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.

GET TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE FARMING EASIER ON YOURSELF FROM SPIN FARMERS ATALL STAGES OF LIFE IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Welcome to No Trace Farm

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

This is a situation SPIN farmers try to avoid. Even though the yard owner wants to champion it, and there’s no law against it, front yard farming isn’t always a good idea. Controversy feeds the media and sells newspapers, but it works against building a business. In your face farming isn’t healthy for anyone, and sometimes even when you’re right, you’re in the wrong. .

So remember when you are starting and operating an urban and suburban farm that backyards minimize conflict, fences make good neighbors, and farm diplomacy ranks up there with soil maintenance and food safety as a best practice.

Read more about farm diplomacy here. 

SF photo blog no trace farm

It is much easier to farm without distractions or discomfort, so the main objective is to have your farming activities be a non-issue.

GET MORE PRACTICAL ON-THE-GROUND ADVICE FROM THOSE WHO ARE OUT THERE MAKING MONEY FROM GARDEN-SIZE PLOTS (USUALLY IN BACKYARDS) EVERY DAY. IN THE SPIN ONLINE GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

 

How SPIN Farmers Are Building Their Own Supply Chains

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA 

It took several generations to dismantle local food supply chains but SPIN farmers like Mary Ackley, owner/operator of Little Wild Things City Farm in the heart of DC, are rebuilding it pretty quickly, without Trump-size infrastructure investment or government policy changes. All she’s using is some off-the-shelf e-commerce software that keeps her business open 24/7 and offers just-in-time ordering and delivery.

The software that powers her business wasn’t even designed for a local farm business, but with a little tinkering, which farmers are great at, she integrated Shopify with Trade Gecko and a few apps to get it to do what needed to be done. She says the most-used feature is same-day delivery by Postmates courier. So not only does her business shorten the food supply chain, it improves upon the old one by producing just what chefs need, when they need it. No waste. Steady production. Highest quality product. Dependable relationship between farmer and chef. Steady cashflow.

Here’s how it works, and here’s how new farm businesses are being created a lot quicker than most would think possible, even if it is one SPIN farmer at a time.

GET MORE IDEAS ON BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL FARM BUSINESS FROM MARY AND OTHER SUCCESSFUL FARMERS LIKE HERE IN THE IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COME WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

SPIN-Farming Certification Means Business

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What’s it good for? SPIN-Farming certification doesn’t leave you wondering. Once you’ve earned it, what you’ll have to show for it is a moneymaking farm business. The certification program is focused, rigorous, performance-based and produces a measurable ROI.

Completion time depends on the level you are starting from. Here are the levels:

SPIN-Farming Levels of Achievement

$ Pro 1 (Basics concepts) – Novice ($500 average gross/week)
18 Credits
Covers:                                                                                                                                     >Design
>Production techniques
>Basic, low-cost infrastructure and gear
>Harvesting & prepping practices
>Safe farming practices
Graduation requirement: present the plan that generated $500 average gross/week in revenue- crops grown, unit amounts, sales channels, pricing, number of marketing weeks

completion of this level signifies a novice farmer

$$ Pro 2 (includes 2.0 concepts) – Apprentice ($1,000 average gross/week)
21 Credits
Covers:                                                                                                                     >Equipment investments
>Land base allocation
>Extended marketing period
Graduation requirement: present the plan that generated $1,000 average gross/week in revenue – crops grown, unit amounts, sales channels, pricing, number of marketing weeks

completion of this level signifies an apprentice farmer

$$$ Pro 3 – Experienced ($2,000 average gross/week)
12 Credits
Covers:                                                                                                                                   >Work rate
>Cropping strategies
>Crop repertoire
>Extended marketing period
Graduation requirement: present the plan that generated $2,000 average gross/week in revenue – crops grown, unit amounts, sales channels, pricing, number of marketing weeks

completion of this level signifies an experienced farmer

$$$$ Pro 4 – Expert ( $2,000+ average gross per week)
12 Credits
Covers:                                                                                                                                >Maximized marketing period
>Season extension
>GAP compliance
Graduation requirement: present the plan that generated $2,000+ average gross/week in revenue – crops grown, unit amounts, sales channels, pricing, number of marketing weeks

completion of this level signifies an expert farmer

No grades. No papers. You learn by doing with online guidance from a SPIN mentor and peer-to-peer support.

