Mix It Up

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

It’s winter. Are you selling “Spring Mix”? What you call, and put into, your salad mix 
shouldn’t always be the same. SPIN farmers change their salad ingredients  to reflect the changing seasons and keep customer interest stoked. 

How much variety and creativity they put into their salad mixes is dictated by how adventurous their customers are, and how big a revenue generator it is for them. Some ingredients like chard and kale can be grown all season long. Other ingredients like Bull’s blood beets, mache, orach, purslane and radicchio are relayed at different times in the season. 

Edible flowers also add a wow factor. SPIN farmer Chris Kimber, owner/operator of of 3 Crows Farm, recommends  adding nasturtiums to a Mesclun Mix. Just 2 or 3 per bag near the top will distinguish yourself from other vendors. They bloom all season long,and taste great, leaves and blooms – zippy, peppery burst. Another plus is they grow well in hanging planters so you don’t have to take up valuable plot space.

In spring, Rob Miller of Trefoil Gardens, adds violets to his mixes. He is one of Georgia’s few certified foragers and he includes wildlings to his mixes, in addition to the crops he grows. Check out his Wild Salad Mix:

SPIN’s guide # 14 details how to build a $30k business with specialty salad mixes as a key part of a crop repertoire. Get it here, and remember that what distinguishes your salads from the assembly line salads in the grocery aisle are its ingredients. Make sure its name conveys the creativity and character that you put in it so your customers get the message. 

LEARN FROM OTHER NONCONFORMING SALAD GROWERS LIKE CHRIS KIMBER AND ROB MILLER IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

 

The Farm Startup Story No One Tells

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Here’s the biggest untold story in farming today: starting out urban and small, greatly increases the chances of success. Stats? It’s too early yet, but over our 10 years of guiding farm startups, the anecdotal evidence is mounting.

SPIN-Farming members have always been clued in. Unlike the popular press that highlights the gloom and doom stories, we connect them in online meetups with those like Ryan Mason who are making it all work by the most important measurement of all – how much money they’re making.

Ryan’s urban farm startup story is now a cliché: Well-traveled, university-educated idealist takes up pedal-powered farming to address society’s ills. But what he’s accomplished is not well understood, and it illustrates what we’ve been pioneering for over 10 years.

Following the SPIN-Farming system, Ryan created Reclaim Urban Farm in Edmonton AB to shake up the status quo. Due to strong demand for local food by the community, his business flourished, plots and new sales channels multiplied, and his revenue steadily increased. Surpassing the critical 5 years in business mark last year, Ryan was ready to reclaim his family’s 50 acre farm. The sales channels he established as an urban farmer continue to be serviced at a greater scale with the larger rural operation. They include 2 farmers markets, a 30 member CSA and 55 wholesale customers.

Ryan has traded his bike for a Hino truck and is rebranding the business because he’s not urban any more. Reclaim Urban Farm has become Reclaim Organics. His principles have stayed the same along with his farming practices. He’s still working his plots intensively. It’s just that there are a lot more of them now. And there are a lot more zeroes in his revenue. Ryan’s gone from the rallying cry of “No more empty lots!” to managing payroll. The irony? He had to leave his family farm to come back to save it. The lesson?  Starting out urban, and small, greatly increases the chances of success. Because once you master production on a small space, establish sales channels that can continue to be serviced at greater scale, and start making a little money, you greatly increase your odds of figuring out how to make even more.

LEARN FROM THOSE LIKE RYAN MASON, WHO ARE STAYING IN BUSINESS LONG ENOUGH TO SCALE UP IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

To Get the Best Seed Price, Make a Call

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden, Pleasantdale, SK

In niche markets, SPIN farmers can adjust their pricing to cover their seed cost, but you should always try to get your seed costs down as low as possible. That means buying in bulk and shopping around.

Take pea greens. I found that 50 lbs. of peas can vary from $80 to $165, not counting delivery cost. A seed company I have built up a close relationship with over the years offers pea seed at around $80 for 50 .lbs, but this bulk quantity price is not listed publicly.  You have to call or email them. Johnny’s price is  double –  $165 for 50 lbs. The point is, if you don’t see what you need listed on a company’s website or catalog, pick up the phone. Personal contact with a seed supplier can save you money and establish a relationship that will keep on giving.

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Volume is an important consideration when ordering seeds, since buying in bulk quantities reduces the cost. Here is a delivery of 50 lbs. of peas.   

GET MORE SEED SAVVY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Priority # 1 in Year 1

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s  Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

If my email is any indication, 2019 might produce another bumper crop of new farmers. Those who are finding their way to me for advice come well-equipped with best practices and lengthy to-do lists. Very little of it has to do with making a go of it as a business. My advice is to keep an open mind about the farming industry’s sacred cows. Here are five that first-year farmers sometimes spend far too much energy on.

Composting
Composting is a multi-year process. Segment size production areas will need hundreds of pounds of finished compost. Larger areas, even more. You can start the process in year 1 if you have the space, but you certainly should not feel like a failure if you don’t. And you certainly shouldn’t aim to meet all your soil prep needs by closing any loops. Other soil natural amendments can be used before your composting gets up to speed, and fine tuning your operation’s inputs versus outputs equation can’t be figured out in your first year. You can ease into composting with a modest setup which might include four or five 4 ‘ by 4 ‘ by 4 ‘ feet bins. Wooden packing crates you can get for free will get you off to a great start.

