SPIN Farmer Runs for Mayor, Wins

Jody Veler earned her SPIN stripes over 10 years ago in Trenton and Atlantic City NJ. In addition to farming,  she also learned to deal with the challenges common to all nonprofit and community-based organizations including fundraising, coalition building, volunteer management, conflict resolution, training, land access and control and soil remediation.

In 2008 she established the first SPIN-Farming based cooperative on public property in collaboration with a county government. Hiring, training and overseeing multicultural workers and staff, Jody built an operation that supported a 100 member CSA in its first year.

All of this was good training for her latest career choice: Mayor of Salem NJ. Declining in population for years, Salem City currently has a population of about 5,000, with more than half minorities.

Jody’s challenge: limited job opportunities for residents. Jody’s opportunity: multiple vacant lots. Jody’s unique qualification: she knows the potential and limits of SPIN-Farming to restructure the concept of public assistance.

Agriculture was Jody’s second career. She started as a volunteer for AmeriCorps, providing horticulture therapy to adults with brain injuries, and training at-risk youth in greenhouse production. She also developed a wide variety of farming skills through formal agricultural studies, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Scout, and seasonal positions including Fruit Tree Research Assistant, and Viticulture Assistant. She also has a Master’s degree in Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University.

It’s said that pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs, and Jody’s expertise has been hard-won. She knows up front and personal the challenges of transplanting agriculture to distressed and underserved areas, and how SPIN’s clear focus on achievable goals and measurable results can accelerate progress, foster teamwork and increase the chances of success among distressed or special needs populations.

In working with community and economic development projects over the years what’s stood out to us is 2 things:

> > SPIN-Farming can’t be taught the same old way.
Most of the time those implementing the training don’t understand how to teach SPIN. It is not about farming per se. It is about how to make money farming. The business side of SPIN is frequently underplayed, and its system of tying business to growing practices is mostly overlooked. That’s because traditional educational approaches teach growing, marketing and business management as standalone subjects. That leaves a lot to piece together and make sense of, which makes implementation harder, especially for those without a farming background.

> > SPIN-Farming is not a job. It is self-employment.
SPIN has been tried in “job development” programs for immigrants, former textile workers, and ex-cons. It’s never worked because the trainees aren’t screened and provided with the right orientation. Farmers are a key component in building a local food economy, which can produce a meaningful number of jobs, but farming itself is not a job. It’s self-employment.

Those who have been punching a clock, or who have never had one to punch, can certainly be successful as small farm business owners, but they need to be prepared for that transition.

We’re always glad to give pointers on SPIN-Farming training. When it comes to economic development, we know more about what doesn’t work than what does. Many lay claim to having successful models, but they depend on grant writing more than on growing and selling food. We’ll be looking to Jody to lead us to higher ground. If anyone can, it’s Jody. We’re rooting for her.