Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Virginia A. Smith

2/3/2009 (6 years ago)

McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)- Don Pollard is counting the months _ 18 _ till he can leave Philadelphia and head home to Georgia, where he'll begin an adventure some might characterize as a midlife flight of fancy.

Highlights

By Virginia A. Smith

McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)

2/3/2009 (6 years ago)

Published in Home & Food


But for the 53-year-old registered nurse, who moved north decades ago to get a good job, it's way more than that. It's the culmination of years of yearning to return to roots and family and thinking about how to support himself off the five acres he bought in Grovetown, Ga., outside Augusta, in preparation.

Pollard, who now lives in North Philadelphia, believes something called SPIN-farming is his answer. That's "S" for small, "P" for plot, "IN" for intensive, and it simply means growing as many potentially profitable crops as possible, as densely as possible, on one acre or less, to be sold quickly and locally.

"You can do it any which way you want. It's all based on what your objective is," says Pollard, a master gardener who dreams of dividing his Southern acreage into smaller plots for boutique salad mixes, unusual melons, blueberries and grapes, and maybe pecans, mushrooms and nursery trees.

Increasingly, the system Pollard hopes will support his life's next chapter is being promoted for people with a different objective _ home gardeners interested in growing fresh vegetables for their families.

"Not everyone is cut out for farming, or even food gardening," says Roxanne Christensen of Center City Philadelphia, "but we often joke, we're like the next best thing to Grandma. All of what we say about SPIN-farming is based on this: Does it make sense?"

Christensen is president of the nonprofit Institute for Innovations in Local Farming, which is dedicated to making Philadelphia a leader in urban agriculture. She also owns the for-profit SPIN-Farming L.L.C., which helps new farmers in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

As long as we're talking sense here, how did farming become Christensen's thing?

She's not much of a gardener, she says, and her culinary skills are limited to being "a good boiler." But being able to buy fresh, locally grown food, with its attendant benefits of good nutrition and taste, has been a longtime personal and professional goal.

Who among us hasn't longed for buttery, homegrown lettuces or carrots that taste like the earth itself? And there are other considerations: Produce is expensive, pesticides are scary, and every other week, it seems, there's a salmonella warning.

"The distinction between city and country is an outmoded concept," Christensen says. "There's no reason you can't grow your own anymore."

In 2001, that was the idea behind the micro-farming system Wally Satzewich of Saskatchewan, central Canada, christened SPIN.

This enterprising urban farmer, who's also Christensen's business partner, grows salad mix, radishes, carrots and about a dozen other high-value crops in 25 rented backyard plots that total a half-acre. He makes enough of a living selling his organic harvest at a local farmers market and to restaurants that he takes January, February and March off every year. No second job.

Now, like Christensen, he's an advocate for applying SPIN principles to home gardens.

"It's a matter of figuring out how to get the most bang for your buck from a small land base," he says, suggesting that small backyard yields can be augmented by using front yards, patio space or containers, and renting or bartering space from neighbors, as he does.

"SPIN-gardeners are always thinking of ways to creatively expand, just like SPIN-farmers," Satzewich says.

The SPIN system involves "relay planting," densely sowing one crop after another to keep the beds perpetually full; growing short-season, high-end crops consumers will pay a premium for; modest investment in equipment, with most work done by hand; efficient cooling, prepping and bagging of produce and stretching the growing season by planting selected crops earlier or later than conventional guidelines dictate.

"You have to kind of lose the home-gardening baggage in terms of planting dates," Satzewich says. "We plant spinach as soon as the ground thaws."

Spinach seedlings are growing now in new hoop houses at Awbury Arboretum in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, where Weavers Way Co-op of Mount Airy has a 1--acre organic farm. While not strictly a SPIN operation, the farm does incorporate some of the core principles: The beds are thickly planted, in succession, with spicy greens, scallions, arugula, bok choy, chard, mesclun, spinach and radishes.

The farm made $45,000 in 2007 (its first season), $65,000 last year, and will be expanding this year to W.B. Saul High School in Roxborough, Pa., says farm educator David Siller, who also runs the half-acre Seeds for Learning farm at Martin Luther King High School in East Germantown.

The Saul farm will operate as a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, offering subscriptions for weekly produce baskets that likely will include one of the co-op's favorites: "Easter Egg" radishes, which, like their namesake, come in red, pink, lavender and white and can be picked in just four weeks.

"Radishes are quick-growing and very easy to harvest, and we can get a lot of them off a small patch of land," Siller says.

The Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia may soon be banking on radishes, too.

With Christensen's help, officials there are planning to create a one-third-acre urban SPIN-farm in 2010, as part of the organization's new $69 million community center. Work has already started on the 12.4-acre site, part of the old Budd Co. property in Nicetown that was once envisioned as a casino venue.

Dottie Wells, the project's business manager, says the farm will probably start with restaurant-quality salad greens, selling to food cupboards and other customers. "But we're not into this to make money," she says.

The farm also will help educate children and adults about nutrition, healthy lifestyle and self-sufficiency. For example, rainwater collected in rooftop cisterns will irrigate the farm.

"To me, this is win-win," Wells says.

That's pretty much what Pollard is thinking about his Georgia farm adventure, which may someday include a children's weight-loss camp and environmental education center.

"I can't wait," he says.

___

Here are some SPIN-farming ideas that translate well to backyard vegetable gardens:

Spend some time thinking and reading about what you'd like to plant, with an emphasis on crops you can't get easily or inexpensively _ salad greens, for example, which are easy to grow from seed. "Don't waste time growing corn or potatoes. Grow exotic stuff," says SPIN advocate Roxanne Christensen.

