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Thoughts on SPIN (small plot intensive) farming?  RSS feed

 
Rob Meyer
Posts: 103
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Hey everyone,

I recently came across this idea, and have been incredibly inspired by it. Without sending you to a bunch of outside links, the basic idea is that you find land owners in an urban or suburban neighborhood who are willing to turn their unused yards (front, back, sides, whatever) for intensive, high production, (usually) annual vegetable production. The landowner gets all the free veggies they can eat and the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping free their neighborhood from the dependency on big ag, and increasing the independence and strength of their own locality. They also get to learn something about gardening, and have a fully prepared garden when the land deal is over. And of course, if desired, they could also get a cut of the profits. It's a very unique and interesting approach; so much so that I'm considering dropping out school to try it out!

Now, I've heard some criticism of permaculture in this idea because of the need for one to own land to really practice it, and because of how long it takes to see a real yield, but at the same time, this could also be put forward as (I suppose) a way to leap frog into purchasing your own land to eventually implement a permaculture homestead. It could, however, also just be a way to continuously make profit in your own neighborhood, and in that sense, I am wondering if there is some way to reconcile this idea and permaculture. First of all, has anyone heard of this idea, and what are your overall thoughts on it, and second, how do you see this fitting into the overall permaculture movement? By and large, it seems that this idea wants to create monocultures in every front and back yard of high profit market crops, and has no desire to practice any sort of agroecological principles, but because of how innovative it is in general, I find it very difficult to just simply write off.

Thoughts?
 
Mike Dayton
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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I went to a seminar about spin gardening last year. It is a form of market gardening. The concept is to make money. They want to make a living growing things and they feel that most farmers are loosing money. They can use their own land, or they can as you say get land to use from others. The woman that gave the lecture said that she could make $50,000 spin farming 1/2 acre of land. The plots are 2 ft wide and 25 ft long and each one of them is worth $300 she figured. The size is because you can straddle the bed to pick and plant easily. They are intensly planted to help avoid weeds, and each bed is used more than once each growing season. She did not plant a seed that she did not know where it would be sold, local stores, restaurants, farmers markets etc. She talked about using other peoples back yards, and even using public school property for free as a demonstration for the kids. They have alot of ideas about getting people to let them use land for free. I believe she said they have a web site and a place to talk about their issues like this one. It is not permiculture, it is one form of market gardening that uses organic methods. I liked the concept and was interested as you are. It is alot of work, make no mistake about that. I have the land, but I am too old to want to work that hard to make money. I would suggest that you check it out a bit more and if you like the idea try it.
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
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I am involved with a similar model that is in its 3rd year. Since produce is leaving the land and eventually ending up as hu-manure in the city sewage system, it is necessary to import outside nutrients in order to maintain soil fertility. It is not permaculture, but it is better than long distance industrial organic ag for sure. The fact of the matter is that right now, while there are still oil resources left to burn, people will keep working their jobs in the city and those people want fresh, organic produce. I think this is an excellent way of moving closer to truly sustainable food systems. BTW $50,000 for one person seems a bit outlandish based on what our farm has done over the last two years. IMO your looking at more like 10-20 thousand on the season. People like growing food by hand because it is what they want to do, not because it makes them a lot of money.
 
Mike Dayton
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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I agree on the money issue, I felt her claims were a bit far fetched, but I did not try and hold her hand to the fire on that issue. I felt that $50,000 was pie in the sky too. But even to make a living, any kind of a living on that small an acerage is amazing to me. Many farmers can't do it on alot more land than what you are talking with spin gardening.
 
John Polk
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Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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If you are looking for plots of land to use, consider a great resource: That elderly couple (or widow) down the street.

An elderly couple:

1. Often have an older home with a good sized lot,
2. Are usually on a (low) fixed income,
3. Might be too old to do any extensive gardening,
4. Probably need to pay a gardener to maintain their yard (or just "let-it-go"),
5. Don't want to lug heavy bags of groceries home from the store (especially if they no longer drive),
6. And are old enough to remember what good produce used to taste like.

Besides that, many of their friends have passed, and their family has probably followed their careers far from home. They would probably like somebody stopping by several times a week to chat with, and perhaps picking up a quart of milk for them at the grocery store. Be aware though that you may have to eat some home made cookies (or soup) when you show up.

If they like what you are doing (and what they are now eating) they may hook you up with some of their friends who also have large, neglected yards.
If they have shared some of those lovely, tasty tomatoes with friends, those friends would probably be happy to see you working in their yard.

