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 making! So be creative not just with your braiding, bu also in your marketing and pricing strategies.



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.


Customers Don’t Always Know Best

Courtesy of John Greenwood, JNJ Farms, Macomb IL

SPIN farmers know the value of market research, but more than one has found out that people don’t actually buy what they say they will. John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL says, “People will say they want heirloom tomatoes but when they see them in odd shapes and real thinned skinned, they will often buy the hybrid varieties first. I have tried this at market putting mortgage lifters next to big beefs and will sell out of big beefs 1st. I am not saying you can’t sell heirlooms, I am saying grow what your local market wants.”

SF photo fb heirloom tomato

When Marcus Riedner of Happiness By The Acre in Calgary surveyed his customers they said they buy salad greens. He developed a salads-only CSA, but many who said they’d guy it didn’t. The lesson is to not bet the farm on on new product.


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.


Plant With Your Head as Well as Your Gut

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

“Go with your gut” is sometimes good advice. But if you want to succeed in business, you also have to use your head. Over the years I have developed strategies for each of my crops. Having a cropping strategy is especially important for crops that are pretty common or low value, such as carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and even greens because you have to differentiate yourself at market from other growers, and you have to turn a low value crop into a high value one. That means having a crop available when others don’t, offering different varieties from others, or targeting different markets, like restaurants.

For instance, carrots have always been a top money making crop for me. But a carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot. There are different sizes of carrots. There are rainbow carrots. There are novelty carrots. Each one has a different place and time throughout my marketing period.

DDG4 photo 15

Carrots are an important crop because they provide steady cash flow. This year I am growing 10 segments. I sell them steadily throughout the season starting with scallion and then progressing to onion bunches and dry onion in the fall.

Leafy greens are another important crop to think through because there are so many options – chard, collards, kale, lettuces, salad mixes, spinaches. Fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro and parsley can also be included. And then there are micro greens, orach, purslane and other novelty crops. My greens strategy is based on having anywhere from 100 units to 500 units of some combination of greens throughout the season, especially early on before other producers have them.

Knowing why you are growing a certain crop is as important as knowing how to grow it, and having cropping strategies is what turns growing into a business.


Quick easy money: Potting up volunteer plants

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

In early spring when your cash flow is still not developed,  your sales can get a boost from a source many growers overlook or toss out: volunteer plants from around your property. Typical plants that do well in pots are catmint, chives, horseradish, mint, rhubarb,  sunflowers and  violets, but you can try just about anything. So instead of weeding them out out, look at them as an early season cash crop.

Once potted up these plants  can be sold within a couple of weeks, after they have established themselves in the container. Typical price points for containers can be SPIN’s usual mix and match pricing scheme of  $3.00 per container, or  2 for $5.00, or even $5.00 or $10.00 each. I know for a fact people will pay $10 for potted up rhubarb. Mint is a big seller of mine, too. Containers can be the typical clay pot or  recycled deli containers.

Money does not grow on trees, but sometimes  it can be found under your feet.

SF photo easy money 1

Volunteers around the garden can be potted up. Basically, just about anything works. This is catnip.

SF photo easy money 2

Here is catnip on its way to market. Mint and rhubarb are easy sells, too.

Don’t Let a Sales Opportunity Go to Waste

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

Food waste is turning into a big cause, and I had a reporter come by my farm stand this last week to interview me about it. SPIN farmers take great care to be sure all their crops are ready for their close-up, but she was scouting out the ugly kind, blemished, and not suitable for sale. So I showed her some examples of lower grade, spoiled produce.

I explained that every week I typically get around 10 lbs. of cull carrots. Same with potatoes, beets,  pumpkin, winter squash and onions. This could be due to harvest damage, which then causes the crop to go bad sooner, or it could also be due imperfect storage conditions in some of my storage area.

What’s a SPIN farmer to do? Well, maybe we should borrow from the big boy’s playbook and try selling them.

This type of product offering and positioning makes it possible to cater to people not willing or able to pay premium prices. If you’ve got an ugly carrot or a disfigured eggplant, you might just be looking at a new product line.

SF photo cull produce

Vive La Niche

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

Aspiring agripreneurs can always count on receiving this advice: never plant anything without first identifying your market. “Grow what you sell, don’t sell what you grow” is pretty much conventional wisdom now, and that’s progress.

But since SPIN farmers are known for taking things to the next level, what does this advice mean to us? Niches. SPIN farmers play on local demographics, and nowadays there are quite a lot of varieties to choose from. Well-heeled émigré communities are becoming the norm in lots of cities. Specialty crops are seen as inclusive, rather than ethnic, and SPIN-scale growers can use their small plots to serve nearby customers with special needs and differentiate themselves at market.

Here’s an anecdote to make the point. A Philly boxer, Bernard Hopkins, is getting ready to meet his next opponent, Sergey Kovalev. The fight will take place in Atlantic City later this fall. The promoters chose AC because of a big Russian demographic on the east coast, to be sure to draw a crowd. So if I were a SPIN farmer on the east coast, I’d be on the lookout for a new demographic in town and start learning some Russian.

The right to food used to be thought of in terms of having sufficient quantities, or proper nutrition. But in a multicultural world, it is also being defined as having diversity of selection. This is right up a SPIN farmer’s alley because identifying and serving niches is what they are all about. They are not only situated close to their customers, but they also have the rapid response capability to capitalize on new markets. Being small and nimble allows you to cater to a broad range of culinary niches. And that’s a big advantage, sort of like punching above your weight.
SF photo horse radish

I had several $10 bags of horseradish in my market cooler yesterday, which I did not set out on my table. Two people who looked eastern European came by and asked,  “Are you Wally?”  I said “Yes”, and they said, “Do you have horseradish?” I told them I had some, $10/bag. They both take a bag. So word is getting out that I have horseradish. Eastern Europeans also crave green garlic.

Grow Tables for Bedding Plants

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
Our spring was way behind schedule this year – still shoveling snow at the end of March and freezing temperatures throughout April. So I’ve had to  rev up indoor production. I built some grow tables in the basement and and put in garlic transplants. We test marketed them with surprisingly good success. We are now moving on to basil bedding plant production.Following SPIN’s mix and match pricing model, each plant is sold at $3.00 each, or 2/$5.00, with customers being able to mix and match with potatoes, greens, and micro greens. Instead of our sales crashing due to the uncooperative weather, we’ve got good steady income. I see lots of potential for grow table production.

SPIN Photo grow table garlic

SPIN photo grow table basil