Some Sage Advice on Parsley Production

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

We always get asked if SPIN can work in (name your location here). We always reply that  SPIN is not place-based. No matter what zone, or country you are in, as long as you are approaching growing as a business, SPIN has something to offer. For instance, this question was just posted in our forum:

Hey everybody! Greetings from New Orleans! It’s hot but I have a feeling it is where most of yawl are too :) A chef just asked us to grow parsley for him, and I’m wondering.. anybody know how much square footage it would take to grow 10 lbs weekly?

Well, right now the temperature here in Sas is 68 °, and where this guy’s at it is 89 °. But I’m growing parsley too. So to answer his question I just harvested one parsley plant and made some rough calculations to get him in the ball park. Here’s what I told told him:

It will probably take about 20 plants to give you a pound. So you would need around 200 plants to give you 10 lbs. You can fit about 200 transplants into a three row standard SPIN bed.

Once you harvest a plant, you need two to three weeks before another harvest of that plant. Since you are targeting weekly production, you’ll need more than one bed. To play it safe I would say if you had around 5 standard beds in parsley, that should give you what you need. Five standard beds would take up a space of around 400 sq. ft.

Best way to seed parsley is to use plug trays. Start them in the trays, and then transplant. So try planting around ten 96 cell plug trays. Won’t take you long and easy to manage. And won’t cost you much.

Maybe some day I’ll get down to NOLA and and this guy can take me to the restaurant where I can taste what they’re doing with that parsley Round about when it’s -25 ° here will be a good time to work that in.

SF photo parsley

SPIN Is Gardening as a Business – Plan Your Production

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

In part 1 of this blog I explained that SPIN turns a garden into a cash generator by showing gardeners how to value their production and set a revenue target. Now I’ll explain how to turn that revenue target into a production plan.

As an example, let’s say you’ve already got two or three different businesses going, and you want to start out farming your yard part-time. So you think if you gross $2,000 from your garden this year you’ll be doing fantastic. Using the SPIN system, the first step is:

> decide the number of your marketing weeks                                                                  Marketing weeks is the amount of weeks you will have crops for sale. You can make it easiest on yourself by choosing many weeks to sell, because that means you have to make less in any given week. $2,000 becomes more feasible, the more marketing weeks you have. So you decide to attend a 10 week farmers market, and average $200 in sales per week.

> use SPIN’s mix and match pricing scheme of $3 per item, or any 2 items for $5
This way you are unitizing your produce and selling it all at the same price, with the average price being about $2.50. If you are targeting $2,000, that means you have to sell 800 total units of production. In terms of your weekly targeted revenue, if you have 10 marketing weeks, then that means 80 units of production per week, which, at $2.50 per item, will get you to your weekly targeted revenue of $200.

> decide on your SPIN crop repertoire
This is the complete range of crops that you plan on growing and marketing. The smaller your operation, the simpler your crop repertoire will probably be, but if you start targeting 10’s of thousands of dollars, you will need a wider range of produce to achieve your revenue target. Criteria for selecting crops includes demand, competition and growing conditions.

> plan production
Using the idea of units of production required to achieve revenue, and your crop repertoire, you plan like this, using 80 units of production per week and $200 in sales per week.

A spring market day would require something like this:
– 30 bags of spinach
– 20 bunches radish
– 20 bunches green onion
– 10 bags of pea greens
– 80 total units of production

Your weekly produce mix changes through your 10 week marketing period, but you are always aiming to have 80 units per week and sell $200 per week.

What makes SPIN-Farming different than gardening is you need to grow consistently, in significant volume at commercial grade, throughout the entire season. While this takes time to master, you’ll get a lot further a lot faster if you put a plan in play rather than if you just play around.

To see a further explanation of these concepts and others from the SPIN Lexicon, watch these five 1 minute videos on our youtube channel:

SPIN is Gardening as a Business – Set a Revenue Target

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

SPIN-Farming reduces the amount of land needed for commercial crop production to garden size plots. It is therefore sometimes confused with square foot gardening, but SPIN involves something new. It provides gardeners with a way to put an economic value on what they grow. What this means in practice is that gardening can easily be turned into a business. All you have to do is set a revenue target and plan your garden’s production to meet it.

Say you want to make $2,000 gross from your garden in a season. Here’s how to think through how that can be done, using the SPIN benchmark of $1,000 per 1,000 sq. ft., which is called a segment.

OPTION 1
You might use 2 segments of garden space, totaling 2,000 sq. ft. and grow one crop worth $1,000 on each of the segments. With this option it’s important to first determine if there are enough markets to buy that much of one single crop.

OPTION 2
By using SPIN’s bi-relay cropping, which is the growing of 2 crops in the same garden space per season, you can half the amount of garden space you need to 1,000 sq. ft., or one segment. That means you will be growing 2 crops worth $1,000 each, one right after the other, in the same 1,000 sq. ft. garden space.

Again, it’s important to first determine if there are enough markets to buy the two crops you choose, in the volume you’ll be producing them in.
>> So with the bi-relay option, you have halved your space, but maintained your revenue.

STRETCH GOAL OPTION
By using SPIN’s intensive relay cropping, which is the growing of 3 or more crops in the same garden space per season, you can maintain your 1,000 sq. ft. and increase your revenue to $3,000 in a season.
>>So with the intensive relay option, you have increased your revenue by a third, without having to expand your garden space.

What’s important to note is $1,000 gross per 1,000 sq. ft. is a conservative benchmark for those just starting out. Those who have mastered relay cropping, and who have strong markets, have been able to push these revenue targets to $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 and $5,000 per segment. This is where backyard plots become serious profit centers, and gardening crosses over into farming. SPIN makes it and an easy and lucrative transition.

Targeted revenue is the starting point, but it is just an abstract number without a production plan to back it up. In part 2 of this post, we’ll specify how you make your numbers a reality.

To see a further explanation of these concepts and others from the SPIN Lexicon, watch these five 1 minute videos on our youtube channel:

How SPIN’s Numbers Add Up

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

The advantage of using a system like SPIN-Farming is that it provides benchmarks to guide your business and measure your progress in highly specific terms. Let’s take a look at what comprises SPIN’s benchmarks, and how they all add up.

SPIN’s units of production are:
A bed = 50 sq. ft. (it measures 2 ft. x 25 ft.)
A segment = 1,000 sq. ft. (many backyards can accommodate this size plot, with a typical dimension being  25 ft. x 40 ft.)

SPIN’s revenue benchmarks are:
$100 gross per crop, per bed
$1,300 gross per crop per segment

SPIN’s relay cropping techniques are:
bi-relays in which 2 or more crops are grown in the same bed or segment, per season
intensive relays in which 3 or more crops are grown in the same bed or segment, per season
Relay cropping doubles or triples production and therefore revenue, without expanding the growing space. You can think of it as intensifying your growing space.

Putting these benchmarks into play on a half acre, which is about the size of many suburban backyards, goes something like this.

1 segment = 13 beds and $1,300 gross revenue
a half acre = about 20,000 sq. ft., or 20 segments
20 segments = $26,000 gross revenue

If you intensify the half acre by using relay cropping, you can at least double or triple your revenue, like this:
20 segments in bi-relays (2 crops/season) = $52,000 gross revenue
20 segments in intensive relays (3 crops/season) =$78,000 gross revenue

Since relay cropping is labor intensive, the exercise becomes, how can you intensify your half acre, without incurring labor costs, or keeping them to a minimum? So to make the work load manageable for you and a partner, and occasional help,  you might use your 20,000 sq.ft. to target $55,900, broken down like this:
5 segments in single crop production = $6,500 gross revenue
7 segments in bi-relays = $18,200 gross revenue
8 segments in intensive relays = $31,200 gross revenue

As you can see, the options are many, and the result is a system for generating specific, steady and predictable income throughout the season. But since farming is never steady state, the system is adjustable throughout the season, and from year to year.

Playing with SPIN numbers is not an academic exercise. It’s the basis for your business, production and operational plans. All you need to do is get with the system.

SPIN photo relay tiller plowing under bed

Here is a bed of spinach past its prime being tilled under and readied for the planting of a second crop.  Planting several crops sequentially, one right after the other, in the same bed throughout the season is called relay cropping. It double or triples the revenue you can make from a single plot.   

Revenue is the Benchmark to Beat

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

We have said before that SPIN is performance-based, which means that success is measurable. The traditional and often used benchmark in farming is yield.

Certainly the amount of crops you produce is important. But to succeed as a business, what is most important is not the ability to grow in significant volume. It’s the ability to sell, at pricing that makes it worth your while.

Many don’t yet see how this applies to SPIN-scale production because up until the last 10 years or so, there were no markets to support it, so it did not have much of a dollar value. But now there is real money to be made. In the USDA’s 2012  agriculture census valued local food sales at $7 billion.

SPIN’s guide # 18 Crop Profiles is the first attempt to quantify just how lucrative backyard farming can be. These are numbers worth chewing on, and they give farmers different, and highly rewarding, benchmarks to beat.

