SPIN Farming: Part I - Citizen-Farmers

- by Roxanne Christensen Co-author SPIN-Farming www.spinfarming.com

With SPIN, the "back 40" may be measured in beds instead of acres.
In a world that is finally facing up to the challenges of climate change and finite resources, a growing corp of unlikely activists are, quite literally, taking matters into their own hands by taking up SPIN. SPIN stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive, and it is giving rise to a new class of citizen-farmers who are showing that agriculture can be incorporated into our built environments instead of being segregated in living museums outside of it.

What makes SPIN different from other commercial vegetable farming methods, and uniquely suited to the citizen-farmer, is that it makes it possible to generate significant income from sub-acre land masses. With SPIN, farmers do not need much land to start their commercial operations. More importantly, they don’t need to own any land at all; they can affordably rent or even barter their land base from neighbors, friends and relatives.

There's something about SPIN-Farming that proves irresistible to family members, they start hanging out at your plots, and pretty soon they're ripe for productive use!
SPIN also greatly reduces the need for capital. Minimal infrastructure, reliance on hand labor to accomplish most farming tasks, utilization of existing water sources to meet irrigation needs, and situating close to markets all keep investment and overhead costs low. SPIN therefore removes the 2 big barriers to entry for new farmers – they don’t need a lot of land or money.

Who are these new citizen-farmers who are putting a new SPIN on growing food? Some have been educated in other professions, or have had other careers. Some have home or community gardening experience, while others have never had dirt under their fingernails. Some come from traditional farm families, but most do not.

A common mistake of many novice sub-acre farmers is to grow too many low-value crops. SPIN farmers devote most of their production to high value crops.
They are refugees from unsatisfying jobs. Or they are seeking to balance their mentally-demanding computer-oriented work with some purposeful exercise. Some pursue farming full-time, others part-time They span age groups, circumstances and geography, but what unites them all is an ability to view and practice farming in a new way.

The new citizen-farmers are a little bit of an idealist/romantic, a pragmatic doer capable of consistent effort, someone who desires independence, and someone who has a pioneering spirit. They recognize that cities are impulsive, boisterous, spontaneous, and competitive, while agriculture is plodding, tranquil, deliberate and deferential. And they are capable of envisioning a world where for one to be right, the other does not have to be wrong.

Whether they establish their farmsteads in the middle of urban jungles or sprawling suburbia, they are all uniting behind SPIN to advance engaged, rather than escapist, agriculture. They use minimal off-farm inputs, and those that they do use are obtained locally. Their SPIN farms are not the huge monochromatic blocks of golden wheat and tasseled corn that have come to define modern agriculture. Instead, a more intricate pattern weaves together this sub-acre farmland. Individual plots of lettuce, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, herbs and spinach are framed by rows of sunflowers or fig trees. Planting this carefully chosen diversity of species makes a pretty picture, and it also benefits the environment by eliminating the need for artificial pesticides and fertilizers while returning the land to the natural cycle.

Braiding garlic takes practice, but handicrafts are a natural extension of farming and satisfies the more creative urges of some SPIN farmers.
By re-casting farming as a small business, citizen-farmers are making food production visible and palpable and galvanizing their communities around an activity that delivers both economic and environmental benefits. Residents feel an unspoken bond when they see such an activity in their midst. This citizen-driven agriculture is returning farmers to the cities and towns that they had earlier forsaken, where they are practicing intelligent, dedicated, craft and soil-based farming and bringing the well-documented redemptive power of farming back to cities in towns in a commercially viable manner.

For those who desire to think things through again, re-identify with the source of things, make certain re-appropriations, SPIN is their “call-to-farms.”

© copyright Roxanne Christensen 2007

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  • Posted on Jan. 30, 2007. Listed in:

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