Farm a Go-Go

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

A post to the SPIN farmer online support group asks, “My home state has an interesting political environment after the elections that has led many people looking for an exit. Not getting political, just looking at options before my wallet is attacked. Has anyone moved their farm?”

For SPIN farmers it’s a straightforward question. Many don’t own much, or any, of the land they farm. SPIN’s production methods are portable and can be adapted to any climate. SPIN’s infrastructure is movable or easily replaceable. So it’s quite feasible to change the shape and size of a farm in response to a range of pressures, possibilities and life changes.

A new SPIN farm can be brought online rapidly. There will be soil and weed issues, as well as acclimating to a different seasonal time frame, but that’s pretty manageable using SPIN’s production segments and relays. Longer season crops is where the main adjustments will need to be made.

The biggest loss is your customer base that has taken time to develop. Researching the market potential of greener pastures done online will give you an idea of  what the new market opportunities or limitations will be. You can anticipate being more dependent on outside income for the first couple of years while you re-invest in market development, but with your experience managing what you’ve been doing, the production and operations end of your farm will come into line rapidly.

Soil building also takes time and does represent sweat equity,but farming is, at its root, an ad hoc and adaptive process. When life, economics or politics compel you to pull up stakes, two of your most important farm assets – SPIN knowledge and infrastructure – can be packed up and taken with you.

LEARN FROM PIONEERING SPIN FARMERS WHO ARE TAKING THEIR BUSINESSES TO NEW AND UNCHARTED PLACES IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE 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

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?

 

Flexibility Is A Farmer’s Most Valuable Asset

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Saskatoon is losing a farm many never knew was there, especially its neighbors. Wally Satzewich has sold the birthplace of SPIN-Farming, a suburban-style house that served as a backyard farm for over 25 years. Gone are the beds, the greenhouses and the basement grow room. The backyard farm that was built over a quarter of a century took just a few weekends to disassemble. That’s the beauty of SPIN-scale farms. When
life changes, they can too. Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Being rooted to the land is what has defined farming for generations. The practical reason is all the time and effort spent in soil building. But since SPIN farms are typically 40,000 sq. ft.(about an acre) or less, soil doesn’t represent a big investment. The plot in Saskatoon was only one of several Wally uses, and at only 1,000 sq. ft., it’s easily replaced.

Wally is still a full-time farmer. His home base now is Pleasantdale, and it meets two of his biggest farm requirements – municipal water service and a good Internet connection. His grow room is put back together, and the greenhouses may or may not be pressed back into service. He’s figuring out how to structure his new operation now that he has a 2 hour commute to market instead of a 5 minute one. His crop repertoire is getting a revamp.

But he’s got lots of options because he realized long ago that being tied to the land can mean having a noose around your neck. In a time when the ability to change quickly and continually is a competitive advantage, permanency isn’t at all useful. Flexibility, not land, is a small farmer’s most valuable asset.

SF photo fb mobility farm definition

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

 

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.

CONTINUAL SELF-CORRECTION IS WHAT THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP IS ALL ABOUT. GET A FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP  WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

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.