Krista Hulshof has turned a niche into her career. She’s a self-described “agritect” serving rural and agricultural businesses in designing beautiful and sustainable buildings. As well as running her own architecture business, she and her husband are busy raising two young children. Krista shares with us about developing her business, being a mom and working to make our world more sustainable.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.
I am an architect who specializes in rural, and agritourism design. I grew up on a dairy/poultry farm and went to the University of Waterloo for architecture. In third year I found a book called “Barns”, which included numerous projects that renovated old barns into homes. I realized I missed the farm life and culture, but I also loved architecture. So I set out to figure out how to bring architecture and agriculture together. I spent my thesis year studying sustainable farming practices and designing a 150-acre farm (land and buildings). I specialized in sustainable farm design through my master’s thesis, and now call myself an agritect! So what does an architect, or agritect do? An architect helps facilitate and guide clients through the millions of decisions required to prepare a building for construction (from colours to insulation), and document these decisions in the form of drawings for permits and construction. Using their training, expertise, and experience they assist in creating an efficient, flexible, and beautiful building for the long term of your major investment.
Tell us more about your work as an agritect.
After university I worked for another firm while I tried to figure out how to break into this niche market of ‘agritecture’. This was a big challenge because farmers don’t traditionally hire architects. But a new industry of agritourism (on-farm, value added services like wineries, on-farm stores, farm tours, wedding venues, etc.) was emerging. This emerging industry often required architects and there was real value in helping farmers through the red tape of zoning and building codes required; this is where I targeted my skills. In 2012 I started VELD Architect. I am the only architect that I know of working specifically in this niche market.
I assist farmers and farm owners with the planning of their agritourism or farm projects from the master planning stages, through the hoops of regulations, building designs, permits, and the construction stages. You can see examples of my work on my website at www.veldarchitect.com. I have worked on wineries, distilleries, kennels, event venues, farm stores, equestrian facilities, barn conversions, as well as farmhouse and residential design.
Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?
My firm is young, so the portfolio is small, but my favorite project so far is my first barn conversion to a house. It also happens to be my house so I might be biased, but I’ve learned so much, and I very proud to say we saved a bank barn that would have been torn down (http://www.veldarchitect.com/?projects=wartburg-residence). My second favorite project was for a not-for-profit group called My Farm in Waterloo (http://www.veldarchitect.com/?projects=sample-project-2). They hired me early on to help them plan a 10-acre sustainable farm with a gathering and working “barn”. The project is still in its early stages of site grading and tree planting using “restoration agriculture” methods (Here’s a video to explain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb_t-sVVzF0) There is no building yet, but I hope they have continued success and we can slowly fulfill the vision we had for the property.
You have two very young children. How do you balance your time as a mom and an entrepreneur?
I have lots of help! My 2-year-old goes to a babysitter three days a week (daycare one day, Nana’s one day, and Oma’s another day). My 6-month-old stays with me and I work as fast as I can when he is happy or sleeping! I have had to sacrifice both in my career and in mothering. I have learned to say ‘no’ to potential clients that don’t enhance my portfolio in the direction I want my firm to go. I have also hired a co-op student to assist me during busy times to ensure my clients are satisfied.
As a mother I sometimes feel that by sending my kids to daycare I miss out on so much of their learning and development, but I know they also learn a more varied amount of skills through the experience. It also helps that their babysitters are their grandparents and I hope this develops a special bond between them, as they grow older. I also try to keep my housework lower and realistic, so that I don’t get overwhelmed or upset with myself. My husband is a pig farmer, and he does his best to pitch in and share the responsibility of household chores. I also work flexible hours (nap times, slower response times, evenings, etc.) and share my life situation with clients and only work with those who ‘get it’.
How do you define success? What steps do you take to get you there?
I used to want to be a famous architect! There are only a few who get to be that, but I hope that I can be published and recognized not only by the architecture community but also by the agriculture community for providing value and enhancing rural culture. I work toward this slowly with each project, giving my clients efficient, inspiring spaces, and making the building process as painless as possible.
What is the biggest professional/personal challenge that you’ve had to face?
Balancing being a mom and an entrepreneur has been my biggest challenge. I didn’t have time to get good at either without being busy with the other. So I’m learning to be a mom while also learning to be an entrepreneur. Not an east task!
In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?
I took on a very large project that with another architect. The design process was long and a very big undertaking. I made a lot of mistakes and embarrassed myself and the other architect. I was pregnant, had severe morning sickness and was busy with my 8-month-old. And that is no excuse, but I realized I bit off way more than I could chew. I often think I can do more than I can. I learned two lessons: 1) Say no when you need too, and 2) Review your work and take care in everything you do. When I make mistakes, it costs people money.
What’s the most burning career question for you right now?
What will my firm look like in the future? Do I want to grow and at what cost to time with my kids? Should I be looking for a partner or an employee to take on more projects? Will they be as invested as I am?
How do you define agriculture?
Agriculture is a community of people engaged in the production of food. It’s more than just farming; it’s a way of life.
What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?
Moving toward less fossil fuel intense farming and looking at alternative more sustainable practices (restoration agriculture, keyline farming, urban gardens, CSAs, local food, increasing soil organic matter, enhancing natural ecosystems with farming, etc.). I know it’s controversial and change is hard in rural communities, but I think there are ways to address the challenges. The consumer is demanding alternative methods, more transparency, and farms are businesses trying to meet customer demands. There is no business model in the world that can survive ignoring the market trends and consumer needs. Farming is not an exception and will NEED to adapt.