SPIN Farmers Target Cat People

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

Cat grass is a good niche crop. Many of your customers will have cats, and who doesn’t want to treat their cat? Most cat people are familiar with cat grass, so there is no need for a hard sell, and it’s a great impulse buy.

Things in your favor are it’s fast and cheap. Days to harvest is around 2 weeks. You can use feed oats. I get mine at a local feed store.

A good way to sell cat grass is in these 4 inch by 6 inch trays, which are cheap and widely available. I get mine at a local garden center. They come in a pack of 6 trays, joined together.

SF photo blog cat grass tray Wally uses

Spread some moist top soil in the bottom half. Then lay in some oat seed. More or less back to back. Cover with soil, water the tray down a bit. Cover with card board or plastic and put into a germination area. Wait till the seed starts to emerge. Remove covering. Keep watering until grass is several inches high. Then it’s off to market.

SF photo blog cat grass large

A good price point is $5 per container. You can plant at least 25 of these trays per hour. Very low cost, with quick return. Test market a few of these trays, and see what happens. You can ramp up very quickly if it sells. And then you can convince your customers to treat themselves with some salad greens.

GET IDEAS FOR OTHER GREAT NICHE PRODUCTS IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

How to Get Big Sales of Big Onions

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

One way SPIN farmers make bigger sales is by using a mix and match multiple unit pricing strategy – $3/unit, 2 for $5, 5 for $10. We sell our onions in mesh bags, and this fits this strategy well, with small onions making up about a half pound bag. But what do you do with large size onions that weigh a half pound or more? They can’t be plugged into this strategy.

What works for me is marketing them in braid form. The large onions sell at well at $10 a braid. Each braid has 5 onions and are about 3 lbs. per braid. I also test marketed an upscale version with garlic and dry peppers. Those go for $20. This customer bought one of each, for a nice $30 sale.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

Some come to SPIN expecting hard and fast rules, like always following a set pricing strategy. But that’s not how farming works. When it comes to pricing strategies an important point to understand is that practice overrules orthodoxy. SPIN farmers are master rule breakers – especially rules of their own devising! So be creative not just with your braiding, bu also in your marketing and pricing strategies.

GET MORE PRICING AND MARKETING TIPS FROM THE PRO’S IN SPIN’S ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY GUIDE. 

 

Perennials Have Their Place

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

Because of its backyard-size scale, SPIN-Farming emphasizes crops with very short growing times that can be grown and harvested very quickly, because that is the way to multiply your production from a small space. But perennial crops, like these sunchokes, can also come into play.

SF photo blog sunchokes

Right now I am growing them in the perimeter area of my SPIN farm. But if you have the space, a segment size planting can be worth a lot of money. A local garden center is always asking if we have any, and they are willing to pay $10 lb. It’s also a pretty easy sell at market, and to chefs.

Once planted, sunchokes are there to stay. Other perennial crops, like horseradish, rhubarb, mint and raspberries can also earn their place in a SPIN crop repertoire. Even if you have limited space, don’t limit your planting to just annuals. Perennials are crops that keep on giving.

GET MORE NEW PRODUCT IDEAS IN SPIN’s ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Favas: A Bean for the New Millennials

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

I planted a half segment (500 sq. ft.) of broad beans today. It took less than an hour.

SF photo blog fava 3 planting

Once these initial plantings are up, I will wait for development, and then put in more sub-segment plantings right through June. By staggering the timing of plantings this way, I can have continuous production and sales throughout the summer. Then I’ll relay the area to another crop.

Broad beans are easy to plant and grow. The Earthway seeder does not have a plate to accommodate them, so you need to do it by hand. All you have to do is set up the beds, and press the bean into soil.

SF photo blog fava 4 row

Then rake over the bed. Your work rate should be about 10 minutes per bed to seed. Germination is more or less certain.

I’ve grown broad beans for years, and they have always been a good niche crop. But now that there is a new generation that partly defines itself by how adventurous they can be with their eating, there is even more demand. Just don’t call them broad beans. Call them fava beans. They’re a good crop to try to attract a new market, or see if you can inject some new enthusiasm into your existing one.

 

Jumpstart an Herb Business on 1,200 Sq. Ft.

