Where does food come from?
In 2020, this question took on new urgency as the pandemic forced massive changes in what/how/where everyone ate. “Sustainable” and “resilient” went from being buzz words to real-life survival tactics, as farmers harnessed new-fangled technology and applied old-fashioned elbow grease to keep food moving and cash flowing.
What SPIN farmers reported: Serious shoppers. Cleaned out farm stands. Online orders flooding in. Pricing power. Here is Neil Reimer, in late spring:
“I blew my revenue target out of the water. Online it was just under $400 this week. Was hoping for a grand at market plus the online. Topped $1,300 today, besides the online. Might up my goal a bit, as next weekend I expect to either use the trailer or have my wife haul some produce.”
How much better can it get? Farm industry watchers and economists all seem to agree that SPIN farmers like Neil are now in the catbird seat. Their prediction: a de-globalization of the food industry and a greater emphasis on regionalization of production and processing. That puts local farmers selling direct in a stronger position than ever, and is motivating more to join them. Like the new farmers below whose startup stories we shared this year.
We’ve culled from their farm plans and the experience of all the other SPIN farmers we know and worked with this year to come up with our Alphabet List of 2021 Trends to look forward to. As you’ll see, the future is in our favor.
SPIN’s Alphabet of 2021 Trends
Aggregate – increased demand spurred SPIN farmers to aggregate products from other farmers to serve as a one-stop shop and led to informal collectives
Bankruptcy sales – good source for cheap equipment, especially reach-in coolers
Contactless payment – added expense, but expanded customer base and easy recordkeeping
Distribution – facilitated by tech and investment money, the options will continue to proliferate so keep on the lookout for new sales channels beyond the farmers market
Essential business – farming will continue to top the list
Full-time – more part-timers are going full-time due to job loss or more flexible work-at-home schedules
Ghost kitchens – a rapidly developing new market, as restaurants re-group rather than go out of business
Health – government, insurers and corporations are now promoting a food-first approach to preventing illness and disease which means the value of the type of food we produce will keep going up
Islands – looking for more food self-reliance; 2 of our startup stories were set there this year, in BC and the Caribbean
Joy of cooking – people started using their kitchens and discovered they really liked home cooked meals
Kitchens – launching pads for food businesses in states with cottage food laws like CA
Logistics – convenient pickup or delivery will continue to be an important value-add
Medicinals – plants with health restoring qualities will be in demand as consumers become even more health-conscious
New normal – buying convenience (i.e. not having to go to a farmers market) will play a big role in serving customers
Over-equipped – experienced farmers realize they need to be
Pre-order – more precisely matches demand with supply; convenient for customers and reduces waste for farmers
Questions – there’s just 6 you need to answer to launch a business if you’re in SPIN’s fast track farming program
Revenue – startup plans we reviewed ranged widely this year, from $1k to $112k; expect more variation as people in all different circumstances see opportunity in local food production
Seed shortages – order early in 2021 as demand from gardeners is expected to continue to drain supply
Texting – will be used more than ever to keep customers informed and happy
Ugly produce – new niche opportunity; used to be called “seconds” but is now marketed as “food rescue” to attract upscale customers who can feel virtuous instead of cheap
Veterans – those looking for new missions are launching backyard-scale farms to avoid the debt trap
WFH – work-from-home affords the time and flexibility to launch part-time farms that serve their local communities
Xeriscaping – dry land farming is an alternative to investing in expensive irrigation, especially for bartered plots; of crops can still be grown this way. Examples: beans, beets, carrots, onions from sets, peas, potatoes, winter squash
YamChops – leading the way on plant-based butcher shops, a new market for farmers
Zones – dividing your space into different production zones organizes your thinking and cropping strategies
Congratulations to these beginning SPIN farmers, from all different places, backgrounds and circumstances who went pro this year: Cherie Jzar in Charlotte NC; Jimmy Fagan in Lansdale PA; Danyell Durstling in Sointula BC; Jim Coleman in Lexington KY; Kyle Meecham in Clinton IA; Tim Toews in Lexington KY; Tom Trotter in Sutherlin OR; Vedha Reddy in St. Paul MN; Danielle Green in Seabrook SC; Natasha Yeeloy Labad in Roseau Dominica; John Golly in Knoxville TN; Jeremy Obermeyer in Gypsum KS; John Vargas in Brea CA.
IF STARTING A FARM BUSINESS, OR LEARNING THE BUSINESS OF GROWING FOOD IS ON YOUR 2021 TO-DO LIST, YOU’RE WELCOME TO FOLLOW IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS. TAKE THE FIRST, EASY STEP HERE.