Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA
While tech and farming are often pitted against each other, SPIN-Farming was very much a creation of the Internet. Wally knew his way of farming and selling could be systematized. He also knew farming is “experiential”, and that it had to be learned by doing.
But the reality was, if the only way aspiring farmers could get started with SPIN was by trailing him around in his backyard plots, it would get pretty crowded up there in Saskatoon. What he needed was to codify the system and then make it accessible to anyone, anywhere. Launched in March of 2006, the SPIN-Farming learning series is now being used by thousands of new farmers to get started, and stay, in business.
But farming can’t be reduced to just a system. It takes ongoing re-thinking and tinkering. . And that’s where another feature of SPIN comes into play – its Open Houses. Conducted as online meetups, they are where backyard growers get together to offer advice, problem solve and pioneer new ideas. Some don’t even interrupt their workflow. They just click on while bagging up their quick greens or cracking garlic. Others schedule a visit to Starbucks for some quiet time to get paper work done and, as one member put it, kick back with some good coffee and learning
For one hour twice a month, SPIN members congregate to brainstorm with those who have “been there”, or are willing to help figure it out if they haven’t. Most, like Wally, do not come from farm families and don’t want to take on the traditional burdens of owning lots of land, investing piles of money and making a big lifestyle change. They just want to make money growing food to meet local demand. Here are some of the dynamics at work in these Open Houses.
Say something – Verbalizing how you are going to turn a plan into action is like making a contract with yourself and creates a higher level of commitment and accountability.
Say it to others – The best way to gain confidence in an area is to explain it to someone else. In the monthly meetups, a member will explain how their farm operates, their business model, their revenue goals, and plans for achieving them to an audience that takes them seriously. That makes them take their business goals more seriously.
Play with the numbers – Quantifying goals is a core concept of SPIN, but members come to understand that the specific numbers don’t matter. SPIN benchmarks are a starting point, but they aren’t right for everyone. Group members make assumptions, take guesses if they have no experience, prove them out, and and create their own benchmarks.
Get pushed – Wally and other experienced group members provides the reality check, pushing members if they are underachieving. For instance, Wally urged one member who was planning to double his revenue from $25K to $50K in 2 years, and told him how to do it in by adding a market day and extending his season. Another member, who had planned on just continuing his internship was convinced by the group to at least start some test plots and target $10K.
Farming has always been a collaborative profession. Granges, associations, extension services and conferences continue to be important connectors. But the speed and reach of online platforms provide entirely new inputs, bringing together farmers with vastly different experiences, perspectives, cultures and traditions. And even though the meeting place is virtual, the bonds formed there are very real, and lasting.
Wally sending off some market intel on the going rate for garlic and parsnips right after Christmas.
Here’s some of the members who share their business plans and goals in SPIN’s Open Houses. Want to meet up with them and hundreds of others who represent the brightest and most innovative minds in farming today? Sign up for SPIN’s online community here.