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

A SPIN member just joined the online support group looking to fast track some fresh herb sales. He wrote:

“Hello All. I plan to combine the sale of herbs only at two or three of my local farmers markets along with Pre-Packaged Nuts/ Seeds and Spices. My hope is to promote the sales of the nut and seed business with the fresh herb offerings. I have had success growing basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender on a small scale over the past three seasons and am ready to commit approximately x 1200 sq ft of garden space to this effort. Any feedback on what to focus on in order to maximize my effort would be greatly appreciated. I am a one man show, growing in Northeast PA. Zone 6a. Thanks in advance.”

Herbs are a great addition to diversify or compliment a product line,especially for solo operators because they are easy to plant, harvest and prep. Cilantro, dill,and parsley are good bets. You can get 2 -3 cuts of cilantro before it goes to seed. So you will need several staggered plantings to take you through the season. You can get even more cuts from baby/green dill, but again, you need staggered plantings. Parsley is all season, so there is no need for staggered plantings.

SF photo blog herb dill cilantro

Plant cilantro and dill with tight spacings using an Earthway seeder in 4 – 5 row standard beds, using the chard plate. Use transplants for parsley.

You should target units of production on the 100 to 200 bunches in total of the three herbs on a weekly basis. If you have a 20 marketing week period, you’ll produce 2,000 to 4,000 bunches. At $2.00 per bunch, you can target revenue of $4K to $8K.

Herbs are very high value, are always in demand at market and their fragrance adds a sensual dimension to your stand. So if you have some unused space next to the barbie, or can rig up some containers on a patio, you can make profitable use of it by growing the useful plants.

SF photo blog herb parsely in tubs cropped

 

 

Weather Can Be Made To Help With Your Prep Work

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

Weather is always a critical factor in farming, and SPIN farmers look for ways to use it to their advantage. Take today for instance. It’s an atypical fall day. Just before Halloween, and there is no snow on the ground. Late afternoon temperature is still conducive to outside work, if you bundle up a bit. So for me this is great weather for getting a significant volume of root crops washed and put into short term storage in the cooler.

It is much more efficient to do this task outside than inside. Setting up an outdoor workstation takes a few minutes. Only gear needed is a spray gun and wash buckets.

SF photo blog weather prepping

Single digit day time highs C. are perfect for letting the crops dry out during the day. Night time temperatures of 0 C. requires just a few tarps to cover the prepped crops. Once the washed crops dry out, they will last for many weeks in the cooler. I just take out what I need as I need it for market days throughout the winter.

We all know how uncooperative weather can sometimes be, so when there are days when you can make it work for you, go with it.

DDG4 photo 20Rainbow carrots really brighten up those dull winter days at market and are a very high value crop for SPIN farmers. If the aren’t already part of your crop repertoire, find out all about them in this guide.

 

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson Learned: How to Market an Ugly Crop

Courtesy of Bryon H., Saskatoon SK

This week I had quite an interesting experience. Wally took me out to one of his backyard plots to harvest horseradish. What I was expecting was a typical looking SPIN plot with beds. When we got there it was barely noticeable what we were going to harvest! Once we walked to a back corner of the lot Wally pointed out the horseradish patch,an area that was teeming with plants.
SF photo Bryon horse radish plot
The more shocking event was actual harvesting. The harvestable part of horseradish is the root portion. They establish very deep roots which are very difficult to harvest completely. The good thing is that those unharvested portions will grow back aggressively the next year. Being a perennial, horseradish is a very low maintenance crop.
SF photo Bryon horse radish harvesting
Now the difficulty with this crop is the marketing and selling. A lot of people have never purchased and processed fresh horseradish. I’ve had some success at market today with offering a small sample to cook with and explaining a simple recipe. Two of the customers I did this with ended up actually purchasing a bag of horseradish.

Alternatively this is a much more marketable crop to restaurants. A chef who is a regular at the farmers market picked up five pounds and said he wanted another five pounds on the weekend!
SF photo Bryon horse radish crop

One thing I’d like to touch on that is a huge SPIN farming principle, workflow. Yesterday Wally and I were slicing  pumpkins for sale, and he commented on something I really took notice of. Ideally your work flow once organized should be fast and efficient, but as Wally had to remind me today is that it’s never worth working panicked.When you are rushing it is too easy to miss details or steps which could result in inferior quality produce being sold or damaging some of your own equipment. The former possibly resulting in a poor first impression, reducing the chances of customers returning and probably eliminating the chance of them becoming a word of mouth advertiser for you.

