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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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.

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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.

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SPIN-Farming in Plain Sight

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA 

The beauty of SPIN-Farming is that it can use spaces that are not suitable for traditional farming. Any remnant of land that measures at least 1,000 sq. ft. can contribute enough production and revenue to be worth a farmer’s time. So when you put on your SPIN glasses you start to see cropland everywhere.

But not everyone thinks farming is beautiful. In fact some communities have bylaws prohibiting the growing of food in front yards. So that means SPIN farmers sometimes need to get creative. Like here.

SF photo Rod Olson front lawn a

At this site, the backyard is a kale forest since the SPIN farmer, Rod Olson, owner/operator of Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms specializes in that crop (varieties: Curly and Red Russian), selling $15k a year to one restaurant alone. But he just couldn’t resist putting the front yard to use, too, so he created a “river of food.” It’s not your standard SPIN beds, but it provides food to the owner throughout the season in exchange for the use of her backyard space. So Rod gets his kale factory and keeps peace with the neighbors. And who knows? It may launch a new business designing food river gardens, once the neighbors see just how beautiful an edible garden can be.

SF photo blog kale

Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms specializes in kale. Other lucrative specialty crops include leafy greens, garlic, carrots and potatoes, and flowers.

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Stand and Deliver

Courtesy of Roxanne C. Philadelphia, PA 

SPIN farmers have a unique set of fitness gear. It’s designed to make their workouts easier to do, not harder. Like this tool here.

SF photo stand and plant tool David Elias

It’s the Stand and Plant planter. It was invented by a Tennessee farmer who specializes in sweet potatoes. He grows over 18 different varieties, and that means he plants a lot of them.

SPIN farmer David Elias, owner/operator of Hooligan Farm, bought the Stand and Plant planter this year and says he has already earned back its cost. He hasn’t just used it for his sweet potato slips. He’s also used it on his tomato transplants. It works well for peppers too. He spreads a flat of 4 packs down the row where they are to be planted, and then picks up and plants each pack as he works his way down the row. His work rate was about 100 plants in about a half hour. He’d highly recommend it and says you can order it direct from the inventor here.

On behalf of all current and future SPIN farmers, we’d like to thank the Tatorman for inventing the Stand and Plant. Farmers can always be counted on to have each other’s backs.

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