SPIN-Farming – Anyone can do it!

October 10, 2007

Roxanne Christensen/spinfarming.com/October 10, 2007

While the noise level of the public debate about the future of food has become deafening (not a bad thing), a growing corps of unlikely activists are, quite literally, taking matters into their own hands by taking up SPIN-Farming. 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.

SPIN is a farming system that makes it possible to generate significant income from sub-acre – less than an acre – land masses. It 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.

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 to their communities 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.”

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Roxanne Christensen is co-founder and President of the Institute for Innovations in Local Farming. In partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department, the Institute operates Somerton Tanks Farm, a prototype sub-acre urban farm that serves as the U.S. test bed for the SPIN-FARMING method. The farm has received the support of the Pennsylvania Dept. Of Agriculture, the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp., the City Commerce Department, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Ms. Christensen contends that the separation of country and city is a bankrupt concept. “As development erodes the rural way of life, agriculture is creeping closer and closer to metropolitan areas. SPIN-FARMING leverages this trend in a positive way – by capitalizing on limited resources and space. Creating Somerton Tanks Farm using the SPIN method required minimal upfront investment, and it keeps operating overhead low.

“For aspiring farmers, SPIN eliminates the 2 big barriers to entry – sizeable acreage and substantial startup capital. At the same time, its intensive relay growing techniques and precise revenue targeting formulas push yields to unprecedented levels and result in highly profitable income.”

In 2003, its first year of operation, Somerton Tanks Farm, located in northeast Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the U.S, produced $26,100 in gross sales from a half-acre of growing space during a 9 month growing season. In 2005 gross sales increased to $52,200. So in just three years of operation Somerton Tanks Farm achieved a level of productivity and financial success that many agricultural professionals claimed was impossible. And it is providing a way for independent farmers to once again have a viable role in the food production system that has tipped too much in favor of large scale mass production agriculture.

Ms. Christensen’s role at the Institute is to attract and support new farming talent. “The farming profession has been on the decline – and for good reasons. The global economy favors agribusinesses, the amount of available farmland is rapidly shrinking, and family farms are going out of business at an unprecedented rate. It is not an opportune time to become an independent farmer.”

But, Christensen contends, SPIN-FARMING is a method uniquely suited to entrepreneurs, and it provides a new career path for those who have a calling to farm. It is enticing a new breed of farmer who is keenly interested in matters of principle, but who understands that to have a significant positive impact, they have to function within the existing system, pushing their cause while paying their bills.

As SPIN becomes established and is practiced more and more widely, Christensen says, it will create new farmland closer to metropolitan areas, which, in turn will produce environmental, economic and social benefits. “It offers a compelling value proposition.”

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