SF photo Bryon horse radish with Wally

 

It was a lot of fun trying to sell a niche product like horseradish. I noticed that the cultures who traditionally cooked horseradish were much more comfortable buying it. It is probably worth it to do some research on your city’s demographics and see which vegetables are used in those cuisines when deciding which new crops to test out.

Rake in Sales With Fall’s New Moneymakers

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

Pumpkins and winter squash have become a bigger part of my fall crop repertoire over the years, and this year chefs are buying them by the wagon loads.

 

I am using $1.00 per pound as the base line, but I give chefs a price break on the larger ones, say in the 40 pound range. They want the heirloom types – Cinderella, Boston Marrow, Amish pie, Australian Butter. Now is the time to plan on capturing this market, ahead of other vendors.

As you start thinking about your 2016 crop repertoire, be sure to include these types of crops along with the classic SPIN storage crops of beets, carrots, onions and potatoes. If I can manage to get off a good crop in zone 2, which has an early FFF (first fall frost) date, growers with longer seasons will make out even better.

SF photo pumpkins and squash wagonload

The chef from Ayden Kitchen and Bar hauls away a $100  order of pumpkins and squash. This crop is keeping my sales going strong right through fall.

 

Storage Crops – Boring But Big Moneymakers

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

One of the mistakes I now see among SPIN farmers is they quit too soon. Once you get beyond the traditional end of season mentality you can add hundreds or thousands of dollars more, to your income, without much sweat. How?

You’re probably thinking micros. Sure, they are a lucrative crop, and versatile. They can be grown indoors or outdoors. I actually find outdoor micros are more profitable once you consider the hassle factor of trayed indoor production. Pea shoots make the most money for me, and that’s all I grow now indoors.

My go-to moneymaker is storage crops. They’re not new or trendy, but they have a big impact on my bottom line. Here’s what they have going for them:

  • they are easy to grow; most aren’t bother by pests, and they don’t require much watering
  • they don’t require the TLC that micros do; storage practices are fairly easy to master
  • they are perfect for larger plots further from your home base, since they need space to sprawl, and don’t need much tending
  • they give you product to sell long after many other growers have hung it up for the season
  • they help you lock in customer relationships you made early in the season, and can forge new ones
  • no season extension gear required

Storage Crops Income Target:                                                                                         Carrots: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                            Potatoes: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                             Garlic: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                                    Onion: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                                      TOTAL INCOME: $500 – $600/week

If you want a stretch goal you can target $1,000 a week by adding crops like beets and tomatoes. Restaurants, indoor farmer’s markets, institutions or a winter CSA are all good sales channels, especially the later the season gets, because there is less competition. You can consider it like an end of the year bonus you are giving yourself. How you use it is up to you. Splurge on an island vacation or maybe that new tiller you’ve had your eye on for a few years.

SPIN photo storage crops in cooler

 

Here we’re looking at $xx worth of storage crops that…

SPIN photo storage crops marketing  …fly off the shelves at the end of the season because  fair weather farmers have packed it in.

A Carrot By Any Other Name

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

When people ask me what my favorite crop is, my answer is always the same. It’s whatever is selling best at market that week. Carrots are always among my best sellers, so I aim to have early carrots by the first week or two of July, and then have them to sell every week, right into the winter. But I change it up throughout the season, and even within the season. With so many varieties to choose from, that’s easy.

Right now I have about 1,000 lbs. left in my cooler. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s enough to give me cash flow into March. These are the varieties, and each is guaranteed to bring a different type of customer.

SF photo Wally Carrots

The purple carrots are an imperator type, Deep Purple, or Purple Rain. Their long roots make them difficult to harvest, but it’s worth it because customers come asking me for it. They appreciate its high nutritional value and consider it a super-food.

The middle carrot is Bolero, a Nantes type. It has good storage qualities. and is traditional looking, so it’s easy to market as a staple crop, good for cooking and kid’s snacks.

The third one is the Paris Market carrot. It’s a good novelty carrot that has developed a cult following. It’s dense texture and intense flavor makes it ideal for stews and is favored by foodies. I have been offering it for several years, and many customers buy only this type. I will be making larger plantings of this type this year. This type an really distinguish you at market .

Carrots come in all shapes and sizes, just like customers. The only trick is to match ’em up!

Check out more tips on selling carrots in  SPIN’s Dig Deeper guide # 4  on rainbow carrots.