Quick easy money: Potting up volunteer plants

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden, Pleasatndale SK

In early spring when your cash flow is still not developed,  your sales can get a boost from a source many growers overlook or toss out: volunteer plants from around your property. Typical plants that do well in pots are catmint, chives, horseradish, mint, rhubarb,  sunflowers and  violets, but you can try just about anything. So instead of weeding them out out, look at them as an early season cash crop.

Once potted up these plants  can be sold within a couple of weeks, after they have established themselves in the container. Typical price points for containers can be SPIN’s usual mix and match pricing scheme of  $3.00 per container, or  2 for $5.00, or even $5.00 or $10.00 each. I know for a fact people will pay $10 for potted up rhubarb. Mint is a big seller of mine, too. Containers can be the typical clay pot or  recycled deli containers.

Money does not grow on trees, but sometimes  it can be found under your feet.

SF photo easy money 1

Volunteers around the garden can be potted up. Basically, just about anything works. This is catnip.

SF photo easy money 2

Here is catnip on its way to market. Mint and rhubarb are easy sells, too.

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Jumpstart an Herb Business on 1,200 Sq. Ft.

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

A SPIN member just joined the online support group looking to fast track some fresh herb sales. He wrote:

“Hello All. I plan to combine the sale of herbs only at two or three of my local farmers markets along with Pre-Packaged Nuts/ Seeds and Spices. My hope is to promote the sales of the nut and seed business with the fresh herb offerings. I have had success growing basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender on a small scale over the past three seasons and am ready to commit approximately x 1200 sq ft of garden space to this effort. Any feedback on what to focus on in order to maximize my effort would be greatly appreciated. I am a one man show, growing in Northeast PA. Zone 6a. Thanks in advance.”

Herbs are a great addition to diversify or compliment a product line,especially for solo operators because they are easy to plant, harvest and prep. Cilantro, dill,and parsley are good bets. You can get 2 -3 cuts of cilantro before it goes to seed. So you will need several staggered plantings to take you through the season. You can get even more cuts from baby/green dill, but again, you need staggered plantings. Parsley is all season, so there is no need for staggered plantings.

SF photo blog herb dill cilantro

Plant cilantro and dill with tight spacings using an Earthway seeder in 4 – 5 row standard beds, using the chard plate. Use transplants for parsley.

You should target units of production on the 100 to 200 bunches in total of the three herbs on a weekly basis. If you have a 20 marketing week period, you’ll produce 2,000 to 4,000 bunches. At $2.00 per bunch, you can target revenue of $4K to $8K.

Herbs are very high value, are always in demand at market and their fragrance adds a sensual dimension to your stand. So if you have some unused space next to the barbie, or can rig up some containers on a patio, you can make profitable use of it by growing the useful plants.

SF photo blog herb parsely in tubs cropped

FIND OUT OTHER WAYS TO JUMPSTART A BUSINESS GROWING FOOD IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

Mix It Up

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

It’s winter. Are you selling “Spring Mix”? What you call, and put into, your salad mix 
shouldn’t always be the same. SPIN farmers change their salad ingredients  to reflect the changing seasons and keep customer interest stoked. 

How much variety and creativity they put into their salad mixes is dictated by how adventurous their customers are, and how big a revenue generator it is for them. Some ingredients like chard and kale can be grown all season long. Other ingredients like Bull’s blood beets, mache, orach, purslane and radicchio are relayed at different times in the season. 

Edible flowers also add a wow factor. SPIN farmer Chris Kimber, owner/operator of of 3 Crows Farm, recommends  adding nasturtiums to a Mesclun Mix. Just 2 or 3 per bag near the top will distinguish yourself from other vendors. They bloom all season long,and taste great, leaves and blooms – zippy, peppery burst. Another plus is they grow well in hanging planters so you don’t have to take up valuable plot space.