 
John Craftsman
Posts: 3
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Hello,

New here and found the site looking for info on RMH. I happened to catch the post about SPIN and thought I'd give my 2 cents. I own the SPIN business plan and have read much about it. It is 50k GROSS on 1/2 acre. It took the creator of the "system" 3 years to get to that point and you need at least one other person and long hours. They grow mainly high value crops like scallions and baby greens. It depends on your locale what you will make and your desire to succeed. I participate on the SPIN forum occasionally and have seen multiple mentions from people who gross more than 50k per 1/2 acre in their areas. Strong markets are the key or restaurant supply or CSA. I agree with your other posters that it's obviously not permaculture but it's a great way to get more agriculture produced locally. I would be working on this business for myself if I could only find a partner in my area.

John
 
Vladimir Horowitz
Posts: 23
Location: N. Idaho, zone 5
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I saw this happening at my brothers house in portland when I visited. The woman who was doing it had a dozen more lawns in the neighborhood and was selling the produce at a renegade farmers market, so I doubt she was raking in the cash. My only qualm with the setup was just thinking about all the dogs walking by that unprotected front yard garden.....

Personally I feel like it is a great idea, I am always for ripping up lawn to plant edibles and the system is mutually beneficial. Now how about setting up the homeowner with a simple composting system to provide some of the nutrient needs of the garden, heck you could even get the braver ones to use their urine as a fertilizer supplement...
 
Rob Meyer
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So we're on the same page basically. Overall, it sounds like a great and innovative idea, and one that is dying for people to try it out, and upon doing so, would likely revolutionize the local food production system. I do think that this could be integrated with permaculture more though, and be more perennial based/extensive, rather than annual/intensive.

One idea in this regard that I've been contemplating is a sort of landscaping company that does their maintenance and design work for free, and makes their money by planting all edible landscapes, fruit an nut trees and bushes, perennial greens, herbs, etc, and while maintaining the landscapes, also harvests the edible components, for later sale and/or consumption. Even if one were to only have 3 or 4 properties they maintain like this on a part time basis, they could likely make at least somewhat of a living, even as a supplement to their primary full time occupation.

Anyway, thought I'd throw the idea out there and see what people think. It would certainly be great to see tested in my area!
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
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Rob, I really like your idea. However I would be concerned about the time and resource commitment to a property that could be sold to an uncooperative third party. For all we know the new land owner could bulldoze the whole thing and put in a basketball court!
 
Rob Meyer
Posts: 103
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That's a very good point. I guess it would have to be friends and family mostly, and those who I don't know I would have to charge for the design, so I know they really want it. Also, because they would in fact be getting somewhat of an income from the landscape, I doubt they'd be inclined to remove it, and would understand it's value. At least I'd hope they would!! That's a good concern though, thanks for pointing it out.
 
Colin Thomas
Posts: 21
Location: Castlegar, B.C. Zone 6a-6b
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Here is what I posted about SPIN farming on another site. I tried to copy and paste what I wrote but it did not work. You can read the SPIN blog entry and read my thoughts at the bottom.

Link to article http://www.permaculturebc.com/Curtis-Stone-Spin-Farming-Victoria-November-2011







 
Rob Meyer
Posts: 103
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Yea, I mean, the idea can definitely be improved in a more integrated and ecologically resilient way, but overall, the idea is revolutionary in it's architecture, even if it's implementation is short sighted. I think we can at least take from it the good that it brings, discard the bad, and of course improve where we can. I'll certainly be trying out in some variation.
 
Matthew Fallon
Posts: 308
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
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Funny and timely thread'

i too just recently came across the spin farming stuff, which feels like a 'spin off' of french intensive market gardens ,marrying yardshare/hyperlocavore/gardenshare and making it profitable.
agree with the comments above, not permaculture, but less useless lawns are always good, ,there could be ways to offer other services cheaply that are mutually beneficial and a bit more 'permied up'..edible landscaping being one. how about teaching the homeowner how to compost if they're into it.,even better, get good sizable worm-bins started on site,show them how to feed the worms their paper and kitchen scraps (and/or you can bring food there when you workt he land), now you've got onsite fertility building and can possibly sell the worms to them or others at the end of the season/contract.

i'm actually participating right now now in a free online course of sorts on spin-farming..its being put on by curtis stone and luke callahan as he helps luke get his own operation going in portland. both these dudes are probably members here already too, i watched a skype chat that luke did with paul so i know he's here.
it's interesting stuff . i'd like to see if i can use some of these market garden methods to at least subsidize our garden-share project here. i sell y craftwork at a arts market from spring-fall and this year we're merging with the farmers-market,maybe i can sell veggies there along side my native-flutes and woodturnings etc... i have 2 neighbors that are already happy to let me garden portions of their yards, one is elderly and i already planned on planting out her garden to help her.

