25 February 2016

Grow Food for Money on Borrowed Land

Curtis Stone is excited about encouraging more and more people to take up urban farming (http://theurbanfarmer.co). So excited, in fact, that he has books, podcasts and websites full of free information to help anyone get started growing food for profit. 

His book, “The Urban Farmer: Growing food for profit on leased and borrowed land”, provides over 250-pages of tips, formulas, bed layout plans, plant lists and step-by step instructions.

The key message is, “The important thing is to just get started.  Because once you show people you are willing to do the work all kinds of opportunities will present themselves.  Once you move past the talk, and you put your words into action, people see those actions, and opportunities just present themselves.”

Stone farms on urban plots. He borrows or leases neighborhood front yards and vacant lots that total one-third acre or 15,000 square feet. From that one-third acre, he sells $80,000 in vegetables annually.

The Pareto Law (80/20 rule) is the focus of his podcast on the Permaculture Voices website (www.permaculturevoices.com). That means: focus on the 20% of customers and products that bring the highest profits.

Ten rules came from a review of his spreadsheets: Follow your own ideology but be reasonable, be an early adopter, start small to keep overhead low, seek out experienced farmers for high quality information, focus on things you can measure, measure everything, focus on high yield crops and market streams, organize crop zones, diversify products and develop systems that can be duplicated.

Stone double dug every bed on every plot every year when he started. Now he uses a rototiller and no-till farming (weed-cloth) for established beds.

He emphasizes that now is the time because farmers are scarce. Less than 2% of North Americans know how to grow food, plus, the average age of farmers today is 65 and they are retiring.

Gain the skills to be a farmer and you will always have work. There has never been a better time to be a farmer than today and you do not have to own land.

Vegetable production in neighborhoods builds social equity. Put your growing plots in neighborhood front yards where they will be seen and people will come to you for fresh food.

Starting small is the key to urban farming. Stone started with $7,000, some YouTube videos, a few library books and some borrowed plots of land.

Critical to success is high-grade information gained from local growers. They can tell you which irrigation methods, soil amendments, insect control works etc..

Stone recommends that new growers form groups comprised of 1/3 who are where you want to be, 1/3 people who are where you are, and  1/3 who are a bit behind where you are. Sharing information with that group on a regular basis will accelerate your learning exponentially.

Focus on harvesting, planting and marketing because you can measure those. Weeding, thinning and irrigation are not things you can measure. Give up on perfection; 85% is good enough.

Streamline processes with washing tables, consolidated preparation area, drying tables and other simple solutions.

Stone uses an intensive farming method called SPIN that optimizes harvest times. Half his beds are planted four times a season.

Stone’s rules for crop selection are clear. Only grow crops with less than 85 days to maturity, with high yield per square foot, good price per pound, that have a 4-month harvest period, vegetables that are in high demand, and can be sold to area stores and chefs.


His business, Green City Acres, is in Vancouver, where the growing season is 7 months. “Urban Farmer” is published by New Society, www.newsociety.com, 2016.  $20. It is a must-read for aspiring growers.

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