In spring, Rob Miller of Trefoil Gardens, adds violets to his mixes. He is one of Georgia’s few certified foragers and he includes wildlings to his mixes, in addition to the crops he grows. Check out his Wild Salad Mix:

SPIN’s guide # 14 details how to build a $30k business with specialty salad mixes as a key part of a crop repertoire. Get it here, and remember that what distinguishes your salads from the assembly line salads in the grocery aisle are its ingredients. Make sure its name conveys the creativity and character that you put in it so your customers get the message. 

LEARN FROM OTHER NONCONFORMING SALAD GROWERS LIKE CHRIS KIMBER AND ROB MILLER IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

 

The Farm Startup Story No One Tells

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Here’s the biggest untold story in farming today: starting out urban and small, greatly increases the chances of success. Stats? It’s too early yet, but over our 10 years of guiding farm startups, the anecdotal evidence is mounting.

SPIN-Farming members have always been clued in. Unlike the popular press that highlights the gloom and doom stories, we connect them in online meetups with those like Ryan Mason who are making it all work by the most important measurement of all – how much money they’re making.

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 what he’s accomplished is not well understood, and it illustrates what we’ve been pioneering for over 10 years.

Following the SPIN-Farming system, Ryan created Reclaim Urban Farm in Edmonton AB to shake up the status quo. Due to strong demand for local food by the community, his business flourished, plots and new sales channels multiplied, and his revenue steadily increased. Surpassing the critical 5 years in business mark last year, Ryan was ready to reclaim his family’s 50 acre farm. The sales channels he established as an urban farmer continue to be serviced at a greater scale with the larger rural operation. They include 2 farmers markets, a 30 member CSA and 55 wholesale customers.

Ryan has traded his bike for a Hino truck and is rebranding the business because he’s not urban any more. Reclaim Urban Farm has become Reclaim Organics. His principles have stayed the same along with his farming practices. He’s still working his plots intensively. It’s just that there are a lot more of them now. And there are a lot more zeroes in his revenue. Ryan’s gone from the rallying cry of “No more empty lots!” to managing payroll. The irony? He had to leave his family farm to come back to save it. The lesson?  Starting out urban, and small, greatly increases the chances of success. Because once you master production on a small space, establish sales channels that can continue to be serviced at greater scale, and start making a little money, you greatly increase your odds of figuring out how to make even more.

LEARN FROM THOSE LIKE RYAN MASON, WHO ARE STAYING IN BUSINESS LONG ENOUGH TO SCALE UP IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

To Get the Best Seed Price, Make a Call

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden, Pleasantdale, SK

In niche markets, SPIN farmers can adjust their pricing to cover their seed cost, but you should always try to get your seed costs down as low as possible. That means buying in bulk and shopping around.

Take pea greens. I found that 50 lbs. of peas can vary from $80 to $165, not counting delivery cost. A seed company I have built up a close relationship with over the years offers pea seed at around $80 for 50 .lbs, but this bulk quantity price is not listed publicly.  You have to call or email them. Johnny’s price is  double –  $165 for 50 lbs. The point is, if you don’t see what you need listed on a company’s website or catalog, pick up the phone. Personal contact with a seed supplier can save you money and establish a relationship that will keep on giving.

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Volume is an important consideration when ordering seeds, since buying in bulk quantities reduces the cost. Here is a delivery of 50 lbs. of peas.   

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Priority # 1 in Year 1

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s  Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

If my email is any indication, 2019 might produce another bumper crop of new farmers. Those who are finding their way to me for advice come well-equipped with best practices and lengthy to-do lists. Very little of it has to do with making a go of it as a business. My advice is to keep an open mind about the farming industry’s sacred cows. Here are five that first-year farmers sometimes spend far too much energy on.

Composting
Composting is a multi-year process. Segment size production areas will need hundreds of pounds of finished compost. Larger areas, even more. You can start the process in year 1 if you have the space, but you certainly should not feel like a failure if you don’t. And you certainly shouldn’t aim to meet all your soil prep needs by closing any loops. Other soil natural amendments can be used before your composting gets up to speed, and fine tuning your operation’s inputs versus outputs equation can’t be figured out in your first year. You can ease into composting with a modest setup which might include four or five 4 ‘ by 4 ‘ by 4 ‘ feet bins. Wooden packing crates you can get for free will get you off to a great start.

