Spin in the city: a new form of farming that can transform cities.

Author:Spencer, Miranda C.

Using the SPIN model, growing ranks of the green-thumbed in North American cities and towns are becoming farmers, raising and selling organic produce on sub-acre backyard plots or vacant lots. In so doing, they're setting the stage for sustainable, local-foods economies--one city and one farm at a time.


SPIN, which stands for Small Plot Intensive relay farming, downsizes traditional organic farming methods and combines them with a franchise-like business formula. Invented by Canadian farmers Wally Satzewich and Gail Vandersteen in the mid-1990s, it's based on sequentially raising a variety of rapidly growing, highly marketable crops among multiple small (2' x 25") growing beds. The idea is to generate maximum edible output using minimal space, simple tools and the municipal water supply. All planting, weeding, pest management and harvesting are done by hand. In this way, a tiny team can raise tons of produce, then sell it directly to the community it serves.

Through strategic crop-selection, growing and revenue-targeting techniques, the goal is to generate approximately $100 per crop per bed. With about 200 beds per half-acre and up to four rotations per plot, it is theoretically possible to gross up to $120,000 a year, according to a feasibility study funded by Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development. Startup costs range from $10,000 to $25,000 and farmers typically work 30 to 60 hours a week. Friends Martin Barrett, 42, and Dan Bravin, 38, of Portland, Oregon, started their City Garden Farms in fall 2007. SPIN farming "fit a niche that was missing in our plan," says Bravin. "I had gardening skills, Martin had business experience, but we didn't know how to scale it up or set prices." They expect to sell $24,000 in Community Supported Agriculture shares this year from their half-acre farm, which spans their yard and the yards of 10 neighbors recruited from a post on the classifieds website Craigslist.org. A former database manager and veteran gardener, Bravin farms full time, doing about 85% of the physical labor, while Barrett, a bookstore manager, mostly runs the business side. City Garden takes advantage of Portland's mild climate and lenient residential-property-use regulations.

Satzewich and Vandersteen, who run Wally's Market Garden, sell salad greens, rainbow carrots and about 20 other "high value" veggies at a weekly farmers' market in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada and to restaurants. They earned...

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