Online Training Guide Provides Future Farmers Tools to Profit from Small Plot Intensive Farming
January 5, 2012 | Kelly Hatton
The founders of the SPIN-Farming, short for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive farming, recognize that the face of agriculture is changing.
“For the first time in history the vast majority of tomorrow’s farmers will have to come from non-farming backgrounds,” said SPIN-Farming co-creator Roxanne Christensen. “City folks will have to be trained to become farm folks because there simply aren’t enough farm kids out there to meet the demand, which is growing exponentially and is concentrated in cities.”
For this generation of new, aspiring farmers, the challenges of launching a farm business are not slight. Limited land access, a lack of business training and a shortage of knowledgeable mentors are some of the obstacles agrarian entrepreneurs face.
These challenges were all too familiar to Wally Satzewich, the developer of SPIN-Farming. Satzewich began farming on an acre of land in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with partner Gail Vandersteen and eventually, the couple moved to a twenty-acre farm outside of the city. They found, however, that more acreage didn’t necessarily mean a better business. Ultimately, the couple moved the farm back to the city where they grow a variety of organic crops on small, intensely managed parcels of land. Overhead is kept low by limiting labor and equipment needs.
“Having learned the traditional way, through much trial and error, he [Satzewich] realized how effective a systemized approach to farming could be,” explained Christensen.
Satzewich and Vandersteen teamed with writer and urban farmer Christensen to develop a farm startup system geared towards new farmers with limited land access. In 2006, the company launched the SPIN-Farming online learning series.
The learning series is an all-encompassing guide for beginning farmers. On the company’s website, customers can download the complete SPIN-Farming Basics for $83.93. The guide details the process of setting up and maintaining a profitable farming business with marginal startup costs and low overhead. Users can also chose to download individual sections of the guide, which are available for $11.99.
Details on SPIN-Farming
The company’s website describes SPIN-Farming as a “non-technical, easy-to-learn and inexpensive-to-implement vegetable farming system that makes it possible to earn significant income from land bases under an acre in size” and provides the following details to those interested in potentially exploring the system:
- Its precise revenue targeting formulas and organic-based techniques make it possible to gross $50,000+ from a half- acre.
- You don’t need to own land. You can affordably rent or barter a small piece of land adequate in size for SPIN-Farming production.
- It works in either the city, country or small town.
- It fits into any lifestyle or life cycle.
The website also notes that SPIN-Farming’s system is based on allocating one’s land base to different areas of production intensity. It says that, “the system is based on the 1-2-3 layout, where the 1 area of your farm is the least intensive and is devoted to lower value single crops per season, like cabbage, onion, potatoes or squash. The 2 area of your farm is devoted to bi-relay crops, in which 2 higher-value crops per bed per season are grown sequentially. And the 3 area of your farm is where you are doing your intensive relays in which 3 or more high-value crops per bed per season are grown sequentially. Each of these areas contribute a different amount to one’s total income, with the 3 high-value area obviously contributing the most.”
Helping to Grow a New Generation of Farmers
There are now over 600 practicing SPIN farmers around the US and Canada. Christensen attributes SPIN-Farming’s success to the plan’s accessibility.
“This kind of good food movement can’t be controlled, co-opted or sold out because it makes agriculture accessible to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “It is giving rise to a whole new farming class that cuts across geography, generations, incomes and ideologies and that is comprised of serious business people dedicated to producing needed products.”
In Lakewood, Ohio, Bay Branch Farm co-owners Eric Stoffer and Annabel Khouri used SPIN-Farming learning guides to set up their market garden, and recommend the guide to other beginning farmers. Stoffer and Khouri purchased a vacant lot in 2009 with the intention of using the space as a market garden. They used SPIN methodology to lay out their growing area, and to design their harvest station and storage space. Now, as a functioning market garden, Bay Branch employs SPIN growing techniques to increase output and profit.
“We stick to high-margin crops that are short cycle. We can grow a lot more in a limited space using the SPIN method,” said Khouri.
The SPIN-Farming model can also function as a learning tool for established farm businesses and organizations. With a set of standardized guidelines and plans, emerging businesses don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“Once I discovered the SPIN community, I was able to speed up the work we were doing to launch the farm because we could hand our apprentices tools that were already created and ready to use rather than creating them in-house,” said Paige Hill, founder and director of the nonprofit Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms in Austin, Texas.
Terry Carkner, of Terry’s Berries in Tacoma, Washington, also uses SPIN-Guides as an educational tool for her interns.
“The costs to start a small business, ideas for pricing product so you can see how much you need to grow and sell to make a certain amount of income, that kind of information hasn’t been easy to find, so it can be hard to make a business plan for a farm,” Carkner said.
SPIN Farmers admit that there are limitations to the plan. In Austin, for example, the unique climate affects the farm’s growing methods, seasons, and outputs.
“Some of the concepts simply don’t work or don’t exist here, so we’ve used them as a foundation to create what works in our region,” said Hill. “We rarely use the guides literally. They are always stimulators for us as we think about how the tools and concepts could work for our region.”
Both Carkner and Hill point out that the specific profit estimates laid out in the SPIN guide are sometimes optimistic, as demand for organic food and available markets varies from city to city.
“There is no way I could take 75 bunches of radishes to any of my markets and hope to sell them all, I would be lucky to sell 15,” Carkner said. “You have to find out what your community likes and what they are willing to pay.”
The company encourages feedback and participation from the growing community of SPIN Farmers, and recognizes that not all trial-and-error can be eliminated from starting a new business. What SPIN offers is a framework and a community; it’s up to individual farmers to be creative.
“The future of SPIN-Farming will be shaped by the people who are practicing it, and its power lies in the broad diversity of people who are already taking its replicable sub-acre scale farming business model and adapting it to their own specific communities,” said Christensen.