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Stephanie McEvoy: Taking On the Environmental Challenges in the World of Farming

Stephanie McEvoy's journey: Tackling environmental hurdles in the realm of farming, a story of resilience and innovation

At times, life takes unexpected turns, and people can find themselves in a situation without a clear understanding of how they arrived there. This isn’t unusual for founders, and according to Stephanie McEvoy, founder of Farming Carbon, it wasn’t unusual to her either.

When Stephanie and I connected on LinkedIn, my first impression was that she led a busy life. My first impression was confirmed when we had our first chat: I was at home, while Stephanie was leaving one meeting and continued ours, in her car.

“Busy day so far?” I asked, but Stephanie shrugged it off, smiled, and continued to tell me all about her life as a founder. I soon came to learn that Farming Carbon, a business that “works with farmers and businesses to deliver unique ESG projects” felt like the natural progression of ambition for Stephanie.

Getting Started

“I’ve no idea how I came to start a business, I knew the world needed something and when I started, it took me a little while to understand exactly what it was that I could offer.” 

Prior to Farming Carbon, it might be fair to say that Stephanie had a varied life by most standards. But it’s this varied life, and experiences, that have given her an edge in the startup world: truly understanding people.

“Prior to this, I worked in millionaire’s clubs in America, an office job in London, and then did 5 years at sea on-board luxury superyachts. Finally, I became a bid writer in construction. There have been surprising similarities between many of these roles.

“Putting people first, and pre-empting what they will need (for up to a month at sea) was a huge element of my mindset and so it made sense to create an organisation and a service that is currently in step with the pioneers within the industry I’m working in."

Whenever I speak to founders for We Are Founders, it’s the ones that care deeply about solving problems not just for themselves, but for others, that give off a vibe that they’re the ones more likely to succeed. It demonstrates a commitment to understanding and meeting the diverse demands of its audience, something that potential investors love to hear.

On continuing to chat with Stephanie, her love and determination to protect the environment resonated with me. 

“Working on boats inspired me to start an environmental impact business in two ways, firstly the ocean during a storm threw our huge, hardy boat around like a cat batting a ball, showing indiscriminate power that is harder to appreciate on land. I realised that it was naïve to think we could outpace nature.

"The second was that I often worked for multi-millionaires or billionaires who took a chance on something and made it work. So I could see that idea plus effort equals reward, although never aspired to materially focus to the same degree as my old boss."

Whenever Stephanie sought change after being a sea for 3 years,  it was at this point the wheels of motion started for what would eventually become Farming Carbon.

“I came home during covid and got a job in construction, after mailing 75 Irish construction companies with a letter convincing them I would be a great fit for their company. One called me back and told me with a letter like that I should be a bid writer, which I was excited to have the opportunity to do. 

“I really enjoyed bid writing and lapped up all the policy and legislative documents around green initiatives and requirements for public spending. Then it all started to piece together. Businesses spend money on environmental impact, but often they do so in a very limited market and the impact is restricted to trees, or charity work. 

“A proud person with a farm or other small business didn’t fit the bill on a list of charities, and that is why I began with carving out a space to empower micro businesses to list their opportunities for environmental impact and give local businesses the opportunity to sponsor the project. 

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and when asked about any challenges she came up against, just getting started proved tough. Shed pivoted when opportunities came up, but ultimately focused on Farming Carbon because there was a gap in the market.

Faced With Initial Difficulties

There were more immediate challenges, however, as Stephanie had no farming background. There were also the potential challenges of being a female founder in a male-dominated industry, as well as the name of the business itself. 

“I am not a farmer, I am a 32-year-old, young woman with a strange accent after 8 years living abroad and dulling down my Northern Irish broad accent. It was a hard start. My business Farming Carbon is a platform to support the education and certification of farmers to attain environmental standards, imposed as a requirement in the supply chain.”

Stephanie went on to say, “Farming Carbon, draws up wild illustrations in the imagination of my audience sometimes who are triggered by the word carbon and what it has come to mean in farming. It’s very difficult to map and understand carbon on a farm because it is a carbon cycle, and nutrients in the soil are volatile and move.” 

She continued, “Similar to tracking a droplet of water, that could move through several states, and locations, perhaps that droplet would never become ice. The carbon can be really tricky to keep track of. All of these are elements of the challenge of starting up Farming Carbon.”

Securing financial support also presented its challenges, featuring phases of limited or even no funding—a situation that numerous founders inevitably encounter and must navigate.

“Like most founders, I have gone months between securing revenue. Thankfully this has steadied out now, money and traction are both becoming more secure. It's been up and down but I am so excited to continue to grow an environmentally & socially impactful business.”

As our conversation progressed, we discussed the tricky task of finding potential customers. This can be a real challenge for entrepreneurs because what works for a founder might not work for everyone else. However, Stephanie was notably confident in her ability to identify customers who would truly benefit from the Farming Carbon initiative.

“What we provide at Farming Carbon is a multi-faceted solution to several problems. In our food supply chains the supermarkets, are the biggest and dependant on the success of the smallest, the farmers, to deliver commitments they have already outlined. Large supermarkets need their farmers and wholesalers to reduce emissions, and provide environmental impact that the supermarket itself is unable to deliver. 

