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Small plot farming pays off in a big way

Curtis Stone, a small plot farmer from Kelowna spoke to more than 400 people at a workshop hosted by the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation last weekend. Stone grows up to 50 crops on several plots of land, which are all less than an acre in size. - submitted photo
Curtis Stone, a small plot farmer from Kelowna spoke to more than 400 people at a workshop hosted by the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation last weekend. Stone grows up to 50 crops on several plots of land, which are all less than an acre in size.
— image credit: submitted photo

When fruit and vegetable producer Curtis Stone first learned about small plot intensive (SPIN) farming he had zero experience in commercial agricultural.

Still, he decided to give the technique a try and one year later had made a $22,000 profit on an investment of just $7,000. Since then, his  profit margin has more than doubled every year.

The revelation was met with thundering applause from participants at Saturday’s Small Lot Farming Workshop, hosted at the Langley Events Centre by the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (LSAF).

According to LSAF secretary and event emcee Kerry Taylor, organizers originally had hoped for a turnout of 50 to 70 people. More than 400 were there at 8 a.m. for the workshop, which aimed to encourage Langley residents who have farmable land sitting idle to learn more about what possibilities exist for making it profitable. Most attendees had less than five years’ farming experience, if any at all.

Currently, only 55 per cent of Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) property in Langley is farmed, and 73 per cent of all ALR parcels in the Township are smaller than 10 acres.

Stone owns and operates Green City Acres in Kelowna and, following the SPIN production model, grows up to 50 different crops on multiple urban plots all smaller than a single acre.

SPIN farming enables more production in a smaller space, with focus on high-value crops such as micro greens.

Although usually done in urban areas, the technique could easily be applied to small lots in Langley, according to Stone.

Intensive production means giving plants only the room they need to grow, which — alongside maximizing space — contributes to reduced labour costs by not allowing enough room in beds for weeds to grow.

“Net profitability has absolutely nothing to do with size of the land,” said Stone, acknowledging that availability of land, or lack thereof, has been key in driving the growth of small plot farming, especially among the younger generation of producers.

Stone said small farms have lower input costs because the owner/operator does the majority of the work from planting to market sales, and often facilitate higher profit margins through consumer-direct sales. He says knowing your market, what they’ll buy and how much you can sell is key.

SPIN farming allows new producers to grow as they go, recapitalizing and expanding as cash returns come in from quick-producing high-value crops like micro greens or kale.

“The best way to learn is to just do it,” said Stone, who, unlike many farmers, currently holds no debt related to his operations.

“Start small and start simple,” he advised workshop participants.

“Good farmers are detail orientated,” said professional agrologist Gary Rolston.

“They do the small things right.”

Rolston, of Vancouver Island’s From the Ground Up agricultural consulting, gave Saturday’s group a run-down of how to prepare a plan for turning idle land into a business.

He said attending events like the workshop is crucial to tapping into local farming knowledge, which varies based on location.

“You won’t find all the information if you just go online.”

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