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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’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.
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
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
WANT TO GROW WITH THESE PRO’S?
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!
LEARN FROM THE BEST MINDS IN THE BACKYARD FARMING BUSINESS TODAY, LIKE BRUCE MANNS WHO IS USING SPIN-FARMING TO COVER ALL OF HIS NON-PROFIT’S OPERATING EXPENSES IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.
The biggest challenge to sustainability has been defining what it means and developing practices to achieve it. Big Food is starting to make big progress. Rather than just giving lip service to an abstract moral imperative, companies are starting to operate differently, by reducing water and energy consumption and cutting carbon emissions, and putting processes in place to measure and monitor these changes, and incorporating them into their marketing message. They are also starting to reduce waste by improving packaging and manufacturing processes, and blockchain is starting to be used to trace very player in the supply chain. The corporate food industry has learned that its economic sustainability depends on practicing social and environmental sustainability, so it’s motivated.
Since it’s launch in 2006 SPIN-Farming has been teaching this lesson in reverse to new farmers who have been inspired to enter the profession based on the mantras “Small is beautiful” and “The soil is sacred.” While they’ve been well-schooled in social and environmental sustainability, we’ve been showing them how to operate businesses. This really isn’t an option any more. Big Food has plentiful resources, and most importantly the will, to define and advance the cause of sustainability. Sustainability is no longer just a niche, it’s not a selling point that’s exclusive to SPIN farmers, and its meaning will become less useful as a differentiator and less valuable in the marketplace as it becomes the norm.
That means that while the corporate food industry is getting better at being socially and
environmentally responsible, SPIN farmers are having to get better at business. No matter which way you come at it, the lesson is the same: in the long term, the three pillars of sustainability – the economic, social and environmental – support each other and need to be addressed simultaneously. SPIN farmers need to become as obsessive about their bottom lines as their organic matter. Otherwise, the world will progress without us.
LEARN HOW TO START AND KEEP A FARM BUSINESS GOING IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.
When a consumer demands, and a farmer claims, that a farm is sustainable, what do they mean? Lots of ink has been spilled, research funded, and advocacy groups formed over the last forty years to answer that question. Garth Youngberg and Richard Harwood wrote in 1989 in the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture: “We are yet a long way from knowing just what methods and systems in diverse locations will really lead to sustainability…In many regions of the country, however, and for many crops, the particular mix of methods that will allow curtailing use of harmful farm chemicals or building crop diversity, while also providing economic success, are not yet clear.
The stage is set for challenging not only farm practitioners, but also researchers, educators, and thefarm industry.”
Four decades on, the sustainable challenge is driving significant change in the farming industry. In our online member meetups, many use “sustainable” to describe their growing practices. Here’s how one of our members, John Greenwood who co-owns JNJ Farms with his wife Jan in Macomb, IL, first described sustainable in his farm’s marketing materials when he was just starting out.
“JNJ Farms takes great pride in producing locally grown safe and nutritious food for our customers. We use sustainable practices and don’t use pesticides on our produce. We grow our plants using non-GMO seeds. The production and management techniques we use help us avoid problems with insects before they cause damage to our crops. We can assure you that the produced raised at JNJ Farms is safe for your family. We eat what we grow. If we wouldn’t eat it, we wouldn’t sell it!!!”
John now points out, however, that it doesn’t capture the most important aspect of sustainability for a farmer – profitability. “To me sustainable is making a profit and being able to farm next season.”
While sustainable farming draws cheers from an increasing number of consumers demanding”fresh” and “local” and “nutritious” food, they have to realize it comes with a price, and they have to be willing to pay it. You can’t have sustainable farming unless those doing it can afford to stay in business. .
Congrats to John for managing to figure out the right balance to sustain his farm business for 5 years. And congrats to his customers for making it worth his while. Here’s to the next 5…