“We help different parties in the food supply chain to help each other out. By creating opportunities to diversify farm income and improve efficiency opportunities for farms, who have less resources available to invest in more efficient infrastructure, or environmental projects. 

“The farmer doesn’t realise that an IT company up the road who wants to secure a public project in the council needs to demonstrate a commitment to ESG but doesn’t have the means to do so, the business didn’t realise that the farmer would mutually benefit from collaborating on this. 

“While bidding for public projects in construction I could see that the business need for ESG was expanding with every new piece of legislation, and working on the ground with farmers I can see that their margins are so squeezed with the cost of energy and living, that they would like welcome assistance like crowd-funded renewable assets, or diversification of farm income.” 

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Perseverance

At this juncture, our conversation naturally led to a discussion about the notable challenges Stephanie faced in the process of building her business and the strategies she employed to overcome these obstacles. Her insights are undeniably inspiring for fellow founders.

“Perseverance,” and then continue, “Farming Carbon could have been a much easier, less impactful business at many points along the way. I was planting trees on farms in the earlier part of this year and planted 6000 trees, I could have bought land and planted trees, a much easier way to demonstrate carbon storage. I could have stuck with the service delivery side for businesses. 

“I could right now make the decision to offer only business sustainability consulting - but I know I have more to give to the farming community, that every level of our food supply chain has a need for this, and it is a need that is not being fulfilled by the products available on the market, because most of them are university spin-outs and too academic focused to create opportunities for farmers.”

Founders will always come up against challenges, with many of them suggesting if it was easy, it wouldn’t be a viable business opportunity, but Stephaine takes these challenges head-on. 

“Over the last two years, I have been navigating through slow supply chains, through which I have secured some great clients, but I had months where the sensible thing would have been to stop. Somehow it always worked out. I still have a very clear vision of what the end result will look like.” 

At this point, Stephanie didn’t want to sound like a personal development coach, but I’m glad she continued.

“Not to sound like a personal development coach, but I don’t consider anything a failure. Although I do acknowledge that I can always improve. In a way, I would consider the culmination of lots of little inactions that could have resulted in some of the months I felt most stressed and strained financially. 

“Avoiding the awkward email, or forgetting to reply to someone but still creating new content on a social media platform - they're the small ways in which we lose customers without ever realising. This is something I have been working to improve and am trying to build out systems in the business so that I can ensure to deliver value with every interaction.” 

When we got around to chatting about scaling and expanding her business, Stephanie simply said that she was “still going through one of the periods of initial growth. I don’t want to jinx it.” I said no more, and moved on to the subject of scepticism and resistance, something that founders inevitably come up against.

“The skepticism is often short-lived, but I experience it regularly. It can be frustrating, because like most 32-year-old women who are trying to reform farming, in Northern Ireland - I often experience pass remarkable comments. It doesn’t phase me much, I can’t speak fluent farm vocabulary but I have enough to help me get by and I can offer insight into supply chains, regulation and other relevant but removed areas. 

“I often state that I am not a farmer, but that I am working across a few locations that have disproportionate impact and limited understanding of how a farm works. I spent 18 months understanding the ins and outs of how a farm works, looking at the economics, inputs and outputs, reading the farming press and attending events. 

“The vision of Farming Carbon isn't to change every farm in the country - it is to support and empower the 3-5% of farms that see the value in carbon efficient farming, and want to learn from other farmers who have tried it out around the world.”

On asking how businesses approach ESG, “Businesses are much less skeptical, although frustratingly they are also very slow to make decisions, and decision-makers are often less motivated to improve the ESG position than that manager.” 

Inspiration

Coming to the end of our interview, it’s at this point I ask founders to give other founders words of wisdom, advice and inspiration. Stephaine’s advice is something that I agree with unashamedly, wholeheartedly, and simply cannot overstate. That is, do not start something unless it stirs the fire in your soul. If you’ve no love for it, wait until you find the it you love.

“Don’t start it unless it absolutely lights you up because there are days when you will need to keep on trucking even if your completely out of fuel. And you need to find the fuel from inside you. At this point I feel like I have given so much to it, and I can see how much it would benefit the market I am serving that, unless something mad were to happen I don’t see a vision of my future where I do not build this out.” 

“Keep going. Even on the days when you are not sure why, or how.”

When asked what role has mentorship played in your entrepreneurial success? Were there any specific mentors who made a significant impact on your journey?

“Farmer Dan. Initially, I started this with a farmer who is incredible at what he does. His farm is massively efficient and provides dynamic ecosystem benefits. He taught me so much about farming, what is possible, and what isn’t. He taught me in great detail the agronomic (soil health) impact of the decisions he makes.” 

“In terms of business, introductions and opportunities I have been fortunate enough to have many mentors, John Ferris, the team at Raise and Tony O’Donnel. They have been generous with their time, and insight and have helped me to navigate the journey of my business so far.”

Stephanie continued to champion the benefits of mentorship, saying, “Mentorship is invaluable. If you don’t have people around you who will lift you up, guide you a bit, and keep you on the straight and narrow it can be hard to start your first business. I will make time as a founder to share as generously with other founders as well.”

You can follow Stephanie on LinkedIn, and you'll be able to find her book, ESG Made Easy, on Amazon.

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