Saturday, July 28, 2007

SPIN Farming

Lately I've been writing here about local produce and growing herbs. After one of my posts, someone emailed and suggested I look at the website for SPIN farming. It's very interesting.

The idea is that people can make a living - a good living - from growing in their own backyards, and maybe those of a few friends if they want to rent more space. These folks have worked out a plan for how you can do this and make money at it.

The following if from their press materials:

SPIN-Farming is a proven organic-based growing technique that adapts commercial farming techniques to sub-acre land masses. S-mall P-lot IN-tensive Farming can be practiced in rural or urban locations on as little as 1,000 square feet; on a half-acre of
city-owned land; or it can be multi-sited on several residential back yards. It makes it possible to produce $50,000+ from a half-acre.

SPIN was developed by Wally Satzewich, a Canadian farmer whose operation is dispersed over 25 residential backyard plots in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that are rented from homeowners. The sites range in size from 500 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft., and the
growing area totals a half-acre. His produce is sold at The Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Wally Satzewich and his partner/wife Gail Vandersteen initially started farming on an acre-sized plot outside of Saskatoon 20 years ago. Thinking that expanding acreage was critical to their success, they bought farmland adjacent to the South Saskatchewan River
where they eventually grew vegetables on 20 acres of irrigated land. After six years farming their rural site, they realized more money could be made growing multiple crops intensively in the city, so they sold their acreage and became urban growers.

"People dont believe you can grow three crops a year in Saskatoon," observes Vandersteen. "They think its too much work, but the truth is, this is much less work than mechanized, large-scale farming. We used to have a tractor to hill potatoes and cultivate, but we find its more efficient to do things by hand. Other than a rototiller, all we need is a push-type seeder and a few hand tools."

"We are producing 10-15 different crops and sell thousands of bunches of radishes and green onions, and thousands of bags of salad greens and carrots each season. Our volumes are low compared to conventional farming, but we sell high-quality organic
products at high-end prices," says Wally. The SPIN method is based on Wallys and Gails successful downsizing experiment which emphasizes minimal mechanization and maximum fiscal discipline and planning.

The SPIN-Farming is a method uniquely suited to entrepreneurs, and it provides a new career path for those who have a calling to farm.

An important aspect of the SPINFarming method is adhering to a highly regimented work flow that Wally calls the Five Day Work Week. He allows plenty of time each day for farming tasks such as
harvesting, planting, and weeding. Evenings are work-free, except perhaps for something easy and relaxing, such as watering. Wally and Gail also enjoy an off-season in the winter when they indulge their wanderlust. They travel to warmer climes where they help
out farming friends in places like Costa Rica.

If you grew up on a farm like I did, I'm sure you can't imagine a regular work week farming either. But, Wally says it's possible.

I was very interested in this concept because I know a couple of people who would really like to farm, but they can't afford the initial investment in land and equipment. This seems like a great way to become a farmer.

I am not interested in becoming a farmer, but I am thinking about getting a spot at the local farmer's market to sell my excess herbs. Apparently I over-planted when I replanted after the hail storm destroyed - or so I thought - the first bunch. I cannot make enough pesto to justify four basil plants. And only so many people will take some off your hands.


Rox Sen said...

We appreciate your posting about SPIN-Farming, but a word of caution. Farming is a profession that takes knowledge, skill, and experience. Selling produce at farmer's markets should be reserved for those who are pro's and who have invested time and energy in developing food growing as a career, not the casual home gardener. But we very much appreciate you helping us spread the word on SPIN Farming,which allows those who want to follow their calling to farm to do so right in their own back yards or front lawns.
--Roxanne Christensen. Co-author, SPIN-Farming

Patsy Terrell said...

Maybe farmer's markets in some places are reserved only for serious farmers, but in our little burg there is LOTS of space available at the Farmer's Market and it's open to anyone who wants to rent a booth to sell their tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, jams, freshly baked bread, or other food stuffs. At some point, when space is at a premium, maybe there will be more restrictions, but right now it's available to anyone.

I called to check on the qualifications and they are simple - you have a tax number, you pay the booth space rental, and you stick to the items that are appropriate for the farmer's market. I'm not sure why you'd want to shut out people when everyone can participate if they choose. One of the "pros" I spoke with Wednesday encouraged me, saying, "it would be good for the market to have more variety so I hope you decide to do it."

In the true sense of "what the market will bear," if no one wants to buy from people other than serious farmers everyone else will fade away. After all, people are not going to rent booth space and sit there all morning if they're not selling anything.

There's no reason the casual home gardener can't sell their products. People have been doing it for decades at roadside stands. Why shut people out because they don't identify themselves as a farmer? Having less variety doesn't seem like it would benefit anyone.