Niche Products Can Diversify or Define Your Business

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

SPIN farmers are always experimenting with niche crops to stay on top of trends, or sometimes create them. This is an advantage we have over larger scale growers – we don’t have to bet the farm to discover our next moneymaker. We can trial in small “batches”, and when we have access to more plots than we need, which is becoming more and more common. And since we are always interacting with our customers, we have a pretty good idea of what people might buy, and which customers to cater to.

There are a couple of ways to make niche crops pay off. One way is to base your business on them, like Adithya Ramachandran and Jenny Menat of Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens. Their half acre farm focuses on ethnic and specialty crops that aren’t available from other vendors in their area. Their niche crops include tomatillos, Moringa greens, Padrón peppers, jalapeño peppers, Roselle, Kabocha squash and Jamaican sorrel. They introduce them by providing samples and cooking instructions and their business strategy is to attract a sophisticated clientele to their market stand.

Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens base their business on growing niche crops. Notice they also offer recipes in a bag like Salsa verde mix and ratatouille mix.

Rob Miller, of Trefoil Gardens, has built his business on mushrooms, both cultivated and wild, and rare greens such as dock and poke, as well as violet Figs, pawpaw and sumac berries. He posts availability and recipes on his social media a week prior to market. His customers seek him out to try something new and exotic, and now he is starting to grow traditional SPIN crops to be more of a one-stop shop.

Blue and white oyster mushrooms attract a special clientele to Rob Miller’s market stand.

I branched out the other way, by growing specialty and ethnic crops as an add-on to my more traditional SPIN repertoire. I have had success with horse radish and fava beans. I don’t put them out at my stand – I grow these crops as a private stock just or those customers who have self-identified as more progressive eaters. So you might say I have two different product lines – one for connoisseurs and one for the mass market.

My fava beans have their own followers who get notified when they are available.

The rise of “food culture” means more people are becoming adventurous in their eating, and this means SPIN farmers can be more adventurous too. Whether you use niche crops to diversify, or define, your business, more and more SPIN farmers are finding the payoff is worth it.

Use yardsharing to create an orchard

Courtesy of Ben Klempner, Unity Farm, Moshav Yishi IS

Although I have not been successful in acquiring land through yardshare for the growing of vegetables, I have been very successful in “yard sharing” fruit trees. In others words, knocking on a door with a fruit tree in the yard and asking the owner if I can harvest the fruit from their tree. They are usually more than happy to have me pick that fruit otherwise it just ends up rotting on their lawn. A different type of “yardsharing,” but this type of yardshare has become my “orchard” of sorts.

I have not analyzed the cost/benefit of this type of foraging,but it’s fun. And it seems that there is an excitement around it and that excitement brings with it an economic value. Also, aside from the time harvesting and a few basic pieces of equipment (which are good to have around the house anyway) there seems to be little investment cost. No seeds, no water, no soil amendments, no time, effort, and energy taking care of the trees and soil. Just harvesting from neighborhood trees that would otherwise go unharvested with fruit left to rot. My CSA people like that they’re getting more than just vegetables.They also like the idea of foraged produce in their CSA bags (it makes them feel very avant garde).

SF photo Binyamin foraging

Here is Ben foraging oranges from a neighbor’s yard. He transitioned to full-time farming using the SPIN-Farming system in Spring of 2014, creating Unity Farm in a former industrial zone using 900 Earthboxes. In SPIN’s online forum he has addressed such topics as crowdfunding, dealing with closed-minded extension agents, and how to build a profitable customer base, and has been a guest on SPIN’s semi-monthly Open Houses. 

Follow  Ben and Unity Farm a thumbs up at: Facebook.com/UnityFarmIsrael and visit his website at  http://unityurbanfarm.weebly.com/

Thumbs up to the first SPIN farmer in Israel!

For SPIN forum membership information, email SPIN co-founder Roxanne Christensen at rchristensen@infocommercegroup.com