Flexibility Is A Farmer’s Most Valuable Asset

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

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 his 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. Flexibilty, not land, is a small farmer’s most valuable asset.

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Right Size Your Ambitions and Your Plots

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

Now that farmer’s markets are getting in full swing and CSA boxes are piled high at pick up points all over town, those who have been contemplating backyard farming suddenly become motivated to turn their intentions into action. I hear from two extremes – those who are overly ambitious, and those who are too cautious.

Interestingly, those with the least amount of land are the ones who are overly ambitious. They understand SPIN at its very basic level, which is commercial farming on an acre or less. Since that size land base is so dramatically less than a typical farm, they think it must be a cinch to start. So they figure they will start with an acre. Or, if they think they are being conservative, they want to tackle a half acre. But you can burn out on a half-acre just as easily and quickly as you can on 10 or 20 acres.

Start out with a few thousand square feet, say up to 5,000 sf max. It’s a very manageable amount of space for one person to initially prep and keep in top growing shape. For beginners, it’s an optimal size to gain experience with intensive relay cropping, which is the continual planting of different crops in the same plots throughout the season. And the amount of production and post-production can be managed without any outside labor. Once you have mastered relay cropping you can expand confidently and quickly, even in the same season.

The opposite extreme is those who have multi-acre spreads who think they need to prep their land and let it sit over the winter, putting off any production for an entire year. They are right that it takes time to bring a larger land base online. But again,I offer the same advice. Put aside a small plot, prep it, and start growing and selling immediately. The key to earning income from backyard farming is the ability to grow continuously, in significant volume, at commercial grade. And that can be mastered just as well, and in fact more quickly, on a small space. This is the rationale for our new program Seed to Cash in 14 Days or Less. Three new guides provide step-by-step instructions on how to progress through 3 different levels of production, starting with as little as 100 square feet.

It’s been said that farms are started by idealists and run by realists. You just need to last long enough to get from the one phase to the other. That means not being an overachiever or an underachiever. SPIN helps you hit the ground running at just the right pace so that you can go the distance.

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Even if you have acres of land, fencing off a plot close to the house will get you growing and selling more quickly and successfully than if you tried to put a larger piece of land into production. This plot is easy to maintain, and can be used for intensive relays, in which 3 or more crops are grown in the same beds throughout the season. In essence, you are cutting by two thirds the amount of land you need for that same amount of production.