DDG3 photo 9

SPIN’s small plots generate high yields, but the overall volumes are low compared to conventional farming. 

SPIN photo seed to cash restaurant delivery

 

What is important is that SPIN-scale production can be sold locally at prices that make it worth your while.  

SPIN photo seed to cash invoice for restaurant

 

Even big name hotels and institutions that rely on Sysco are deciding it is worth it to purchase from local farmers because they have less spoilage when they get crops fresh picked. Also, more and more of their customers are demanding it.  

Performance-Based Farming: How Well Are You Doing?

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

SPIN-Farming does not look at all like agribusiness’s vast fields of monoculture crops. But both SPIN and big ag show how farming, in a systematic way, makes itself more productive, efficient, and profitable. While agribusiness relies on capital and mechanization, SPIN’s asset is people, and how well they perform. And to judge performance, it needs to be quantifiable.

Certainly there is much about farming that can’t be standardized. But SPIN identifies what can be. With its emphasis on quantifying results and achieving income benchmarks, SPIN brings a new rigor to small-scale farming. Financial performance is now something farmers can brag about, if they know they measure up. Do you know how well you’re doing? Do you know if it’s possible to do better? How much better?

You can start to get at the answers by measuring yourself against SPIN’s benchmarks. They aren’t achievable in every situation. Some have already been far surpassed. The specific numbers don’t really matter. What does is the recognition that farming is a whole new game now, one you can actually make money at. But you have to know how to keep score.

SPIN photo Thumbs up

To see how you measure up, start with the benchmarks in SPIN’s guide # 18, Crop Profiles. And let us know how they measure up based on your experience.

How Much Goes into a Unit?

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

Unlike selling wholesale, there are no established unit sizes in SPIN-Farming, and no standards to go by. So how much to put in a unit is an ever popular topic in our online support group.

To take the mystery out of it for beginning farmers, I tell them to first decide how much money they want to make per bed. Then determine the price/unit combination that will generate that revenue, based on their yields and current market conditions. So the exercise for establishing a price/unit combo goes like this:

  • Set your targeted revenue per bed. SPIN’s benchmark is $100 gross per standard size bed.
  • Set pricing. SPIN’s benchmark of $3.00 per unit, or 2 for $5.00.
  • Calculate how many units you need to sell at the pricing you’ve set  to reach your targeted revenue.
  • Given your yield, calculate how much you can put into each unit.

After going through this exercise, you have arrived at your best guess on a price/unit combo to go to market with. Over time, your guesses will turn into better judgment based on your market experience. For  instance, if you have good yields, but sell out early because you are putting too much in a unit, reduce the unit size so you can sell more. Eventually you will get a good feel for the ranges your customers are willing to pay for a unit.

Also, remember that you should always strive to make the most money you can from whatever size plots you have. If your market conditions are highly favorable because you don’t have much competition, and you are producing hard-to-get, high quality crops, $100 per bed may be under achieving.

As a farmer selling direct to consumers, you should always be adjusting your price/unit combo according to the volume of your production and your current marketing conditions. Above all, you’ve got to make it worth your while. When it comes to pricing and unitizing, your needs – not the customer’s – come first.

hc-ct-3micro-farmingphoto courtesy of SPIN farmer Brenda Sullivan, Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT 

Beginner’s Catch -22: There are no hard and fast rules in farming, so you always need to use your best judgment. But judgment is based on experience, and as a beginner, you don’t have much yet. What to do?

SPIN Crop Profiles to the rescue! They give you yield and pricing benchmarks on 40 classic SPIN crops you can use to make informed assumptions when just starting out. They are also useful for experienced growers. These benchmarks will give you a kick in the pants if you are underachieving. Or, if you have busted pass them, let us know. Stretch goals are what keep SPIN-Farming moving forward.

Can My 2,700 Sq. Ft. Garden Support a 20 Member CSA?

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

SPIN farmers are starting to plan for the 2015 season, so let me share a typical Q&A that might help you in starting to look ahead.

Q: I have 54 2 ft x25 ft SPIN beds. Nest season I am hoping to subscribe 20 families for $20.00 worth of produce for 25 weeks…mid-April to mid-October. Is that feasible from this amount of space?

A: I would say your plan is very do-able, and I see no reason why you couldn’t achieve the $10k revenue you are targeting. Here’s some tips on how best to go about it.

  • For a CSA you need a steady supply of produce to satisfy your families, from spring until fall. This means you need consistent weekly production of a variety of crops.
  • You can relay crop the entire area, about half in intensive, and half bi. That will ensure steady production production throughout the entire season, and it should be managable by one person.
  • Make use of crops like chard, which is many people know how to use now, and which can be planted once, and harvested throughout the entire season.
  • You need to have a strong spring line coming on stream sometime in May, or even earlier. This means plantings of classic crops like lettuce, onions, radish, and spinach.
  • Instead of using SPIN’s standard size beds, you might consider using short beds for your production purposes, which might put your weekly production for some crops more in line with your weekly demands. A short bed is 10 feet long and 2 feet wide. If you planned your production on the basis of short beds, you would have 100 beds to plan with.
  • For instance, a short bed of spinach should yield 20 1/2 lb. bags, or 20 bunches of radish. But working with standard beds will work also, especially if you are thinking of generating a surplus of produce to sell at a farmer’s market.
  • If you have not already, consider buying an upright produce cooler,especially if you are a solo operator. It will make your workflow much more manageable because you can harvest steadily throughout the week rather than having it all gang up the day before delivery. This could be a make or break investment.
  • Use SPIN 2.0 Crop Profiles guide for production planning, to figure out which crops to plant, and in which quantities, in order to achieve the necessary yields. It contains in-bed plant spacing, seed required per bed, seed cost, yields per bed, among other data,  for 40 SPIN crops. You can use it to plan out your relays to be sure you have a wide variety crops, in the required volume, throughout your 6 month CSA.

There is a bigger point to made here, and that is the potential to use a backyard to achieve specific financial goals. This person can gross $10k in 2,700 sq. ft. in a season. Think what that money could be used  for. Maybe an exotic vacation. Or finance a wedding, or build up a college fund. You don’t have to commit to a full-time career change, or give up the opera for crickets, to make money growing food. You don’t even need to don a hair shirt. A microgreens vest works just dandy.

SF photo BUG Farms micorgreens vest Peggy Helvig Alspaugh

photo courtesy of BUG Farms in Salt Lake City UT

Thinking of Spring, and Squash for Winter Markets

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

SPIN farmers are always looking ahead, so now that spring is coming, I’m thinking of winter squash plantings. I’ll use transplants, start them in mid – May, and put them into the ground in early June. Our short season here in Saskatoon ( zone 3 ) is often over in mid-September, at least for warm weather crops. So I find these things, called Kozy Coats or Walls of Water, help get squash plants off to a quick start.

SPIN photo squash Kozy Coats

They are filled with water and help keep the plants warmer at night. We place a tomato cage inside the coat which allows for extra support. Plants are watered with a hose once or twice a week, and the crater like depression around each plant means the water will stay around the plant. We have also had a problem with gophers at this site, and the coats keep these pests away. I keep them on all summer. The plants just explode out of the coats in a few weeks.

Squash is a good crop for winter’s farmers markets when offerings are more limited. Selling them in sections increases their per head value. Using the SPIN system you can target $1,000 – $2,000 gross per segment, which is 1,000 sq.ft.

You can see Gail’s take on turning squash and pumpkins into high value crops on SPIN’s youtube channel here.

Think Spring. Think $1,000 Revenue Target.

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

Round about now many are thinking about spring. If you don’t go to a winter market, or have winter sales of any type, then you will be looking ahead to what SPIN-Farming calls a ” spring debut ” week. For many farmers, sales during this week are very meager, usually in the low hundreds, and significant cash flow usually doesn’t start until late spring/early summer.

SPIN-Farming shows you how to set your sights higher. A good revenue target  for your spring debut week is $1,000. To achieve it you have to plan out the appropriate plantings that will give you a variety of offerings in significant volume.

Many farmers don’t realize lettuce and spinach crops, as well as other greens, can be grown in early spring, without protection. Seed will germinate in cool soil conditions, and crops will stand many frosts. Same with onion sets, and spring planted garlic.

To reach a revenue target of $1,000 in your debut week, you need to decide which crops and in what unit quantities you will need to achieve that income, using SPIN’s pricing per unit strategy. SPIN’s 2.0 crop profiles give you benchmarks on revenue/yields per bed and per segment. $1,000 becomes an obtainable number if you plan it out this way. Plantings to support $1,000 need not be large, and the size of your plantings is what you need to figure out. Couple your outdoor production with indoor plantings of pea/ micro/sunflower greens as described in the Quick Greens guide, and $1,000 your first week will be a slam dunk.

SPIN Photo farm stand $1000 spring produce

Here is an example of what a $1,000 weekly spring product line looks like.