Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
Whenever I see farming conference programs at this time of year I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The hot topics are always the same. Land access. Farm succession. Risk management. I just don’t relate because years ago I left these issues behind me. I became an urban farmer long before it was trendy. I have been supporting myself growing on multiple scattered plots for 13 years. The number of plots that comprise my farm have ranged from 25 to 11, with a land base that never totals more than 2/3 of an acre, or around 30,000 square feet. Plots have come and gone, depending on various circumstances.
Urbanized areas offer all sorts of farming possibilities, much more than is even now realized. In most cities, residential backyard plots are abundant, just waiting to be used for your farm. The multi-locational farm is a SPIN-Farming concept that has not yet been widely implemented, but it’s ripe for the picking. It is, simply, a farm that is located on many garden plots. These plots can be located throughout a single neighborhood, or in multiple neighborhoods, or they can even be a mix of urban and peri-urban plots. It allows aspiring and practicing farmers to continue to live in the city, using their homes as their farm base, and add new plots as their business becomes more successful. These new plots can be rented, or often used for free.
“What?”, you say. “A land base comprised of many scattered plots, some a 20 minute drive from my home, will be difficult to assemble and a nightmare to operate.” Not really. Not only can such a farm be easily created and efficiently managed, it has big advantages. It offers the growing potential of the traditional rural farm coupled with the city-based benefits of micro climate and proximity to markets. Peri-urban sites produce the larger volume, lower maintenance crops that are always in demand at market, while the urban sites provide early and late production of the high-value relay crops. Together they afford diversification and protection against catastrophic crop losses or extreme weather events. If one or more plots get flooded out, your other plots can keep you producing and selling.
Here is my “home base” plot in the city behind my house.
Here is one of my peri-urban plots about a 25 minute drive from my house.
Family farmsteads passed down from generation to generation. A lone tractor silhouetted against the horizon. Rolling hills of corn and grain. These idyllic images of farming are rooted deep in our consciousness. But in the first urbanized century, food production is beginning to occur wherever it makes the most sense. And for SPIN farmers what makes sense is in the middle of urban jungles and on the suburban fringe. They are turning to their gardens and neighborhood lots, not with the romantic notion of “returning to the land”, but to make a buck growing food. The point is that SPIN farmers make cropland wherever they happen to be and leave the traditional farm challenges far behind.
Find out how a multi-locational urban/peri-urban farm is equipped and operated in Dig Deeper Guide # 2.