What’s the difference between an urban farmer and a rural one? If you are familiar with Wally Satzewich’s story, you already know the answer: the distinction really doesn’t matter. All the same SPIN-Farming concepts and practices come into play. Here’s another example: Ryan Mason
Ryan’s urban farm startup story is now a cliché: Well-traveled, university-educated idealist takes up pedal-powered farming to address society’s ills. But it had a twist — he also wanted to prove urban farming could be profitable, which led him to SPIN-Farming. As he described it, “It’s a business with social and environmental goals.”
Following the SPIN-Farming guides, Ryan created Reclaim Urban Farm in Edmonton AB to shake up the status quo in 2014. Using Wally’s multi-locational model, Ryan and his project partner Cathryn Sprague amassed 15 plots including front and backyards totaling 20,000 sq. ft. (about a half acre). Media attention came easily —CBC News, TV News Edmonton, Global News.ca. Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Examiner, The Star. The following year Western Living named them 2015 Foodies of the Year.
Due to strong demand for local food by the community and savvy marketing, the business flourished, plots and new sales channels multiplied, and revenue steadily increased. “We were blown away by how much interest there was in sourcing locally,” Ryan says. Eventually he and Catherine expanded to an acre and added an indoor microgreens operation. In 2017 Reclaim Urban Farm grossed over $200k in revenue.
After surpassing the critical 5 years in business in 2019, Ryan was ready to reclaim his family’s 50 acre poultry farm, where he developed a 6 acre organic vegetable plot. The sales channels he established as an urban farmer continue to be serviced at a greater scale with the larger rural operation. They include multiple farmers markets, a CSA, 55 wholesale clients and spud.ca, one of the largest online grocery companies in Canada.
Ryan has traded his bike for a Hino truck and rebranded the business because he’s not urban any more. Reclaim Urban Farm has become Reclaim Organics. His values have stayed the same along with his farming practices. When asked which of his urban farming systems he transferred to his rural property, he says, “Every single one.” He’s still working his plots intensively. It’s just that there’s more of them now, and his revenue numbers are increasing by over $100k. Ryan’s gone from the rallying cry of “No more empty lots!” to managing payroll.
Starting out urban, or multi-locational, or backyard-scale, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Of starting urban, Ryan says,” It allowed me to get lots of the steep learning curve out of my system. ” Most importantly, it greatly increased his chances of success. Because once you master production on a small space, establish sales channels, and start making a little money, you greatly increase your odds of figuring out how to make even more, whether you decide to move to the country or not. Urban vs. rural, it’s all farming.
“Urban farming gave me tools to use for intensive use of the land. We are still working in that model.”—Ryan Mason
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