How to Get Big Sales of Big Onions

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

One way SPIN farmers make bigger sales is by using a mix and match multiple unit pricing strategy – $3/unit, 2 for $5, 5 for $10. We sell our onions in mesh bags, and this fits this strategy well, with small onions making up about a half pound bag. But what do you do with large size onions that weigh a half pound or more? They can’t be plugged into this strategy.

What works for me is marketing them in braid form. The large onions sell at well at $10 a braid. Each braid has 5 onions and are about 3 lbs. per braid. I also test marketed an upscale version with garlic and dry peppers. Those go for $20. This customer bought one of each, for a nice $30 sale.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

Some come to SPIN expecting hard and fast rules, like always following a set pricing strategy. But that’s not how farming works. When it comes to pricing strategies an important point to understand is that practice overrules orthodoxy. SPIN farmers are master rule breakers – especially rules of their own devising! So be creative not just with your braiding, bu also in your marketing and pricing strategies.



SPIN Farming May Not Be All You Think It Is

Courtesy of Roxanne C. , Philadelphia PA

Since its launch 10 years ago, SPIN-Farming has come to mean many things. While it embodies lots of food and farming trends, it’s practitioners know it as a profit-driven production system coupled with a business model. That’s what it is meant to be.

If you have come to know it by hearsay, you might be surprised to learn it’s not all it’s said to be. Over the next 10 weeks we’ll do a countdown of some of the claims that should be taken with a grain of salt. Here is # 6.

# 6. SPIN-Farming uses set pricing of $3 per unit or 2 for $5.

There is no set pricing in SPIN-Farming, but there are pricing strategies which are outlined in the learning series. There are two other rules of thumb to keep in mind on pricing:
>>>80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers

>>>If 20% of potential customers don’t pass you by complaining your prices are too high, you aren’t charging enough

The exact percentages above aren’t important, but the points are:
>>> you need to capture whatever percent of the market that is willing to pay you what your produce is worth, not the largest
percent of the market

>>> you need to charge pricing that makes being in business worth your while, and hold to it (of course you have to back it up
with quality products)

An important point to understand when it comes to SPIN concepts and processes is that practice overrules orthodoxy. SPIN farmers are master rule breakers – especially rules of their own devising!

With SPIN's mix and match pricing, customers can grab and go...just ask Rex Landings of Cackleberry Farms.

With SPIN’s mix and match pricing, customers can grab and go…just ask Rex Landings of Cackleberry Farms.

# 7 SPIN-Farming is just annual plants.
Perennial crops are frequently used on SPIN farms. They are used in areas that might be difficult to put into annual production, such as perimeter areas. Perennial crops are usually low maintenance so they are also used on multi-locational farms that are over extended. If you have a lot of land in play these types of crops reduce the amount of labor needed, and make overall farm operations much more manageable. Many can be sold through multiple sales channels, and can be worth a lot of money – $1000+ per segment. Examples of perennial crops include horseradish, mint, rhubarb, raspberries, sunchokes, strawberries. There are many, many others.

That is the point – to have as many options as possible, and be constantly changing them up. SPIN farms are comprised of annual, perennial, and even foraged crops. Crop planning is mix of both strategy and serendipity To be successful you need to be a reality-based farmer, not a rules-based farmer.

There are many reasons to include perennial crops like rhubarb in a SPIN crop repertoire.

There are many reasons to include perennial crops like rhubarb in a SPIN crop repertoire.

#8 SPIN-Farming is Square Foot Gardening.                                                                       Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Square foot gardening.

Square foot gardening.

SPIN-Farming on 2,500 sq. ft.

SPIN-Farming on 2,500 sq. ft.

To turn garden-size spaces into farm-size income you need to maximize your growing space in order to produce significant volume. But SPIN-Farming goes far beyond space utilization. It also includes professional grade harvesting and post-harvesting practices, an operations management framework and a business model. Its aim is to achieve progressively higher levels of revenue, with key benchmarks provided.

# 9: SPIN-Farming is urban farming.                                                                                    It doesn’t have to be. SPIN-Farming can and is practiced wherever there are markets to support it. It greatly reduces the amount of land needed for commercial crop production, so the land base a farmer needs is no bigger than some backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots. In fact the land base for many SPIN farmers is backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots. It is also non-mechanized and does not use harsh chemicals. So it is particularly suited to densely populated areas since it eliminates the conflicts posed by larger scale agriculture. However, its core concepts of relay cropping, land base allocation, workflow practices and direct marketing are practiced on suburban and rural farms as well.


Some SPIN farms are in rural areas. Some SPIN farmers even use a tractor!

# 10: SPIN-Farming teaches how to farm.
It doesn’t. It teaches how to make money growing food. Rather than duplicating existing farm education programs that focus primarily on agricultural practices, SPIN-Farming provides a financial and management framework for having business drive the agriculture, rather than the other way around. It works much like a franchise, without the cost, conformity or complications.

A common complaint from beginning farmers is they invest years of training for a job that barely pays. SPIN’s online learning programs and membership in its online support group is a low-cost, low-risk alternative. You can find out quickly if you’re cut out for farming without taking on the traditional farm commitments of owning lots of land, investing piles of money and making a big lifestyle change. You get just what you need to know to start, without being overwhelmed by knowledge that is more appropriate to acquire later in your career. The money you save from not having to commit to more elaborate programs can
be invested in your farm infrastructure, which, following the classic SPIN approach, is simple and affordable.

By making farm startup fast and easy, SPIN-Farming opens up the profession to many more people who otherwise wold not think it was an option for them.

By making farm startup fast and easy, SPIN-Farming opens up the profession to many more people who otherwise wold not think it was an option for them.

Next Up: # 5:  SPIN-Farming is yardsharing.


Niche Products Can Diversify or Define Your Business

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

SPIN farmers are always experimenting with niche crops to stay on top of trends, or sometimes create them. This is an advantage we have over larger scale growers – we don’t have to bet the farm to discover our next moneymaker. We can trial in small “batches”, and when we have access to more plots than we need, which is becoming more and more common. And since we are always interacting with our customers, we have a pretty good idea of what people might buy, and which customers to cater to.

There are a couple of ways to make niche crops pay off. One way is to base your business on them, like Adithya Ramachandran and Jenny Menat of Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens. Their half acre farm focuses on ethnic and specialty crops that aren’t available from other vendors in their area. Their niche crops include tomatillos, Moringa greens, Padrón peppers, jalapeño peppers, Roselle, Kabocha squash and Jamaican sorrel. They introduce them by providing samples and cooking instructions and their business strategy is to attract a sophisticated clientele to their market stand.

Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens base their business on growing niche crops. Notice they also offer recipes in a bag like Salsa verde mix and ratatouille mix.

Rob Miller, of Trefoil Gardens, has built his business on mushrooms, both cultivated and wild, and rare greens such as dock and poke, as well as violet Figs, pawpaw and sumac berries. He posts availability and recipes on his social media a week prior to market. His customers seek him out to try something new and exotic, and now he is starting to grow traditional SPIN crops to be more of a one-stop shop.

Blue and white oyster mushrooms attract a special clientele to Rob Miller’s market stand.

I branched out the other way, by growing specialty and ethnic crops as an add-on to my more traditional SPIN repertoire. I have had success with horse radish and fava beans. I don’t put them out at my stand – I grow these crops as a private stock just or those customers who have self-identified as more progressive eaters. So you might say I have two different product lines – one for connoisseurs and one for the mass market.

My fava beans have their own followers who get notified when they are available.

The rise of “food culture” means more people are becoming adventurous in their eating, and this means SPIN farmers can be more adventurous too. Whether you use niche crops to diversify, or define, your business, more and more SPIN farmers are finding the payoff is worth it.

Bee Friendly Farming Attracts Customers

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Here is one certification that is easy to get, may go beyond certified organic, and is more relevant and cheaper and less intrusive to implement – Bee Friendly Farming.

A few criteria are required to make your farm pollinating insect friendly, and they are easy to implement. You need to supply photos but there are no actual inspections. A nominal fee gets you some signs you can post at your plots, and use at your farm stand. So it’s good for bees, and good for your operation, in more ways than one. In Canada, the Bee Friendly program is handled by Pollination Canada,a project of Seeds of Diversity. Certification criteria, yearly membership cost, and the price of the metal
sign is on their web page. More details about the program are here.

This is an eco-friendly benefit all of your customers understand and are eager to support. They’ll be attracted to your stand like well…you know.

SF photo fb bee friendly



DIY Portable Sprinklers Get the Job Done

Courtesy of John Greenwood, JNJ Farms, Macomb IL

When it comes to SPIN-Farming irrigation, keep it flexible, cheap, crop-specific and portable. That’s especially important if you are farming multiple yards, like John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL. Here’s how he made his sprinkler system.

I buy a stick in ground Shepherd’s Hook. Then I cut of the hook part. I then take 3/4 inch pvc about 6-7 feet tall and put on 1/2 inch thread adapter and screw in sprinkler head. I hook it to the garden hose at bottom.

The sprinkler head was bought as a kit from Walmart on close out for $ each. I bought 4 kits so I will have extra heads. There are probably better heads available but
these work.

I use these with hydrant and portable water tank with pump. If I wanted to set it up permanently I’d use 1 inch pvc.

SF photo fb DIY irrigation in plot







Perennials Have Their Place

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Because of its backyard-size scale, SPIN-Farming emphasizes crops with very short growing times that can be grown and harvested very quickly, because that is the way to multiply your production from a small space. But perennial crops, like these sunchokes, can also come into play.

SF photo blog sunchokes

Right now I am growing them in the perimeter area of my SPIN farm. But if you have the space, a segment size planting can be worth a lot of money. A local garden center is always asking if we have any, and they are willing to pay $10 lb. It’s also a pretty easy sell at market, and to chefs.

Once planted, sunchokes are there to stay. Other perennial crops, like horseradish, rhubarb, mint and raspberries can also earn their place in a SPIN crop repertoire. Even if you have limited space, don’t limit your planting to just annuals. Perennials are crops that keep on giving.


Weeding Jujutsu

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Perennial weeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more controllable than others. In sub-segment size areas under 500 sq. ft. you can take try the Terminator approach to eradicate them completely to keep the plot in production.

Larger areas take more finesse because it is harder to know what you are dealing with. For instance, I’ve worked plots for years without any sign of weeds, and then one season they just start showing up. Many SPIN farmers are presented with offers for larger size  plots, in the 1/4 to half-acre range, that are too good to refuse. They clean them up so they look like a field of dreams and then bindweed starts sprouting everywhere. In these situations eradication will take time and effort you don’t have, and it might not even be possible.

Instead, fight one aggressive plant with another. If you put in widely spaced crops that grow relatively quickly, such as winter squash, they can duke it out with the weed once they start vining out. In essence they are acting as a weed suppressant in their own right.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu squash

Potatoes are also a good option, since once you hill them, you can easily aggressively weed around them. Green beans and broad beans are other options and are ones I will be using this year in a perennial grass problem area.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu

So when it comes to weeds know there is another approach besides hasta la vista. Instead use appropriate crop selection and technique to win your battle with weeds.


Insta-fame. Insta-millions. Insta-success!

Courtesy of Julianna Tan, owner/operator, Those Girls at Market, Saskatoon, SK

I’m just playing with you. Instagram doesn’t mean any of the above but it should be a tool to help you build a following and keep up with the cool kids.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram logo


In the exponentially fast-paced world of social media, Instagram has changed in many ways since we last had a chat. Just a few months ago, I briefly described what Instagram is and how you can use it as a small business owner.

Today we revisit the concept and update readers on the following questions:
What is instagram? How do I use it? What benefit could this social media platform provide for me as a small business owner?

So let’s get down and dirty with the details. Instagram recently announced they’ve reached 500 million users worldwide. Of those users, over 300 million are using Instagram everyday. So what’s the hype?

Instagram instantly builds communities by bringing people together over common interests, from hip-hoppers to shoe-shoppers; the everyday experience lets people stay connected, share experiences with like-minded individuals, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Instagram is a mobile (smart phone) app that allows users to:
• Upload and edit photos and videos
• Write a caption or message along with each photo or video (altogether, we will refer to a photo/video and caption as a “post”)
• Utilize hashtags (#) to “tag” your posts, which allows other users who are interested to find your post (To learn more about hashtags, read here.
• Like and comment on other users posts
• Send direct messages to a user’s inbox

How would you use it? That’s up to you. Just the way everyone has their own personal clothing style, everybody has their own Instagram style as well. Some will choose to make it an artsy portfolio filled with colourful vegetable photos. For an example, you can see my personal Instagram account here.

Others will use it to showcase behind the scenes production- customers love seeing how an item went from the kitchen (or field) to their hands. One of my favourite examples is a local bakery here. Here’s an example of one of their posts that explains some behind-the-scene action.

Others will use it to keep followers in the community updated on upcoming events or news, like this.
(If you scroll down far enough, you will see that I use to run this page. You can tell by the artsy vegetable photos)

Using your Instagram account is a free way to advertise to people in your area by using hashtags. For example, My business operates in Saskatoon so it is important for me to let people in my area know about my business. Therefore, on my posts I make sure to hashtag: #Saskatoon This let’s users in Saskatoon find my posts. If they visit my Instagram page and like what they see, they can follow me and engage with my posts (like them, comment on them). As a result, my photos will start popping up on their feed (their personal homepage those 300 million users are scrolling across everyday).

This helps us find new customers in the area, keep our customers reminded about our products on a regular basis, create a unique relationship with our customers by letting them see our behind-the-scenes production, showcase our new products, and let our customers know where we are located… all for free!

So what are you waiting for…. I’ll follow you back if you follow me here.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram chocolate page


Owners: Ying and Julianna Tan
Phone: 306 241 9390

Grow Backyard Crops To Fund Home Improvements

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

The advantage to backyard farming is that you can ramp it up or down, depending on your financial needs at any given time. If you  don’t use it to provide your full-time income, you can use it to fund a short term goal.

Say you are looking to put in a hot tub in a corner of your yard. You can apply your farming skill to grow a crop that will fund it.

SF photo theme garden squash 500 sf $500

Here’s that corner where the future hot tub will go. It’s about 500 square feet. That’s half a SPIN segment.

If you plant 20 to 30 squash plants in that sub-segment you can sell it to friends and neighbors or to another farmer who can sell it to their customers. A good type to grow in this context is Golden Nugget winter squash, which is a prolific bush type plant that doesn’t vine out like other squash, so it’s good for compact spaces.

SF photo fb Suqash GoldenNugget


Keep the Soil in Your High Tunnel Healthy

Unheated high tunnel, or hoophouse, production is being practiced more widely because it is a profitable way to grow and sell year round. That requires extra attention to, and management of, soil health, as this Backyard Riches member explains.

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

One of the challenges of high tunnel production is that there is no natural rainfall to leach the soil. Although I collect rainwater, it supplies only 20% of my high tunnel irrigation requirements. The other 80% comes from municipal water. So there are three main concerns I deal with.

1. Saskatoon city water, which supplies my farm, contains 142 ppm calcium/magnesium carbonates. Every inch of irrigation adds about 0.75 lb of lime per segment. At the rate of 1? of irrigation per week for 6 months a year, this works out to 20 lbs of added lime per segment, which can raise the soil pH and cause production issues. To neutralize this, I till in 10 lbs of organic sulfur per segment per year.

2. Saskatoon city water contains 13 ppm of chloride and 2 ppm of chlorine. Chlorine reacts with soil organic matter to form chloride. Outdoors, this is leached by rainfall. In a high tunnel, this works out to 2 lbs of added chloride per segment over 6 months of irrigation. To counter this, I try to include beets or chard in the rotation at least once every two years. These crops can ‘mop up’ significant amounts of chloride.

3. Soil organic matter is consumed very rapidly in high tunnels. I add composted manure, compost and alfalfa meal at least twice per year to compensate.

SF photo guest blog Adi hoop house