Seed saving
Seed saving is another worthy practice, but it takes years to develop substantial amounts of seed. Again, you can learn the process and pick up on other’s experience, but for your first few years don’t create extra pressure by trying to aim to become your own seed supplier.

Season extension
This is an obsession that has grown in recent years. But starting out you should beware of anything that will add complexity to your operation – and structures that require significant expense and specialized expertise make production more challenging. Instead, try extending your season with strategic crop selection – choosing crops that do well in cool weather conditions, timing of plantings, frost tolerance. You will be surprised with how far “simple” growing will take you.

Rain water harvesting
Rain water harvesting is another worthy practice, but consider this. Elaborate water harvesting systems can increase efficiency – until they break down or malfunction. And they require investment, specialized knowledge and time to set up. It’s better to start simply and perfect more sophisticated systems over several years. Very basic watering methods using only a hose and some hardware store valves is all you need to start.

Cover cropping
Cover cropping can be important for weed control and soil building. But on typical SPIN-scale plots, it really isn’t practical. On larger areas it can also be difficult to work the crops back into the soil if you don’t have the right equipment. So proceed slowly, getting familiar with various techniques. In the meantime, use alternate methods that are much
simpler, like scuffle hoeing an area when the weeds are still at an early stage for weed control, and use local “feed store“ fertilizers like alfalfa pellets, blood meal and oil seed meals for soil building.

What should be the priorities of a first year farmer? There’s only one. Production. You need to develop the ability to grow consistently, in significant volume, at commercial grade. Few master it in year 1. If you also try to make your farm a showplace for all the latest and greatest farming practices, you might never master it at all. And a farm that’s not producing is just a heap of compost. So keep those emails coming. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll end up with a shorter 2019 to-do list than what you start with.

Maximizing production from small plots is what SPIN-Farming is all about. Relays is how you do that.

Maximizing production from small plots is what SPIN-Farming is all about. Relays is how you do that.

TO LEARN JUST WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW, AND DO, TO START A FARM, PURCHASES THE SPIN GUIDES HERE. ALSO INCLUDES FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP TO THE ONLINE SPIN SUPPORT GROUP.

Back to the Future Doesn’t Work

Courtesy of Roxanne C.,Philadelphia PA

A new year and the same old hard luck farmers story. Once again it recounts the woeful tale of failing beginning farmers – you know the type. No farming background. Go to college. Run up debt. Quit unsatisfying city jobs. Escape to the country, Get a small piece of property.Buy a few assorted animals.Try to sell organic vegetables. Bills mount.Sales don’t happen. And the blaming starts. Agribusiness. The government. Changing weather. Lack of a level playing field. Brutal economics.

The root cause of their failure is their choice of an outdated “back to the land” startup model. You know, the one based on the agrarian ideal. The one that requires many acres, loads of overhead, debt and risk. The one that makes it harder and more expensive than it needs to be. The one that increases the chances of failure. The one that makes no business sense.

The successful 21st century farmers we know and helped train, honed their production skills on backyard size plots and serviced whatever types of markets they could access the quickest and easiest, using the least amount of gear they could afford or barter for. Some move around. Some scale up. Some specialize in certain crops. Some branch out into processed food. More and more of them who we do online meetups with have passed the 5 years in business milestone. A few have now passed the 10 year mark. What they all have in common is they aren’t trying to create the future of farming by returning to the past.

SF photo farm caution sign business sense

TO LEARN A FAST,ECONOMICAL, LOW-RISK, MODERN WAY TO START A FARM, START PURCHASING THE SPIN GUIDES HERE. IF YOU’RE NOT READY TO GO ALL-IN JUST YET, MEET SUCCESSFUL FARMERS IN OUR MEMBERSHIP GROUP. YOU CAN JOIN IT HERE.

RELATED POSTS:
Advice You Won’t Hear At Farming Conferences
Reality Check for New Farmers
Farming Has A New Narrative
Make This the Year of Logistical Thinking
Getting Back to Business                                                                                                    Are You Ready for Self-Employment?

 

Advice You Won’t Get at Farm Conferences

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

This time of year I hear from a lot of aspiring farmers. They are filled with passion and enthusiasm and are eager to glomm on to role models. I’m a pretty easy target. I have been at the farmers market in Saskatoon, Sask. Zone 3 Canada for 20 + years, and right now I sell year round, at about 150 market days a year. I see farmers come and go all the time. Typically they last one or two years, then move on to something else. Why? They can’t  seem to figure things out, or make things go their way, because they bought into the hard way.

If you are looking to push yourself to the edge, you can do trampoline bridge jumping or traditional farming. But if you want to start a profitable business growing food, traditional farming is not the way to accomplish it. Instead, keep it simple. In Year 1, you don’t need to buy land or a tractor. Use what land you have or can borrow. Keep your investments minimal. Don’t get sidetracked with grow tunnels or aquaponics. That can happen, after you have mastered basic production, which is growing consistently, in volume, at commercial grade.

Also think revenue. Weeks of revenue, total revenue, bill paying revenue, going to
Mexico on a holiday revenue, and how your farm is going to pay for everything. Get grounded in reality quickly in the game. How about refrigeration for your produce. Have you thought about that? Have you researched your local markets/restaurant scene to see where the opportunities are? How about logistics? How are you going to make everything happen? It’s not rocket science, but it does require thought and planning to make an owner/operated farm work.

What helps is a platform for your thinking. That is what you can use SPIN-Farming for. It makes things easier for you by organizing your thinking and keeping you focused on what matters most to your initial success.

So when newbies come to me and say they want grow and sell produce at a farmers market, I say great, but also ask, How many marketing weeks are you targeting? What will be your average weekly cash flow? And I expect an answer, and a pretty good one. Again, SPIN-Farming can help you with this. This is the way I want to get you to start thinking, very early in your career. Notice I use the term career. That is the way you have to look at it, since you are entering a profession and building a business. You have to take it seriously, but that does not mean you have to die trying.

SF photo fb labor teach us

LEARN THE BUSINESS OF GROWING FOOD FROM THE MOST FORWARD-THINKING MINDS IN FARMING TODAY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Seeding Rate Helps Answer Whether A Crop Is Worth Growing

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s  Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

The planning questions keep coming, and last week the big one was, “How do I know if a crop is worth growing?” Getting an accurate read on your seed costs is a big part of the answer. In fact, knowing the cost to seed a bed is make or break in planning.

To get an accurate read on your seed costs, you need to determine your seeding rate per bed. To do that, you need to determine the following for the crop in question:

> # of rows per bed
> width of each row
> in-row spacing
> # of seed required per row
> # of seed required per bed

Using benchmarks from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, let’s look at carrots as an example.

> # of rows per standard size bed: 3
> width of each row: 2”
> in-row spacing: 12” apart; 30 seeds per foot
> # of seed required per row: 750 seeds
> # of seed required per bed: 1,125

Next, using the seed cost stats from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, look at what seed costs look like:
> typical cost per 25M quantities: $20 – $40
> cost to seed a bed: $2 per bed for the most expensive varieties

If you use SPIN’s revenue target of $100 per bed, you can see the seed cost per bed is way less than the revenue per bed. And in fact, some types of carrots can generate revenue of close to $200 per bed. So now you can see why SPIN categorizes carrots as a very high value crop.

Do the same calculations for more expensive sprouting microgreens seed, and you could start to see costs of up to $20 to seed a bed. Factoring in other costs and your labor, you need to determine when the answer to, “Is a crop worth growing?” is “No.”

There are lots of variables that can come into play too. You can tweak your seeding rate, raise your prices, or negotiate seed costs. But as with all businesses, at the end of the day it comes down to knowing what calculations to make. Seeding rate is an important, but overlooked one.

DDG3 photo 18You’ll get a feel for the amount of seed you need to use after a few trial plantings. The goal is to figure out the minimum amount of seed you need in order to achieve your targeted yield.  And then record that rate and figure out the cost to seed a bed.  

GET MORE SEED SAVVY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

What’s Your Pricing Power? Just Ask.

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

Pricing is one of the most important elements of marketing. We all know that. The pricing benchmark I set when I first developed the SPIN system was $3 per item or 2/$5. The idea was to use multiple unit pricing to get customers away from thinking about buying in quantity and to buy more items, and make convenient for them to grab and go without having to wait for items to be weighed out.

Customers liked it, and it worked for me. It kept a lot of $5 bills coming my way, and I didn’t have to give out change. Problem was a lot of customers seemed to limit their purchase at $5. So I decided to target $10 purchases. The best way was to make each unit smaller, and change the price to $3 per item, 2/$5 or any 5/$10. This seemed to work, and started getting more $10 sales. Believe it or not, many of my customers said this was too generous.

So I changed my price point yet again. Instead of $3 per unit, I increased it to $5 per unit, keeping unit quantities more or less the same. To make the new price point easier to accept, I made it $5 per unit or 3/$10. That worked. So instead of 5 units for $10, I was selling 3/$10. So less produce for more money. And no complaints from customers. Bottom line is that you have to keep on tweaking your price points. You don’t want to change too often, but don’t get stuck with the same price tier for too long either.

It also underscores the advantage SPIN farmers have over other retailers. Most retail is cut off from any significant dialogue about pricing decisions with those directly affected – customers. So retailers are left with only numbers to try and interpret. We have a HUGE advantage here, selling face to face, especially after you build up a repeat customer base because they’re a group that feels some loyalty and want to see you stay in business!  .

SF photo fb pricing power a

Being able to talk face to face with your customers is much better than looking at sales numbers and trying to wring meaning out of them at the end of a market. So when it comes to pricing, use your direct marketing advantage. Just ask. You might be surprised at how much power you have!

LEARN HOW TO PRICE, MARKET AND OPERATE A MONEYMAKING FARM BUSINESS IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.