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.

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

 

2018 Trends and Who’s Setting Them

Here’s SPIN-Farming’s Alphabet List of 2018 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 2018 Trends
Agritourism – yes even sub-acre farms can get in on this
Brand building – important now that there’s more competition
Collaborative CSA – low-risk way to scale
DIY supply chains – ditto above
Exclusivity – new way to work a niche
Food Safety – take a course; it’s the mark of professionalism
Grocery stores – they’re courting small producers now
Herbaceous cocktails – bars are now customers
Inventory tracking – use kanban
Just in time delivery –  online ordering makes it easy
Kickstarter- works for expansion plans
Livestock – collaborate on this
Mix and match pricing – customers always buy more this way
Nursery business – yes, a few backyards can support one
Organic certification – in some markets it’s an advantage
Pet food – collaborate with veterianarian
Quackleberry eggs – duck eggs sell
Relative crop values – track it to increase your profitability
Specialization – easier to stand out with what you’re good at
Targeted revenue – always the starting point
Utility sink  – a farmer’s spa!
Videomercials – consumers remember then
Wholesaling – ask for terms that work for you or walk away
X-pansion – if demand is there, grow beyond your backyard
Yardsharing – see above
Zippy packaging – good-bye dull earth tones

SPIN Farming’s 2017 Star Performers
SF photo Trends 2018

Beth Hagenbuch, Penrose Market Garden, Detroit MI                                            Rob Miller, Trefoil Gardens, Woodstock GA                                                                  Mike Meier, Ground Floor Farm, Stuart FL                                                               Ray Derksen, Market Garden 434, Sylvania SK                                                 Lourdes Casañares, Masagana Flower Farm, Manitoba,                                     Mark Voss, Voss Organics, Madison WI                                                                        Max Valyear, Green Wheel Farms, Belleville ON                                                          Tara Callaghan, Little Victory Farm, Hunter River, PEI                                              Cale Sprister, Sandy’s Way Microfarm, Sedalia CO                                                      Rod Olson, Leafy & Lyre, Calgary AB

WANT TO LEARN HOW 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 guides here which also comes with a free trial membership.Be on trend and in the money in 2018!