- by Roxanne Christensen Co-author SPIN-Farming www.spinfarming.com
More and more people are heeding the call to farm – and they don’t fit the usual profile. They don’t come from traditional farm families. They don’t own much – or any – land. And they all want to farm right where they live, which, for many, is in cities and towns.
These new citizen-farmers are coming armed with two vital advantages. The first is market demand – a growing base of customers who want a direct connection to the source of their food. The second is a radical new way to farm called SPIN.
SPIN stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive. Its organic-based techniques make it possible to generate $50,000+ in gross sales from a half-acre of land growing common vegetables such as carrots, spinach, lettuce salad mixes, beets, chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, radish, scallion, fresh herbs, summer squash and garlic. It requires modest up front financial investment and less than an acre of land. A SPIN farm can begin with a plot as small as 1,000 square feet, or it can be located on a half-acre of city-owned land, or it can be multi-sited on several residential backyards.
SPIN has its own unique processes and techniques, and they are very different from conventional farming methods, or from home gardening. Here are a few components of the system that distinguish it from other farming or intensive growing methods:
Commercial orientation and land base – SPIN transfers commercial farming techniques to sub-acre (less than an acre) land masses. Farmers do not need to own much, or any land, to start their operations, and their farms can be single or multi-sited.
Direct marketing - SPIN bases crop selection on what local markets want. Being close to markets allows for constant product feedback and ensures a loyal and dependable customer base.
Commercial refrigeration capacity – SPIN calls for commercial refrigeration capacity because cooling crops immediately after they are harvested retains their quality which supports premium pricing.
Minimal mechanization and infrastructure – The most important and costly equipment is a rototiller and a walk-in cooler or upright produce cooler. All other SPIN implements and infrastructure can be sourced at local garden supply or hardware stores.
“Home-based” work crew – Supplemental labor requirements are minimal and can be readily obtained within the network of family, friends, or within the local community.
Utilization of existing water sources – SPIN relies on local water service for all of its irrigation needs.
Low capital intensive – Minimal infrastructure and minimal overhead keeps start-up and operating expenses manageable. The bottom line is little or no debt. .
Standard size beds – SPIN utilizes beds measuring 2 feet wide by 25 feet long.
Organic-based – SPIN relies on all-organic farming practices. There are minimal off-farm inputs and very little waste.
Structured work flow practices – SPIN outlines a deliberate and disciplined day-by-day work routine so that the wide variety of farm tasks can be easily managed without any one task becoming overwhelming.
High-value crops - SPIN devotes most of its land base to the production of high value crops, defined as one that generates at least $100 per harvest/per bed.
Intensive relay cropping – SPIN is based on intensive relay cropping. Relay cropping is, quite simply, the sequential growing of crops. With the SPIN system, 3-4 crops are grown per bed/per season.
Production intensity - SPIN provides a rule for dividing multiple farm plots, or parts of the single site location, into different areas of production intensity.
Land allocation – SPIN provides guidelines for land allocation that balances production between high-value and low-value crops to produce a steady revenue stream..
Farm layout - SPIN provides guidelines for segmenting the land base into a series of beds, separated by access alleys which are small strips about 2 feet wide, just wide enough for a rototiller. An acre accommodates approximately 400 standard size beds, including the necessary access alleys.
Revenue targeting formula – By growing high-value crops worth $100 per harvest/per bed, and by practicing intensive relay cropping which produces at least 3 crops per bed/per season, SPIN targets $300 in gross sales per bed per season. With 400 beds per acre, the maximum revenue potential is 400 beds x $300 per bed per season = $120,000 gross sales per acre. When farming is approached in terms of beds instead of acres, the result is a very precise idea of how much growing space can be utilized, and how that space can be managed to generate predictable and steady income.
Crop Diversity - A SPIN product line contains a much wider diversity of crops than conventional large-scale farms, with a typical SPIN farm producing over 100 different varieties and 50 different types of crops per season.
Season extension is optional – SPIN does not rely on season extension to expand production; however season extension can be utilized to push SPIN yields and income significantly higher.
The intricacies of the SPIN system go far beyond what is outlined above, but this gives an idea of how SPIN can produce significant revenue from sub-acre land bases. Though the land base and overhead of a sub-acre farm is a fraction of that of a large multi-acre farm, their bottom lines are similar. A sub-acre farm can produce the same, or even greater, income than a large-scale operation with a lot less stress and overhead, and with a lot more certainty of success from year to year. This is how SPIN is enabling a growing corp of citizen-farmers who are establishing their farmsteads in the middle of urban jungles and sprawling suburbia. Their collective actions are re-defining farming for the 21st century – sub-acre, close to markets, environmentally friendly, low-capital intensive, citizen-driven.
To see how citizen-driven farmers are using SPIN to take food production into their own hands, help yourself to the free SPIN passalongs at http://www.spinfarming.com/.
© copyright Roxanne Christensen 2007