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. 



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.


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 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.


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


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?


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!


Farmers Working Things Out

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

While tech and farming are often pitted against each other, SPIN-Farming was very much a creation of the Internet. Wally knew his way of farming and selling could be systematized. He also knew farming is “experiential”, and that it had to be learned by doing.

But the reality was, if the only way aspiring farmers could get started with SPIN was by trailing him around in his backyard plots, it would get pretty crowded up there in Saskatoon. What he needed was to codify the system and then make it accessible to anyone, anywhere. Launched in March of 2006, the SPIN-Farming learning series is now being used by thousands of new farmers to get started, and stay, in business.

But farming can’t be reduced to just a system. It takes ongoing re-thinking and tinkering. . And that’s where another feature of SPIN comes into play – its Open Houses. Conducted as online meetups, they are where backyard growers get together to offer advice, problem solve and pioneer new ideas. Some don’t even interrupt their workflow. They just click on while bagging up their quick greens or cracking garlic. Others schedule a visit to Starbucks for some quiet time to get paper work done  and, as one member put it, kick back with some good coffee and learning

For one hour twice a month, SPIN members congregate to brainstorm with those who have “been there”, or are willing to help figure it out if they haven’t. Most, like Wally, do not come from farm families and don’t want to take on the traditional burdens of owning lots of land, investing piles of money and making a big lifestyle change. They just want to make money growing food to meet local demand. Here are some of the dynamics at work in these Open Houses.

Say something – Verbalizing how you are going to turn a plan into action is like making a contract with yourself and creates a higher level of commitment and accountability.

Say it to others – The best way to gain confidence in an area is to explain it to someone else. In the monthly meetups, a member will explain how their farm operates, their business model, their revenue goals, and plans for achieving them to an audience that takes them seriously. That makes them take their business goals more seriously.

Play with the numbers – Quantifying goals is a core concept of SPIN, but members come to understand that the specific numbers don’t matter. SPIN benchmarks are a starting point, but they aren’t right for everyone. Group members make assumptions, take guesses if they have no experience, prove them out, and and create their own benchmarks.

Get pushed – Wally and other experienced group members provides the reality check, pushing members if they are underachieving. For instance, Wally urged one member who was planning to double his revenue from $25K to $50K in 2 years, and told him how to do it in by adding a market day and extending his season. Another member, who had planned on just continuing his internship was convinced by the group to at least start some test plots and target $10K.

Farming has always been a collaborative profession. Granges, associations, extension services and conferences continue to be important connectors. But the speed and reach of online platforms provide entirely new inputs, bringing together farmers with vastly different experiences, perspectives, cultures and traditions. And even though the meeting place is virtual, the bonds formed there are very real, and lasting.

SPIN photo computer 1

Wally sending off some market intel on the going rate for garlic and parsnips right after Christmas.   

SF photo Ad Thanksgiving 7

Here’s some of the members who share their business plans and goals in SPIN’s Open Houses. Want to meet up with them and  hundreds of others who represent the brightest and most innovative minds in farming today? Sign up for SPIN’s online community here. 


Putting a Lawn Mower to Good Use

Courtesy of Christian K, 3 Crows Farm Cranbrook BC

I use a battery powered lawn mower to even out my harvests of arugula, lettuce and mesclun mix, and spinach. I do my initial harvest with a Farmers Friend Quick Greens cutter, but find that my 2nd, 3rd and maybe 4th cut are much improved if I run the mower over the bed to even out the cuttings and help remove the missed leaves. It takes about 30 seconds, and the next cutting comes in with full leaves and no crusty dried leaves to pick out.

When it’s time to clear the bed, I put on a ‘dethatching’ blade and lower the deck to 2″, and it scalps the bed well enough that there is little debris remaining and I can sometimes just use the Johnny Seeds tilther to prep for the next seeding or transplanting.

The mower is tidy, doesn’t foul the neighbouring beds, is light, quick, gas free, relatively
quiet and way less effort. It’s like a poor man’s power harrow – works with a cheap gas mower too if that’s what you’ve got.

SF photo blog lawn mower power harrow


2019 Trends and Who’s Setting Them

Here’s SPIN-Farming’s Alphabet List of 2019 Trends to look forward to, culled from all the presentations at this year’s Member Meetups. Thanks to all of the forward thinking SPIN farmers listed below who presented their business plans, how they implemented them and the revenue they targeted and achieved.

SPIN’s online Member Meetups are THE place to get in on the latest entrepreneurial farming trends as they are happening and learn from the real-world experience of those who are using SPIN-Farming to create and develop successful businesses. If starting a farm business, or learning the business of growing food, is on your New Year’s to-do list, you’re welcome to join in. (see below).

SPIN’s Alphabet of 2019 Trends
Agrihood – free land access and captive market
Buying clubs – gets around the bad rep of CSA’s
Compostable containers – consumers want them and will pay for them
Demographics – need to target customers more accurately, now that local is such a large market
EBT’s –  catering to the underserved is a big opportunity
Food safety – using it as a competitive advantage
Ginger – new niche crop which works pretty far north
Hiring – some actually need a parking lot for their workers
Ingredient analysis – big part of value added products
Jackfruit – reselling non-local fruits leads customers to your local vegetables
KETO – the special diet crowd becomes a sizable market
Loofa – diversifying with health/beauty products
Moving the farm – not hard to do, is being prompted by search for better markets
Nutrition information – consider it a value add
Onsite farm stands – more are doing them
Pricing power – average unit pricing  is increasing to $4, 3 for $10                                  Quick freeze- farm to freezer is the next big opportunity to expand the local food market
Rural –  urban farmers are giving up the city to expand
Snacking – lots of new product opportunities and customers here
Transit stops – farmers markets are setting up there
Unit prices – the average is creeping up to $3
Vistaprint – your partner for brand building; great for sings, business cards, banners
Weddings – brides want local flowers
X-piration date – prepared foods have a shelf life that needs to be stated
York Fresh Foods – new urban farm role model that is more sustainable
Zoning – city governments are finally taking commercial urban farming seriously

SPIN Farming 2018 Start Performers

SF photo Trends 2019 a

Chris Kimber, 3 Crows Farm, Cranbrook BC                                                                   Lisa Patton, Hope Rising Farm, Garden City MO
Steve Patton, Hope Rising Farm, Garden City MO                                                        Ryan Doan, Urban Greens, Cincinnati OH 
Nick van Riper  Urban Greens, Cincinnati OH                                                                Tom Hinman, Sweet Harvest, New Hartford CT                                                      Blythe Woods, Maggie’s Farm Gettysburg, Gettysburg PA                                          Rex Landings, Cackleberry Farms, Meridian ID                                                Courtney Tchida, Cornercopia Organic Student Farm, Univ. of MN, St.Paul  MN      Cathy LeValley, New Earth Micro Farm, Unionville, MI                              Lourdes Casañares, Masagana Flower Farm, La Broquerie MB 
Bruce Manns, York Fresh Foods, York PA

There are two options. You can purchase membership here, to participate in our online support group and get access to all past and future Member Meetups as well as monthly instant learning sessions conducted by SPIN-Farming’s creator, Wally Satzewich.

If you are committed to starting a business, purchase our learning program here which also comes with a trial membership. Be on trend and in the money in 2019!

Ring Up Holiday Sales

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

If you are in a year round farmers market like I am, you have the opportunity to fill your stocking with some extra Christmas cash. Markets have gotten much more sophisticated about attracting additional shoppers at this time of year, those who want gifts that are craftsy,  not made in China.

The Saskatoon Farmers Market promotes itself as a go-to destination for the holidays, with special events like a Gingerbread House contest (“all team sizes and ages welcome”). This year a special night market in early December became a much anticipated event , and the Dinner in the Dark, that laid out a farmers’ market sourced meal served under gradually dimming light and culminating with dessert in total darkness, sold out weeks in advance.

It’s fun and lucrative to play Santa. Handmade candles, soaps, baked goods, basically any non-produce item will sell, if you put a ribbon around it. To give you a flavor of our market this time of year, come along with Gail and I on a behind the scenes tour of this year’s holiday market.
Merry Xmas.

Year round indoor markets are in the unique position to capture extra sales at the holidays by attracting gift shoppers. But as a vendor you need to step up your game in terms of product offerings.

SPIN photo holiday tree

Decorating the tree has become a yearly ritual for vendors. We put forth a team effort and bond over some spiked hot cocoa. This tree is not local, and it’s not even alive. When it comes to marketing, we do what’s practical.  

Bakers really cash in. Platters of homemade cookies can go for as much as $50. Sometimes people gift themselves. At this time of year, you don’t have to twist any arms.

Blog holiday bakers

Candles are another sure bet. Diversifying your produce operation with value added items like these eliminates the hassle of having to have a commercial kitchen.

Blog holiday candles


SPIN photo holiday bird feeder

Another sure bet, tried and tested for several years by Gail. Bird feeder gifts are always the right size and color.

SPIN photo holiday book signing

A book signed by the author is a very personal gift. One you won’t get from a big box store. And whenever you are looking for a gift that is 100% pure how-to, always keep in mind a SPIN guide.

Even outside events draw crowds.

Blog holiday ice sculpture


SPIN photo holiday blues snowman