Seed saving
Seed saving is another worthy practice, but it takes years to develop substantial amounts of seed. Again, you can learn the process and pick up on other’s experience, but for your first few years don’t create extra pressure by trying to aim to become your own seed supplier.

Season extension
This is an obsession that has grown in recent years. But starting out you should beware of anything that will add complexity to your operation – and structures that require significant expense and specialized expertise make production more challenging. Instead, try extending your season with strategic crop selection – choosing crops that do well in cool weather conditions, timing of plantings, frost tolerance. You will be surprised with how far “simple” growing will take you.

Rain water harvesting
Rain water harvesting is another worthy practice, but consider this. Elaborate water harvesting systems can increase efficiency – until they break down or malfunction. And they require investment, specialized knowledge and time to set up. It’s better to start simply and perfect more sophisticated systems over several years. Very basic watering methods using only a hose and some hardware store valves is all you need to start.

Cover cropping
Cover cropping can be important for weed control and soil building. But on typical SPIN-scale plots, it really isn’t practical. On larger areas it can also be difficult to work the crops back into the soil if you don’t have the right equipment. So proceed slowly, getting familiar with various techniques. In the meantime, use alternate methods that are much
simpler, like scuffle hoeing an area when the weeds are still at an early stage for weed control, and use local “feed store“ fertilizers like alfalfa pellets, blood meal and oil seed meals for soil building.

What should be the priorities of a first year farmer? There’s only one. Production. You need to develop the ability to grow consistently, in significant volume, at commercial grade. Few master it in year 1. If you also try to make your farm a showplace for all the latest and greatest farming practices, you might never master it at all. And a farm that’s not producing is just a heap of compost. So keep those emails coming. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll end up with a shorter 2019 to-do list than what you start with.

Maximizing production from small plots is what SPIN-Farming is all about. Relays is how you do that.

Maximizing production from small plots is what SPIN-Farming is all about. Relays is how you do that.

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Back to the Future Doesn’t Work

Courtesy of Roxanne C.,Philadelphia PA

A new year and the same old hard luck farmers story. Once again it recounts the woeful tale of failing beginning farmers – you know the type. No farming background. Go to college. Run up debt. Quit unsatisfying city jobs. Escape to the country, Get a small piece of property.Buy a few assorted animals.Try to sell organic vegetables. Bills mount.Sales don’t happen. And the blaming starts. Agribusiness. The government. Changing weather. Lack of a level playing field. Brutal economics.

The root cause of their failure is their choice of an outdated “back to the land” startup model. You know, the one based on the agrarian ideal. The one that requires many acres, loads of overhead, debt and risk. The one that makes it harder and more expensive than it needs to be. The one that increases the chances of failure. The one that makes no business sense.

The successful 21st century farmers we know and helped train, honed their production skills on backyard size plots and serviced whatever types of markets they could access the quickest and easiest, using the least amount of gear they could afford or barter for. Some move around. Some scale up. Some specialize in certain crops. Some branch out into processed food. More and more of them who we do online meetups with have passed the 5 years in business milestone. A few have now passed the 10 year mark. What they all have in common is they aren’t trying to create the future of farming by returning to the past.

SF photo farm caution sign business sense

TO LEARN A FAST,ECONOMICAL, LOW-RISK, MODERN WAY TO START A FARM, START PURCHASING THE SPIN GUIDES HERE. IF YOU’RE NOT READY TO GO ALL-IN JUST YET, MEET SUCCESSFUL FARMERS IN OUR MEMBERSHIP GROUP. YOU CAN JOIN IT HERE.

RELATED POSTS:
Advice You Won’t Hear At Farming Conferences
Reality Check for New Farmers
Farming Has A New Narrative
Make This the Year of Logistical Thinking
Getting Back to Business                                                                                                    Are You Ready for Self-Employment?

