla Farms umbrella. Since the farm is only 25 minute drive from the heart of Montreal, they serve as a bridge to the farming world – and a welcome break from the city. Perhaps the most creative connection of farming to the digital world is the NFTs that Valhalla offers, tying digital technology to physical rows of garlic and allowing the world to become small scale farmers and investors in farms as well..
So they’re not running out of ideas any time soon. The only issues: Some of these ideas do not fit into the local government’s picture of what farming looks like. To Marc Angelo, the new version of farming involves anything that expands the wellbeing of the farm – so while that would include traditional activities like clearing fields or harvesting crops, it also includes things like vlogging their farming journey or hosting agritourism events.
“I’m not here to bash them,” Marc Angelo says of a recent challenge brought to the farm by city government. “I don’t think it’s that one person at the government, or that one person who’s making this a problem, I think it’s the system as a whole. And the fact that everything has to fit into some very specific, clear box. And the bureaucracy and the red tape around that just doesn’t allow for the evolution and the disruption of what our farming community needs.”
So what’s next for the new generation of farmers?
“I think it’s time that we redefined what farming looks like in our culture,” Marc Angelo says. “You know, it’s not just monoculture fields that have to be farmed with massive tractors. What about community farms? What about community-supported agriculture?”
He argues that openness to innovation is in everyone’s best interest; it will make the barrier to entry lower for new, younger farmers – and that will benefit everyone who visits a grocery store.