here is the link to the free online- course
http://www.permaculture-design-courses.com/2012/02/free-urban-farming-online-course.html
and the facebok group, which is now closd to new posts,there is a "forum" on luke's site now.a work in progress
https://www.facebook.com/groups/104992706291263/

 
Matthew Fallon
Posts: 308
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
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Rob Meyer wrote:Yea, I mean, the idea can definitely be improved in a more integrated and ecologically resilient way, but overall, the idea is revolutionary in it's architecture, even if it's implementation is short sighted. I think we can at least take from it the good that it brings, discard the bad, and of course improve where we can. I'll certainly be trying out in some variation.


i'm with you. my impressions so far. those doing spin admit it's not the be-all end all sustainable model..
it's not necessarily 100% organic... not necessarily 100% non-permaculture, it isnt gardening. it's small scale farming.
its a way to farm unused land(not a new concept really) and make some money at it if you're a Good farmer, businessman and salesman.
i like something i saw curtis repeat someplace, ive heard it said many times in permaculture and transition community circles. that essentially we cant get from A to Z without taking 25 transitional steps in between.
i think spin and similar 'decentralized urban farm' systems are one of those steps.appropriate for certain times and places ,not for all places and not for all of time.
 
Fred Morgan
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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One thing that might work well with this is an old idea, called cropping rights. This says you entering an agreement with the land owner regarding your crops, and that even if they sell, you can still complete your cycle (the cycle is defined as what you feel you need to get back you investment, a year, three years, etc.)

Also, it clearly lays out what you can and cannot do to the property, and what they land owner has to do as well (like maintain a fence, if applicable)

Cropping rights are very strong here in Costa Rica - not sure of elsewhere. It is because it is very common to rent land from somebody to grow a crop.
 
Ivan Weiss
Posts: 176
Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
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I participate in the SPIN Farming mailing list and I read what the SPIN farmers write, and how they approach what they do. I can assure one and all that almost to a person, the long-term fertility of the soil is a primary concern for all of them.

I think the question "Is SPIN Farming permaculture?" is beside the point altogether. Clearly it's not, because of the necessary, ongoing input and the emphasis on annuals. But so what? SPIN's goal is to produce high-quality, healthful food -- locally, organically, and ethically -- and to make that activity financially rewarding. I sure hope that no one here has a problem with that.

SPIN beds work. SPIN techniques work. SPIN marketing works. It all works for those who have the skills and the commitment to make it work, and for whom the long-term health of the soil is the prime directive. I doubt that most readers of these forums share the SPIN approach. I dabbled in it, and found that the minimum-input, maximum-output long-term approach of permaculture suited my goals and personal style more than the maximum-input, maximum-output, heavily labor-intensive, short-term SPIN approach.

I take from this discussion that although the two approaches are dissimilar, they deserve mutual respect. I think we have a lot to learn from each other, and I hope the cross-pollination of ideas continues.
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I agree Ivan. While it is not permaculture, it is a step in the right direction. Every square inch of land that we can convert to a healthy gardening system helps the cause, and helps the earth.

Perhaps some of the more progressive participants can begin convincing owners to plant a fruit tree or two. Perennials like asparagus produce a high value product on an attractive, fern-like plant. (I know people who have planted them in the front yard flower patch in communities where the HOA has prohibited food gardens in the front yard.)

If a plot's neighbor notices boxes of surplus leaving the site, it may convince him/her to convert the back lawn into something useful, especially in these harder times. If they have sampled that produce, they will begin turning up their noses at the fare the supermarket tries to pawn off as produce.

If nothing else, if it provides a healthy buffer zone between the urban areas and the rural farmland, it is a huge benefit. Native pollinators need all the help they can get, and providing a few more city lots with a healthier ecosystem gives them a greater habitat to survive in. That habitat has been disappearing at an alarming rate. SPIN is just one more way to reverse that trend.
 
Matt Baker
Posts: 45
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I am thinking about starting a SPIN farm. Why can't SPIN farmers implement some of the best practices of permaculture like hugelkultur, no-till and polycultures? These would eliminate some of the high labour/energy inputs like irrigation and roto-tilling. I also think perennials could play a minority role in the SPIN system; perennial kale comes to mind.
 
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