Here’s how it works:
>Pick the level you are starting from
>Be assigned a SPIN mentor
>Earn SPIN credits (you might already have)!
>Achieve progressively higher levels of proficiency and revenue
>Create a moneymaking farm as you go, at a pace that suits your abilities, time and resources

Here’s graduation requirements:
>Follow our online learning program
>Pass a 25 question test
>Provide key 5 SPIN metrics for each level you complete
>Create a moneymaking SPIN farm

For more details on SPIN-Farming certification, go here.

The Entrepreneurial Advantage Makes All the Difference

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

SPIN-Farming and nonprofits are not a natural fit. Sure, SPIN’s planting plan can be used to maximize yields in a minimum amount of space. But SPIN is primarily a franchise-like business model. Those who have the most success with it use it to become self-employed business owners.

SPIN farmers are ambitious and have a lot, or sometimes everything, on the line. They are just as passionate about their work, and their methods are just as virtuous, as mission-driven growers. But at the end of the day, among their missions is to pay the bills. They have the entrepreneurial advantage.

Nonprofit growers have all their costs covered and they can count on a steady paycheck as long as the grant writers do their jobs. They aren’t vested in their own success. They are really social workers who happen to be growing food.

This differentiation is important when assessing the viability of small scale and urban farming. Skepticism is useful and criticism can be constructive, but it is frequently misplaced. The underachievement and failures of many of the new crop of small and urban farms is not because they can’t be viable. It’s because they lack the entrepreneurial advantage.

SPIN photo Kipp sign

IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT WITH BACKYARD FARMERS WHO ARE GROWING PROFITS ALONG WITH THEIR VEGGIES, THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP IS THE PLACE FOR YOU. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Plant With Your Head as Well as Your Gut

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

“Go with your gut” is sometimes good advice. But if you want to succeed in business, you also have to use your head. Over the years I have developed strategies for each of my crops. Having a cropping strategy is especially important for crops that are pretty common or low value, such as carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and even greens because you have to differentiate yourself at market from other growers, and you have to turn a low value crop into a high value one. That means having a crop available when others don’t, offering different varieties from others, or targeting different markets, like
restaurants.

For instance, carrots have always been a top money making crop for me. But a carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot. There are different sizes of carrots. There are rainbow carrots. There are novelty carrots. Each one has a different place and time throughout my marketing period.

DDG4 photo 15

Carrots are another big crop because they provide steady cash flow. This year I am growing 10 segments. I sell them steadily throughout the season starting with scallion and then progressing to onion bunches and dry onion in the fall.

Leafy greens are another important crop to think through because there are so many options – chard, collards, kale, lettuces, salad mixes, spinaches. Fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro and parsley can also be included. And then there are micro greens, orach, purslane and other novelty crops. My greens strategy is based on having anywhere from 100 units to 500 units of some combination of greens throughout the season, especially early on before other producers have them.

Knowing why you are growing a certain crop is as important as knowing how to grow it, and having cropping strategies is what turns growing into a business.

FIND OUT WHEN, HOW AND WHICH MONEYMAKING CROPS SPIN FARMERS ARE GROWING IN THE ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. RECEIVE FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP  WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

Why Not Just Grow High Value Crops?

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

In planning discussions the question frequently comes up, “If you want to make money, why not just grow the highest value crops?”  It’s easy to go through SPIN 2.0 Crop profiles and pull them out – rainbow carrots, garlic, microgreens, onions, shallots. Specialized operations can work – for a while. But farming is never steady state. What works one year can’t be counted on to work  the next.

The wheels of commerce are greased by trends, which are inherently short-lived. Consumer tastes and the competitive landscape are changing much more rapidly than they used to. A hot trend like micros attracts a lot of new suppliers, and then the market becomes saturated. If succeeding in business were as easy as just selling what’s most expensive, we’d all be as rich as Donald Trump.

Then there are the environmental concerns. Unanticipated weed pressure or dry conditions can make the growing of some higher value crops tricky. Disease and insects are also a risk. If all your business is dependent on one or just a few crops, and you have crop failures, just ask the Big Ag farmers how that goes. Boom and bust.

I’ve always followed the “steady Eddy” strategy by experimenting with a wide variety of crops and developing an extensive crop repertoire that includes lower value crops. Green beans, peas, potatoes, and winter squash are easier to grow in heavier weed pressure conditions.

If you sell at market, it is better to have a selection of produce so that you can be a one stop shop. Your regular customers will usually buy whatever you have, so that means more sales to your regulars. Also you will be better able to lure new customers. You also stand a better chance of developing a more consistent cash flow with a more diverse offering of produce. If you want to offer a CSA, a variety of items is usually part of the deal.

Specialized operations can simplify start up or work well as part-time operations. But they also increase your risks and limit your opportunities. As I said, farming is never steady state, and you can expand or narrow your operation as you go through different life stages. Adapt and prosper!

SPIN photo microgrees and field

Man does not live by micros alone. 

THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP IS ALWAYS SERVING UP BACKYARD FARMING BUSINESS ADVICE. RECEIVE FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP  WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE

Is Organic Certification Worth It?

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

The question frequently comes up, Do SPIN farmers get organic certification? The real question is, Is organic certification worth it?  Let’s think it through from a SPIN farmer’s perspective.

Organic certification has cost and effort associated with it, so you need to determine if there is a business advantage to having it. SPIN is a direct marketing model so growers sell direct to their customers. They can explain their methods, show photos of their operation and even have customers come visit their plots. That is how they build trust, and it is what has driven the growth of farmer’s markets over the last 15 years. People want to know the color of their farmers eyes. That is the advantage SPIN farmers have – they can build trust directly. Organic certification is more useful for growers who can’t do that because they sell through middlemen. They have to outsource trust building to certification agencies.

The bottom line is that for SPIN farmers, it probably makes more sense to put the cost and effort of certification into building relationships with customers instead.

SF photo blog certification John at farm stand

Here John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL sells to a customer who always knows where to find him. His plots are 5 minutes from the market. 

GET HELP WITH OTHER MAJOR BACKYARD FARMING BUSINESS DECISIONS IN SPIN’S ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP IS AVAILABLE WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

How Much Land Do You Need to Support a 100 Member CSA?

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

In the SPIN online support group, business models are debated as hotly as growing practices. A recent topic was CSA’s. Some like the control it gives them over their planning, revenue and customer base. Others feel it limits a farmer’s upside and boxes their thinking. While there are fiercely held opinions, there is no definitive answer. How you make your money is as personal a decision as how you grow. Best way to figure it out is with some soul searching and a few beers.

Once you commit, though, the important questions can be answered by numbers crunching. Like this one: How much land do you need to support 100 CSA members? I have never done a CSA, but since SPIN has some benchmarks, it’s easy to crunch some numbers and get a reasonable answer. Let’s say 1 acre has 400 standard beds. Let’s also say that each standard SPIN bed can produce 50 units, on average. 400 x 50 = 20,000 production units. If you do a bi-relay on 100 of those beds, that’s an extra 5,000 units 25,000 units is therefore a reasonable and conservative production target.

If a share basket had 10 units of production per week, for 20 weeks we are looking at 1,000 production units per week, or 20,000 in total for the season. So 1 acre of SPIN-type production could support a 100 member CSA. Another way to figure this is using SPIN segments. There are 40 segments in 1 acre. Each segment can produce 500 units. If each share has 200 units, each segment would support 2.5 shares.

These numbers probably won’t be exactly right in most situations, but they provide a reasonable answer to make a plan and execute. Then we can review your numbers and see how to improve. More relays? Maybe. But is the extra labor worth it? Let’s run more numbers. Partnering with other farmers on a full diet CSA? Check in with David Elias of Hooligan Farm who’s trying that this year.

SF photo David Elias with juice

He’s probably not down the street from you, so you can’t grab a beer, or a smoothie. But you can catch him in the SPIN forum, which is the next best thing.

Membership in SPIN’s online hub for backyard-based growers is available to anyone who purchases our learning programs. Hope you’ll join in!