Make beds two feet wide, so you can straddle them for planting, weeding and picking. Keep length in line with your family's produce needs, preferably no more than 12 feet.

Keep walkways to about 12 inches, so weeding is easier and you don't waste space. You'll have to navigate by putting one foot in front of the other. (Ballet training helps.)

Plant in relays. For example, you can sow _ in the same spot _ spring peas followed by carrots. Or start with spinach, and when that's done, put in radishes, then carrots. The idea is to make the most of the space you've got, rather than planting one crop per season per bed. No need for your plot to lie fallow. "You should be constantly planting and harvesting," Christensen says.

Think of what you're doing as "home-based food production. You create a produce aisle in your cooler," she adds. That means harvesting in a timely way and immediately washing and storing everything in a cooler or freezer. Even if you aren't selling to restaurants, this makes retrieval a snap.

Pass on the fancy tools. Christensen makes an exception for rototillers (although some gardeners blame them for stirring up weeds) and seeders, which are more efficient than sowing by hand. Probably depends on how big your garden is.

Make "inputs equal outputs." Though experts typically emphasize the primacy of healthy soil, SPIN-farmers are less fussy. "You have to be aware of soil health," says Christensen, "but you don't need exotic or expensive 'amendments.' Spot-fertilize."

And remember that SPIN-gardening, or farming, "doesn't have to be all-consuming." Unless, like Don Pollard, the nurse who can't wait to hit the dirt in Georgia, you want it to be.

___

Learning to SPIN

Information about SPIN-gardening or farming can be found at these Web sites:
http://www.spingardening.com/, http://www.spinfarming.com/ or http://www.somertontanksfarm.org/.

The last highlights Somerton Tanks Farm, a demonstration SPIN-farm on a half-acre of city Water Department property in the Far Northeast. Now closed, the farm produced more than $68,000 in gross sales in 2006, its fourth, and last, year.

To reach the Institute for Innovations in Local Farming, call 610-505-9189.

___

2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Home & Food

13 of the most delicious no-bake pies Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Save time with these delicious no-bake pie recipes and prepare the best dessert for you and your loved ones! MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) -  With some help from BuzzFeed, here are 13 wonderful pies.1. Rum and Peanut Butter Pie[media id="5371"]Surprise ... continue reading


15 healthy and easy to prepare meals for when you're eating all alone Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

If you wake up late in the morning or come home late from work or school, you no longer have to worry about having to prepare for a full meal. You can now whip out these easy to prepare and healthy dishes for one, thanks to BuzzFeed. 1. Masor Jar Pear and Pomegranate ... continue reading


8 incredible ways to spice up a traditional grilled cheese sandwich Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Cheese and bread are two of the best things that have been combined together, to fill stomachs and be enjoyed by our taste buds. Here, with some help from BuzzFeed, we note 8 ways you can prepare and be proud of your grilled cheese sandwiches. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES ... continue reading


12 easy to cook cheap meals for when your budget is tight Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

When payday is still far away and you've got little money left for food, with some help from BuzzFeed, we suggest you prepare these simple meals that will satisfy your hunger pangs but won't eat up the rest of your budget. 1. Delicious Stir-Fried Beef and ... continue reading


The 15 strangest ways to serve avocados Watch

Image of Avocados can be served in many different ways.

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Avocados are popular as guacamole and dips, even in smoothies and salads. Scientifically, avocados are healthy. They are considered one of the healthiest foods -- a super food. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - According to Web MD, avocados contain about 20 ... continue reading


Bacon is good for you? Here are 5 incredible reasons bacon actually helps your body Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Bacon is one of the most popular foods ever created; more and more people crave the crunchy, sweet and salty piece of meat. People even express the love they have for it by celebrating a nonofficial, International Bacon Day. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Do 'superfoods' really exist? One study takes a closer look at the magic of blueberries Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil

Once again, the case of "superfoods" has been tried to see whether they are really worth the cash and the hope of good health. A show conducted a trial at Newcastle University, after recruiting five ordinary women to test whether eating blueberries regularly does have ... continue reading


Green potatoes? Must be St. Patrick's Day Watch

Image of COLCANNON DELIGHT - Everyone thinks of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, but this unique Irish dish made with potatoes and kale can become the hit of the meal.

By Augusta Scattergood (The Christian Science Monitor)

My younger daughter was born one day shy of St. Patrick's Day. We named her Kate for her Great-Aunt Kitty because we loved the name, not because she was Irish. I didn't understand then that a strong ancestral link could be forged with a country across the sea. My ... continue reading


'What's for dinner?' 15 of the strangest things people actually eat Watch

Image of weirdworldfacts.com

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

People often disagree on eating certain things. From exotic animal body parts and things not considered food in general to some items' wild preparations, various delicacies are available for those seeking palate adventures. Some are even rated deliciously. [media ... continue reading


Experts say skipping meals and fasting could be healthier than eating three full meals a day Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Eating three square meals a day - breakfast, lunch and dinner - is not necessarily helping our health, according to various studies by experts. In a recent report by the Mother Jones website, it is said that there are no actual evidence that support the practice of ... continue reading


All Home & Food News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Peter 5:5-14
5 In the same way, younger people, be subject to the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17
2 for you have said: love is built to last for ever, ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 16:15-20
15 And he said to them, 'Go out to the whole world; ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 25th, 2015 Image

St. Mark
April 25: The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter