Seed Saving ROI – Would You Believe $250K?

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

Seed saving has been in vogue for some time now, and there are lots of good reasons to do it. Here’s one that surprised me. In crunching some numbers on garlic production, I figured out that from a $500 investment in seed garlic this year, I can grow this investment by 5 times, each year, so at the end of year 4, I’ve turned 250 heads into 125,000 heads worth $250k. The point is to replant the harvested garlic each year instead of selling it.

The calculations involve assuming 5 cloves per head. Planting the cloves multiplies your seed stock at a dramatic rate in a few years. Seed stock, especially for crops like garlic, can be initially expensive to buy, so replanting to multiply your stock has real impact on your bottom line.

Those of you with small yards, or maybe even no yard, are asking, “Yes, but how much land do you need to generate $250k?” Nowhere near as much as you might think.

This is where SPIN-Farming’s standard units of production come in handy. I figure I need about a half SPIN segment, or 500 sq. ft., for 1,000 cloves. 25,000 cloves requires 12.5 segments, which is around a 1/4 acre. 125,000 cloves will require 50  segments, just over an acre. That’s about 2 suburban backyards. So if you don’t have the space yourself, you can team up with someone else, using SPIN’s multi-locational model.

Seed stock multiplication is something I am going to start paying more attention to, because saving seed may save you a pretty penny, and help you generate lots of ’em, too.

Seed saving is virtuous, and a moneymaker too!

Seed saving is virtuous, and a moneymaker too!

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Basket Case

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

Here’s a small touch that can generate a big increase in sales – offering a shopping basket at your stand. It works in several ways.

SF photo fb grocery basketIt It makes it much easier for customers to load up if they aren’t having to juggle different items and encourages impulse buys. It also puts them in supermarket mode, where they are used to buying lots of items. It even gives you a friendly ice breaker because you can say, “Hello, would you like a basket?”

All of a sudden the customer feels like they are in a different space, a more familiar space. Taking a basket means they have committed to seriously shop at your stand, and not just spend a few dollars. Many chain mall retailers use this tactic. It’s easy to test out with a few baskets. If it works, you can scale up and have a rack of them with a sign that says “Take one for your convenience.”

One farmer who did this reported that sales doubled, and it turned some occasional customers into regulars. Try it  – bigger sales may be in the basket!

A Cooler Startup

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

An aspiring flower farmer planning to start up in 2018 has been thinking through with us whether or not to invest in a cooler. Here are some of the considerations.

If you opt to take SPIN’s low road and launch without a cooler, it will affect your crop repertoire. It will be weighted towards those varieties that can maintain a vase life of about 7 days without being cooled. It will also mean that the business should be based on pre-selling and obtaining contracts for regular weekly delivery, which will eliminate the need for storage.

If you want to sell at a farmer’s market, your workflow will be more pressured, but cutting bouquets the day before or morning of the market is do-able. If you are selling u-pick at an open farm day, it should be scheduled in the morning or at dusk to
avoid flowers wilting in the sun.

If you are partnering with an event coordinator by serving as a contractor/florist vendor, or if you plan to develop an events business on our own, the low road is not an option. The volume and the likelihood that you will be using at least some imported flowers requires access to some cooling capacity. Reach-in coolers can be purchased for under $1,000. and you can add on additional ones as you start generating cashflow.

Investing in a cooler is a major turning point in any SPIN-Farming business. Getting one sooner means an easier launch and faster revenue growth. Getting one later means more trade-offs and developing coping strategies. But for those who are serious
about starting a farm business, the cooler always cometh.

DD1 Indoor market 4 cooler arriving

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SPIN Farmers Target Cat People

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

Cat grass is a good niche crop. Many of your customers will have cats, and who doesn’t want to treat their cat? Most cat people are familiar with cat grass, so there is no need for a hard sell, and it’s a great impulse buy.

Things in your favor are it’s fast and cheap. Days to harvest is around 2 weeks. You can use feed oats. I get mine at a local feed store.

A good way to sell cat grass is in these 4 inch by 6 inch trays, which are cheap and widely available. I get mine at a local garden center. They come in a pack of 6 trays, joined together.

SF photo blog cat grass tray Wally uses

Spread some moist top soil in the bottom half. Then lay in some oat seed. More or less back to back. Cover with soil, water the tray down a bit. Cover with card board or plastic and put into a germination area. Wait till the seed starts to emerge. Remove covering. Keep watering until grass is several inches high. Then it’s off to market.

SF photo blog cat grass large

A good price point is $5 per container. You can plant at least 25 of these trays per hour. Very low cost, with quick return. Test market a few of these trays, and see what happens. You can ramp up very quickly if it sells. And then you can convince your customers to treat themselves with some salad greens.

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Scaling Up SPIN-Farming to 4 Acres

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia, PA 

While SPIN-Farming may be most closely associated with an urban and backyard multi-locational model, its system of land base allocation, relay cropping and revenue targeting can be applied to larger land bases. Ed Garrett put on his SPIN glasses to take a look at 4 acres and here’s what he saw.

It is very hard not to get drawn into low return crops when you have the “extra” area. Once that happens, the farm starts committing too much time to low net production and loses operational efficiency. The “tractor” mentality assumes larger crop segments that destroy the produced “on demand” nature of SPIN-Farming.

If the same 4 acres was farmed SPIN-style, it would be organized in different sites as independent work units feeding separate markets or market channels. Production deficits at one site could be made up by trading with other production sites on the property.

Changing market behavior away from bulk purchases, especially working with retailers to trust on-demand refill of their stocks to increase freshness of produce is key here. Keeping production units relatively small while increasing their numbers
allows for daily harvest to meet day-to-day demands.

SPIN-Farming on larger land bases requires a more sophisticated strategy than “plant it and forget it.” But the reality of today’s markets is that the more things change, the more they keep changing. SPIN allows for frequent, continual in-season planting plan adjustments based on market demand and weather challenges. It presents a farmer with many decisions, continually throughout the season. It also presents him with opportunities for continual self-correction, and increases his options. And whether you are farming a few thousand square feet or 4 acres, that’s a huge advantage.

SF photo blog 4 acres.Just how big can you get with SPIN? Wally found that the size of his land base had an inverse correlation to the size of his bank account. That’s what led him to downsize to his backyard and develop the SPIN-Farming system. We don’t know what the optimal farm size is, but scaling up sure doesn’t make the same sense it used. to.

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How Long Can You Keep SPIN-Farming?

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

Over the 10 years I’ve been doing SPIN-Farming workshops this question comes up at just about every one. SPIN-Farming is certainly more labor intensive than riding around on a tractor all day. And I know I’m not getting any younger, so the age issue isn’t going away.

SF photo blog Wally selfie young

Eventually you get too old to do anything, and that’s true for many vocations. Based on my experience, I would say going into your 60’s you should be good, if you’re in decent health. If you’re obese, then probably not. My wife Gail is in her early 60’s and works harder than people 30 years younger. But she is starting to feel it.

This is where SPIN-Farming concepts can really be put into play. You can adjust your intensity level and crop repertoire. I don’t think anyone in their 60’s wants to do a Curtis Stone-type intense greens production regime. Instead, you can skew intensity levels to 1 and 2 type production. Or maybe even do just 1 type production, or specialize in one crop, say garlic.

Once you get into your 60’s and 70’s many have supplemental sources of income, so they are not relying on SPIN-Farming solely for their bread and butter. When you’re younger, yes, you can be full out earning 6 figures at the top of SPIN’s revenue benchmarks. As you get older, not so much.

You can cycle through SPIN’s four models of operations many times throughout your life, ramping up and dialing back your business, depending on circumstances. As you get older you might change from full-time year round to part-time year round or part-time seasonal, with non-intensive production. If you’re multi-locational, you can give up the plots furthest from home base and start downsizing. SPIN-Farming is readily adjustable to the energy you can you put into it, and totally predictable because you can quantify the rewards you’ll get back. It’s up to you to make the calculation on how, when or even if, to quit. When those outdoor plots get to be too much, there’s always the den or basement.

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