 

Seeding Rate Helps Answer Whether A Crop Is Worth Growing

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s  Market Garden, Pleasantdale SK

The planning questions keep coming, and last week the big one was, “How do I know if a crop is worth growing?” Getting an accurate read on your seed costs is a big part of the answer. In fact, knowing the cost to seed a bed is make or break in planning.

To get an accurate read on your seed costs, you need to determine your seeding rate per bed. To do that, you need to determine the following for the crop in question:

> # of rows per bed
> width of each row
> in-row spacing
> # of seed required per row
> # of seed required per bed

Using benchmarks from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, let’s look at carrots as an example.

> # of rows per standard size bed: 3
> width of each row: 2”
> in-row spacing: 12” apart; 30 seeds per foot
> # of seed required per row: 750 seeds
> # of seed required per bed: 1,125

Next, using the seed cost stats from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, look at what seed costs look like:
> typical cost per 25M quantities: $20 – $40
> cost to seed a bed: $2 per bed for the most expensive varieties

If you use SPIN’s revenue target of $100 per bed, you can see the seed cost per bed is way less than the revenue per bed. And in fact, some types of carrots can generate revenue of close to $200 per bed. So now you can see why SPIN categorizes carrots as a very high value crop.

Do the same calculations for more expensive sprouting microgreens seed, and you could start to see costs of up to $20 to seed a bed. Factoring in other costs and your labor, you need to determine when the answer to, “Is a crop worth growing?” is “No.”

There are lots of variables that can come into play too. You can tweak your seeding rate, raise your prices, or negotiate seed costs. But as with all businesses, at the end of the day it comes down to knowing what calculations to make. Seeding rate is an important, but overlooked one.

DDG3 photo 18You’ll get a feel for the amount of seed you need to use after a few trial plantings. The goal is to figure out the minimum amount of seed you need in order to achieve your targeted yield.  And then record that rate and figure out the cost to seed a bed.  

GET MORE SEED SAVVY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

A New Role Model for Urban Farms

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Bruce Manns says, “It’s not a bad thing to be a business person in the inner city.” He doesn’t sound like your typical urban farmer do-gooder, and he isn’t. Sure, his York Fresh Food Farms shares the same mission as other non-profit farms, but he’s following a different playbook. He knows grant funding is fickle, and believes inner cities need commerce as much as charity. So he’s developing a business around a mobile market in York PA.

Zero competition in a market usually means no one has been able to figure out how to make money in it. When it comes to building a food business in underserved areas, few have really tried. But Bruce is using SPIN-Farming to figure it out, and is applying commercial farming practices and standards at his non-profit urban farm. He’s made impressive progress since he started up two years ago. This year he’s on track to gross $25k on 80,000 sq.ft. Next year is goal is to double that.

Urban farming is hot, so finding land and funding his farm’s startup weren’t hard. With Bruce’s gardening background, growing high quality food wasn’t either. So far this tracks the stories of lots of for-profit SPIN farmers.

But instead of setting up a stand at either one of the city’s three well-established indoor farmers markets, and catering to middle and upper income demographics, Bruce is bringing his crops to those who want healthy food, have no way to get to it, and are really strapped for cash. His 3 point business model: professional grade, predictable, affordable. His 3 success factors: respect, pragmatism, team work.

His new best practice? It’s not composting. It’s not rain water harvesting. It’s not cover cropping. It’s making money. The lesson here is that while your customers may be the underserved and hungry, that doesn’t mean you can’t make money. Bruce is planning to cover 100% of his operating expenses in 2019 which, he says, is remarkable for a non-profit farm. It doesn’t have to be. The more money you make, the more you can spend. The better you get at farming, the less time you have to spend grant writing. The less dependent you are on grants, the more sustainable your farm becomes. It’s a valuable lesson for all farmers, especially those trying to do good.  .

SF photo PPT Bruce Manns in the field tour

LEARN FROM OTHER UP AND COMING ROLE MODELS IN THE BACKYARD FARMING BUSINESS TODAY, LIKE BRUCE MANNS  IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE.