Defining Your Niche

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

Starting out as a young farmer in a market with many seasoned veterans is a challenge. We have a thriving farmer’s market here in Saskatoon these days and the large crowds alone nearly enticed me to join in the fun if they’d have me.  There was just one thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.  As a small farmer, why would I want to take my carrots to the market only to sell them right beside another farmer with the same carrots?

Whether I attended the market or not, I needed a way to stand out if I was going to be successful. I spent a significant amount of time thinking about the factors that could potentially set our farm apart from the rest. There are popular vendors at our market that no doubt increase their sales by dishing out jolly remarks all day long, but I am not particularly boisterous or outgoing so it didn’t seem wise to count on my charisma to draw in costumers. I am, however, strong willed, motivated, organized, reliable, and committed to the vision of sustainable local food production. I enjoy pushing my own limits and challenging societal norms. With those strengths in mind, I laid out some parameters for operating our farm:

1. All farm work would be done by bike.
2. All public sales would be membership based.
3. All food would be grown within city limits and without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Each of these standards of operation takes extra effort on our part but they also define our niche in the market place so we’ve been intentionally transparent about our methods. Now a thoughtful consumer is faced with the choice of carrots, carrots, carrots, or carrots grown by bike right here in Saskatoon. The choice is easy because we’ve given them a story to tell and a chance to be a part of our journey. Will we attract the average customer? Probably not. Thankfully, we don’t want the average customer. We want the ones who already care and standing out is the best way to find them. Define your niche, tell your story, and let the customers come to you.

SF photo blog Jared niche logo

Meet and learn from Jared Regier and other SPIN members at our online hub for backyard-based growers, Backyard Riches. Membership  is available to anyone who purchases our learning programs. Hope you’ll join in!

Building a Bike Trailer

Courtesy of Didacus R. Haywood, CA

Here is a link to a bike trailer/dolly. My only modification would be larger wheels placed so they are equal to the bottom of the trailer when it is upright as a dolly and far down enough so that they don’t interfere with the trailer bed when laying flat as a trailer. Of course that part is not critical if you don’t intend to load your trailer wider than the width of the trailer.


DIY Electric Bike for Pedal-Powered SPIN Farms

Courtesy of Curtis S., Green City Acres, Kelowna, BC

My current rig is the Bionx HT 350. It cost a pretty penny, around $2400 after install and mods, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. I was going to have to hire another employee this year to do deliveries, but after getting this, that potential employee has been made obsolete.

It’s pretty sweet to be cruising with 500 lbs of stuff at 34km / hour, and not totally exhausting myself either. We’ll see how it survives the season though. LIke I said, so far so good, but I’m probably giving this thing 10 times more use than anyone else ever has. It’s got a 2 year warranty. If it lasts this season without any problems, I think that’ll be a good sign.

The trick with these things is that they don’t have any torque when you’re hauling a heavy load, but once you get a bit of momentum, after start up, then you can really go. But you have to be careful with them, and your bike. You really use your gears like crazy, cause you go from so slow to so fast right away. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to it. What I do when I starting to move after stopping, is turn the engine all the way down, so there’s no assist, once I’m starting up, then after getting a bit of momentum, then I turn the assist on full. If you torque it too hard, you kill you battery. But once you learn how to use it, you can make the battery last way longer.

Here’s a picture.

See also Paul Hoepfner-Homme’s post.

DIY Electric Bike for Pedal-Powered SPIN Farms

Courtesy of Paul, H., Victory Garden Vegetables, Cobourg, ON

When I was SPIN-Farming in mountainous Nelson, BC, I started out with the highest end BionX electric kit that was available at the time (2009). It was an in-hub electric motor with 36V Li-Ion battery, and it fits into any regular bike (mine was a mountain bike). Very slick design – downhill recharging, alarm system, etc. – but unfortunately, it broke down on me repeatedly, specifically with the downhill recharging. I even had it totally replaced under warranty, and the second one broke down in the same way as the first one. Rather than get the “next model” that they tried to sell me on, I tried another brand. (To be fair, everyone else I’ve spoken to who’s gotten the BionX kit has raved about it and hasn’t had any trouble – but then, most of them weren’t carrying cargo up and down steep mountainsides. 🙂

I ended up purchasing the eZee electric hub kit, which had similar specs to the model of BionX (also in-hub, similar battery) except that it wasn’t as slick (no recharging while you’re biking, and some parts look like they were put together in someone’s basement), but it was totally reliable and just as powerful. I still use it today and it works just as well as when I bought it. I think it ended up costing me around $1700, and I installed it myself.

That worked great for the farm’s first year, during which I had the help of a couple friends who had access to a pick-up truck for market days and for hauling the rototiller. But the next year I knew I was going to need more power if I wanted to operate the farm totally by bike, so I ended up getting a second motor, called the Stokemonkey. (Looks like they aren’t taking orders at the moment, but there are other options out there.) The Stokemonkey powers your pedals, not your wheel directly. This motor offers a significantly higher torque than an in-hub motor assuming you put your pedals into the right gear for the job (you just get a feel for it, the same as you get a feel for gearing up and down normally). With the Stokemonkey I was able to do everything by bike, including hauling my rototiller or a volunteer up steep grades.

I’ve never worn out either of my motors; it’s more my brakes that have taken a toll from all this. 🙂

The Stokemonkey is designed for Xtracycle-modified bikes (Curtis has that, too), and getting an Xtracycle free radical kit for your existing bike is totally worth it, even if you have a separate bike trailer that you’re planning to use. There’s nothing handier.

Here are some pictures of my setup a couple springs back:

Good luck – it’s a fun ride.

See also: Curtis Stone’s post: