The Urban Farmer – Curtis Stone – Book Notes

The Urban Farmer by Curtis Stone Book Notes

If You’re Not part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem

I rented Urban Farmer from my local library which I recommend whenever possible.  However if you want to purchase it here is the Amazon listing.

There’s a huge opportunity to repurpose suburban plots as self-reliant farming communities (I see this as turning a liability into an asset.  Meaning your home can earn/save you money instead of just siphoning it out of your wallet).   Consumer > Producer.

30-60% of fresh water used in cities goes towards watering lawns. Which makes it unsustainable.  (Here’s what I found that supports his 30% number: EPA The average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day.)

Cuba is actually the current leader in urban agriculture.  Due to being forced to feed its people during an embargo from US government.

Obstacles to urban farming:

  • Cost/access to land, equipment, etc
  • Poor distribution systems for small time farmers
  • People not on board with the value of local, organic food and opting for cheap food instead
  • Small profit margins

To overcome these obstacles:

  • Branding and marketing are key (just like any other business).  One good thing is the local,organic, urban farming is trendy and gaining popularity. Hone your story at farmers markets
  • Be a first mover.  The first person in a market will get all the attention and the lions share of the market share. You become a news story which means free advertising and exposure when starting out that you don’t have to pay for… or would be impossible to buy altogether
  • Start with your why, the what is important, but the why is what pulls people in.  Here is Curtis’ why off their website: Our mission is to foster social and environmental change through the production of local food, and to help, teach, and empower people to start growing their own. We believe that our transition from a petroleum based society is inevitable and how we chose to perceive that potentially devastating event is entirely up to us. At GCA, we see that as an opportunity to create the world we want to live in, and while we move from a society and food system that is energy intensive, environmentally destructive, and socially inequitable, we can have fun, eat good wholesome food, get some exercise, and reconnect with the soil and our community at the same time.
  • Run a lean operation
  • Operate as a business and don’t focus on lifestyle/hobby (*Me – Isn’t the lifestyle why people get into farming?)
  • Grow crops with a specific market in mind (again.. like other businesses you need to do some market research and see where the demand and gaps are)
  • Start small
  • Plant densely

Advantages of urban farming:

  1. Access to markets – This is the biggest advantage.  Being a short bike ride away from a restaurant is a selling point to their customers.  And it reduces your costs.   If you have a farmers market close by you can ride back and restock if you run out of something.  Or, if someone wants something you didn’t bring.  Lastly, you have built-in marketing.  Just like a store in the city you’ll have people walking by your farm that you can sell to.
  2. Low startup – Curtis is talking about farming on other peoples land.. so you’re not buying property, taxes, etc.
  3. Better conditions – Cities often block the wind, and you can localize crops for dealing with pests.  If a certain pest is attacking a crop, you can move to another location without it.
  4. Cashflow – High bed turnover (sometimes DTM in 30 days) puts cash in you pocket.  You don’t really want to be waiting around for years for a perennial plants to pay off.

Curtis Stone’s Journey

  • Learned from watching his dad as a kid what it means to be a business owner and to watch your expenses.  In his dads later years he opened a barber shop and worked for himself until he retired and most importantly was happy.   It gave him purpose and was against what society tells us to do (expand and make more, spend more).
  • Curtis had a drive to live by his values.  Reader of Noam Chomsky (geopolitical issues). And is driven by learning alternative ways of living on this planet in a sustainable manner.
  • One day he discovered WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA®) is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices).  Which spoke to Curtis’ interest in living off the grid, organic farming, and alternative energy.
  • Did a bike ride to see projects/farms in person.
  • Curtis got a late start in his operation and wasn’t able to seed and grow crops.  So inspired by Pedal to Petal he started a bicycle compost program.
  • Heard by two friends SPIN farming could produce $100k an acre vs. the $20k he read about in Elliot Coleman’s books.
  • Has about five years of experience currently SPIN farming and operates Green City Acres.

Green City Acres

Kept his startup costs low by not buying land, used equipment, used a bike as transport.  His main input is compost and organic-based fertilizer from local companies.

Most beds that he plants costs him about $5 in inputs.

2014 – $75,000 on 15,000 sq.ft.

Curtis finally figured some things out.  He reduced his farm down to 1/3rd of an acre.  With five plots that were pretty centrally located for easy bike access.  Focuses on growing about 15 different crops (used the 80/20 rule to maximize profit) .  These crops are what he’s found based on days to maturity are the most profitable.

That year he serviced two wholesale accounts, seven restaurants, and did one weekly farmers market.

Worked around 40 hours and had one part-time employee who worked 16 hours.  Had some other free help from people who wanted to barter labor for veg. (10 hours a week).

Cut out his CSA program due to low return.

Found this a better way to farm.  Where one can live more sustainably and be profitable.

Farming

Typical small farm infrastructure:

  • Land and home
  • Couple of greenhouses
  • Outbuilding for a workshop and storage
  • Farm stand
  • Farm gate

Urban plots usually don’t have these luxuries.

Typically urban infrastructure only requires walk-in coolers, transportation, nursery, rototiller, etc.  Most things can be built yourself.  Curtis started his farm with $7000.

Give yourself six months to start gathering tools and equipment and build infrastructure before you start farming.  This will allow enough time to find deals on used equipment. Which you may have to do some traveling to pick up equipment. Use sites like Craigslist and Kijiji.  Curtis had to drive four hours, but he got a BCS tiller with three implements for $1,000.  And same with his walk-in cooler.  Both new would have been $8,000.

Crops that have long maturity dates are not ideal for small time farming.  Such as corn, potatoes, garlic, melons, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, peas, beans, and onions. The lowest frequency you want it two turn overs. Although you can grow them for your own use.

If you live in a colder climate focus on colder crops you can grow all year round so you have cashflow all year.

You can grow certain crops in unheated greenhouses or low poly tunnels all year such as:

  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

You can make $2,000 a week growing micro greens in an indoor heated 400 sq ft. area (20’x20′) for income in the winter months as well.

It’s easy to get large grand visions for your farm.  But focus on small steps to getting there. Maybe step A to B is just making money so you can do this full time.  Then, you work on refining your practices to become the ultimate sustainable farm.

Each of these models is scaleable.  Meaning you can start with just growing your own food.  Then, go to a mini farm, then small farm, etc.

But, at every stage your aim should be to under promise and over deliver.

Considerations for your Farm

  1. Location – Most important decision.  Don’t go to somewhere that already has an urban farm scene unless there is an unmet demand that you can fill. Your  story won’t be unique and that will not help you.
    1. How will you setup your base operations: cleaning, storing and packaging vegetables. Ideally you want to be centrally located and accessible.
    2. Setup high rotation beds (around four turn over times a year) located closest to your base operation (although some carrots and beets can be thrown in these beds).  This will help minimize travel times.
  2. How spread out is the area.  If it pretty spread out you’re better off farming on one single piece of land. Cities that are pretty concentrated with a population of 50,000 to 200,000 are the perfect size for urban farming.
  3. Look for an area where people are already interested in eating local and organic.  This helps when getting established so you don’t have to do a huge amount of education. Festivals that celebrate local foods, Whole Foods stores, bike friendly cities, etc.
  4. Since restaurants and farmers markets will be a main source of income you’ll want to see what’s in the area.  How many people shop there on a day-to-day basis?  How long is the farmers market open and what’s the procedure for getting a booth?  What restaurants advertise local foods, and who supplies them.. do they need more?
  5. Employees – No one is going to have the same incentive as you and you can at best expect them to work 85% as hard as you.  Although you can maybe boost this up with certain incentives.

Labor

Keep labor costs around 20% in beginning to 35% gross later on.

Labor That Can be Done by Others

  • Market portioning – 3 h a week – filing bags
  • Washing harvest bins – 1 h
  • Compost work – 30 min – dumping micro green flats and emptying spoilage into compost
  • Pruning tomatoes – 3 h – prune sucker branches from tomatoes twice a week
  • Picking Pattypans – 2 h – pick then they’re small
  • Wash root veggies – 1 h – beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, and spring onions
  • Wash greens – 1 h – rinse, spin, dry, and sort

Tracking

Spreadsheets can be used for all kinds of things like plantings, tracking yields, sales, orders, crop information, spoilage, etc.

It’s important though to know what to track and what not to.  Its meaning and how to implement changes

Phones can be used for monitoring plots with pictures and taking voice memos.

CVR- Crop Value Rating

Characteristics of crops that are ideal for small city plots:

  1. Demand – people want them and they have low supply.  Most important.  Curtis over did micro greens and the market became saturated.  But, he is still moving kale pretty easily.  You have to listen to the demand of the market.  If something isn’t selling you shouldn’t keep planting it.
  2. Long harvest period – four month minimum.  Meaning you can keep harvesting it for a four month period or keep planting and replanting that long. Radishes can keep being planted all year.  Kale can be harvested many times.  Tomatoes of the indeterminate types will bear fruit for many months.
  3. High price per pound (looking for at least $4) – Lowest crop to sell would be cherry tomatoes at $4 per pound. Micro-greens $20 per pound. If you sell something that does have a lower than $4 per pound make sure it meets some other criteria.
  4. High yield per linear foot – 1/2 pound per foot in a standard bed – Cabbage takes up the same space as eight bunches of radishes. Kale is good also.
  5. Short date to maturity – looking for 60 days or less (DTM)
    1. Spinach – 45 DTM
    2. Radishes – 28
    3. Tomatoes – 70 (not good here)
    4. Always grow the fastest varieties no matter what the crop is

The less land you have the higher the CVR score should be.  The more land you have the more you can include some low CVR crops.

On 1/2 acre or more of land you can include more variety to capture more of the market share.  And even grow some items not typically done with urban farming.

Urban Farming Crops & Variety

  • Arugula – Rocket, Sylvietta Rocket varieties
  • Auxiliary greens – Mustard – Mizuna and Scarlet Frills, Beet greens – Bulls blood, Early Wonder
  • Basil – Sweet, Italian
  • Beets – Touchstone golden, Red Ace, Chioggia
  • Bok Choy – Shiro, Joi Choi
  • Cilantro – Calypso
  • Parsley – Italian
  • Baby Dill – Fern Leaf
  • Carrots – Rainbow, Mokum, Purple Haze
  • Kale – Toscana, Redbor, Darkibor, Winterbor
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Lettuce – Oak Leaf, tango, Red Sails, Salanova
  • Patty Pan & Zucchini – Raven, Golden Delight, and Sun burst (PP)
  • Radish – Raxe, White Icicle, Easter Egg, French Breakfast
  • Spinach – Space
  • Swiss Chard – Bright Lights
  • Tomato – Oxheart, Vintage Vine, San Marzano, Saucing – Cherries – Sakura, Sun gold, Mountain Magic

Microgreens

Can be a high value crop but seed cost makes it risky. Like everything start small and do a test before scaling up.

To grow:

  • Indoors/greenhouse – Use 1″ or 2″ ( for sunflowers as the extra soil helps prevent fungus) deep germination flats
  • Outdoors – Plant in soil using Curtis’ board technique

Three main crops to grow are radish (China Rose), pea (Speckled Pea), and sunflower (Black Oil) shoots.

Indoors

Use a multi shelf unit with fluorescent grow lights.  Will need to keep an eye on humidity and temp with constant airflow.

To germinate and emerge typically takes 5-7 days.

9 stages of growing in flats:

  1. Sterilize seed – Very important when planting sunflower shoots as they have a high risk for fungus.  Before soaking mix four teaspoons of white vinegar and four teaspoons of food grade hydrogen peroxide in one quart of water.  Then let seeds soak in solution for about ten minutes.  Drain and rinse.  It is typically recommended that unless the seed is dry when planted (like radishes) that you should always sterilize seed when soaking it.
  2. Soak for 6-8 hours (overnight).  6 ounces per flat for pea shoots and 12 for sunflowers
  3. Drain and rinse
  4. Prep soil for planting
  5. Fill flats with soil.  Level and tamp with a piece of plywood for a firm base.  Then water with a fine spray heavily until you can stick your finger in the corner of the flat and its wet all the way down.
  6. Plant – sprinkle seeds evenly
  7. Cover with sterilized empty flats.  You can go up three layers by placing corrugated plastic between them.  Then just add a little weight with some books on top.
  8. Once emerged bring into light.  Wait a day to water them as the soil is still damp.
  9. In 5-7 days of being uncovered they should be ready to harvest

Outdoors

Similar to growing in flats but you plant directly into the ground soil.  Use a 30″ x 6′ piece of plywood and place it on of planted crop that has a small covering of potting soil over it.  Leave it for 4 days and then remove for light.  5-7 days ready for harvest.

Part-Time Farming – $21,600

Keep your day job for a year or two and scale back your hours.  1/10th of an acre can work for this (36 beds sized 30″ x 25′).  With all high rotation beds you could make $28,800 in a 30 week season.

Although its a smart ideal to grow some different crops for the experience.  This is about learning in this stage rather than maximizing profit.

50% BR and 50% HR could bring in $21,600.

Your market in this model will most likely be farmers markets.  Since it requires less risk and customer service and you can do it on evenings and weekends.

Look to spend about 20 hours a week on this size farm.  Plus time at the farmers market.  The more people that are contributing the easier this will be.

MicroFarm on 1/10 Acre – $58,800

You could run a full time farming business from home with this size as well.  Will need to focus on QR and HR crops again.

If you greenhouse field crops and micro greens this number could be higher.  Sell 50 flats of micros per week at $20 a flat, it would be possible to gross $58,800 from this size plot.

The risk in this model is that your crops will be highly specialized and be relying on a small number of clients.

You person could run this type of farm full time by putting in about 40 hours. With about 15 hours spent on micro greens and rest on field crops.

Focusing on restaurants and not farmers markets will reduce your time spent working.

Crops recommended:

  • Cilantro
  • Baby Dill
  • Salad Turnips
  • Mustard Greens
  • Arugula
  • Baby Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Baby Russian Kale
  • Baby Spinach

Greens can be mixed to create salad mixes, and spinach and arugula can be sold separately. Mustard and arugula combine to make a spicy mix.

Micros – Sun shoots, pea shoots, radish shoots, and some purple opal basil, cilantro, and things with a bright color.

Sun and pea shoots are popular with the health nuts, and radish shoots and specialty micro greens are good for restaurant clients.

Small Farm – 1/4 Acre Farming – $87,000

Startup cost around $10,000 or less

This is the ideal starting size if you’ve never farmed before and want to do this as a living. Taking on too much land right out of the gate is the number one mistake.

With this size you’ll need to add another person full-time or part-time.

A 1/4 acre farm can produce $50,000.  But, that can go up way higher if you can incorporate some micro greens and a greenhouse.  And if you did all 90 beds on a HR schedule you could boost it up to $72,000 and with 25 flats of micro greens you can get that up to $87,000.  Although it really depends on your market and if it will allow it.  If you can add 50 flats per week you could get into the $100k range.

This size farm needs high end restaurants and good farmers markets to really thrive.  While growing high return crops.

Another option would be to team up with another farm to provide a specialty crop to their CSA program.

Crops are grouped into two categories:

  • Quick – under 60 days
  • Steady – over 60 days and likely harvested continuously for a span of time like kale or tomatoes

Standard size bed is usually 25′ long by 30″ wide.  With some situations calling for a slight change to this.   This allows him to fit 24 beds in a 2,400 square foot area.

In this case he will use what he calls a HR (high rotation) area with quick crops in it.  So that he may get four different turnovers throughout the season. One bed in a high rotation area can yield $800 assuming a $200 turnover each time. So on this sample plot with 24 beds all planted for four turnovers would annually yield $19,200.

The high rotation beds are usually be planted with:

  • Carrots – not a quick crop but they’re ok to add in anyway (not sure his reasoning on this exactly)
  • Arugula – two cuts one week apart for a total of 20 pounds at $10 a pound = $200
  • Cilantro
  • Salad Turnips
  • Bok Choy
  • Lettuce
  • Tatsoi
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radishes – yield on average 75 bunches per bed at $2.50 a bunch = $187.50.  Usually harvested all at once and sold that week (cropping out). $5 per pound
  • Parsley
  • Spinach – harvests on average 35 pounds of spinach (two cuts over the course of two weeks) and sells it at $7 a pound = $245
  • Scallions
  • Herbs – Baby dill, cilantro, and parsley in bunches
  • Micro – Pea, sun, radish shoots

Bi-rotation crops are planted only twice a year and can consist of (typically yield $400 a bed per season):

  • Kale – Transplants usually go in first week of April and grows until mid summer.   Then usually replaced with carrots or beets. $5 per pound
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Pattypan squash
  • Tomatoes – Although they do require lots maintenance like pruning and harvesting during high season (usually planted mid may so you cool place a cool weather quick crop in the bed earlier in the season like a radish or green before the tomatoes go in)

The plot should be divided into two segments to allow access for a rototiller throughout the season if one or two beds need it.

After harvesting a bed you turn it under, then amend the soil and plant something else.

With greens he does what he calls Cut and Come Again.  Where he’d harvest 15 pounds each cut for three times total.  45 pounds at $8 a pound = $360.

In most cases he’s planting in groups.  Such as multiple beds of lettuce, spinach, or arugula at once.

Semi-Diversified – 1/2 Acre Farming – $123,000

This could be done with two full time co-owners who have a couple seasons under their belt already.  While living a pretty balanced lifestyle.

180 beds. 50/50 HR/BR crops with some indoor and greenhouse growing.

The plan with this size is to focus on consumer market streams.  Grow high value crops.  While using time saving techniques and high value crops.

This size farm and bigger will allow a CSA.  But be careful with how much time you’re working and how much value it’s bringing in.  It may not make sense to engage in low return markets.  If you’re already saturating your markets then expanding will hurt more than help.

Aim to be just under the demand so that your sell all your product. Otherwise you’re working for free.

Larger than 1/2 Acre

Read Elliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier books.

Markets

Farmers Markets

Simple and quick way to start.

  • Look into when you can sell and what is required
  • Experiment with new products – seeing if people will buy immediately
  • Make connections – CSA and Chef customers
  • Engage with people who want to hear your story
  • Allowing people to be apart of a movement and idea of local and organic farming
  • Selling the experience not just food.
  • Be present with them and educate (they don’t get that at the grocery store)
  • Product is pre bagged or bunched in large until at a higher price(until you get to average use per week.. or option for some items in one area such as 1 for $2 or 2 for $3) and not weighed using whole number for pricing to make transaction costs easy to calculate
  • Create the look of abundance as people are attracted to piles of goods (think grocery stores), ” Pile it high, and watch it fly”.
  • Have promo material at the booth that keeps people engaged to draw crowds to you
  • Broker some crops if the market will allow for more variety

Restaurants

  • Again start small
  • Stay up to date with food trends – small cities mimic big
  • Chefs like to be creative with what you bring them – call ahead and schedule a time to talk to them
  • Low time needed and high profit
  • You can broker products since you’ll be delivering to them anyway.  Since more rural farmers won’t deliver to them unless order is $200 or more.
  • Keep good records so you can be well prepared the following year
  • May want to do some special plantings for different seasons/holidays.

CSA

  • Members pay up front for the season
  • Can be customized by the customer based on what’s in season
  • Requires a good variety of products which is why large plots are needed
  • Depends on how educated customers are already about CSA’s.
  • More flexibility equals more customers – payment options, full customization, a referral program, multiple pickup times (maybe an honor system based on specific hours in a cooler.. if theft you could put a combo lock on the cooler and provide it to members).
  • You can use e-commerce platforms but will have to pay 2-3%, a way to get around that is to use google forms linked to a spreadsheet.

Small Farm Broker

  • Partner with a larger farm to expand an urban farm.  A urban farmer could attract 100 member CSA by partnering this could mean $50K.  But half would go to brokers.
  • 25% markup with brokered products.  That’s $6,250 on $25k but that also means you’re selling more of your own high profit items since you have a large CSA program.  That’s where the value is.

Land

If you’re starting with a plot with grass on it you’ll want to get rid of the grass before tilling.  If it’s the fall and you are preparing for spring you can use black tarps to kill the grass over the winter.  Curtis uses 60′ x 40′ black tarps that cost around $200 each.  And has about five of them on his farm.  He gets the area really wet.. maybe even watering over a couple of evenings.  Then, places the tarps on the ground with some rocks on top to keep them from blowing away.  In the spring after the after no snow and not a lot of consistent rain you can take up the tarps and hopefully have a nice brown ground to till up.

If you’re starting late in the winter or early spring you may need to speed up the process by removing the sod (rent a sod cutter), tilling (use a 30″ walk behind tiller which will be the width of your beds), forming out beds (use string lines with walk ways 6-18″ depending on site and plants), raking debris (may need to let the soil settle, or till again), loosen sub soil (use a pitch fork or broad fork every foot), add amendments (compost and organic fertilizer to beds only), and prep the beds for planting (a quick pass with the tiller to mix up the soil).

This process works well for up to about a 1/4 acre.  If larger it may be better to get a larger machines in there.

Weeding

Weeding takes up the most time for organic farmers.  And the best way to reduce your time doing it is to not do it at all by designing your site correctly.

Stale seedbed technique is done to prevent weeds.

Us mulch when you’ll be in a long term area.  Landscape fabric is easier for one person in short term.

Layout

Quick crops only need about six to eight inches of walkway.  BR at least twelve inches.

The layout will most likely be based on the shape of the plot, access points, sun, drainage, or trade winds.  Always try and do 25 and 50′ bed lengths. Keeping a standard length will help with irrigation, row covers, etc.

Permanent sites can have sheet mulching down in walk ways for wet days, etc. Get mulch for free by making some phone calls to the city.

Lay down 6′ wide high end landscape fabric around plots and in walkways to avoid much weeding.

Most of the time you can start with just regular dirt and rake out the rocks.  Then, add a compost and organic fertilizer.  pH and NPK levels will determine what fertilizers you need.

Apply 2-3 inches of compost to top layer and do a shallow till to mix it in.  Then add some nitrogen rich fertilizer and you can sometimes be good for many years aside from more compost each spring.   And mid-season if it needs it.

Between Crops Application

Between each HR crop use compact fertilizer.  About two coffee cans worth of broad-spectrum organic fertilizer for one 25′ bed.  Adjust according to site conditions.

Compact fertilizers can be bone meal, alfalfa meal, blood meal, dried manure, or a mix of any of them.  Curtis uses a organic turkey manure that has a NPK rating of 8/2/4 and has also worked well in hi rotation areas (these areas don’t pull a ton of nutrients from the soil.. radishes, lettuce, spinach.. unlike tomatoes).

Irrigation

  • Overhead – Used in hi-rotation areas so you don’t have to move drip lines during each crop turnover.  Each impact head should not overlap.  Make your own stands out of cut 2x4s and poly tubing.  Just pound a 2×4 into the ground and attach the tubing and sprinkler head to make sure it reaches but doesn’t overlap the next.
  • Drip – used in bi-rotation areas.  Use a flow through system so there are no dead ends.  Use hand tightened couplers as the higher cost is worth it.
    • 1/2″ poly tubing for main lines
    • 1/2′ drip line, 6″ emitters
    • Smart-Loc couplers/elbows, hose clamps
    • Filter
    • Pressure regulator
    • 1-4 zone timer
  • Greenhouse – both – overhead micro sprinklers (with anti-drain valve) for greens and drip for tomatoes/summer crops
  • Tunnels – micro sprinklers along ridgepole spaced 3′ apart

Plants type also dictates what you use.  A row of tomatoes you could use on drip line. But a bed of kale, beets, carrots you may need 3-4 drip lines.

When to water:

  1. Late winter/spring – only water when needed.  Most likely when they are planted and then once a week.  Be careful of freezing temps and may need to hand water until it warms up
  2. Spring – Run systems in morning or after harvesting greens.  Use automation adjusted for different cycles.
  3. Summer – When its hot you need to water everyday.  Water during the night.  You can also run for 10 min during hottest part of day on areas that have been seeded.
  4. Fall – go down to maybe 3 or less days of watering or as needed.  If planting over winter crops you do still want to water these well to promote healthy germination.
  5. Winter – Rarely need to water.  Just enough to keep soil moist for germination.

Test soil by sticking your finger in dirt and see how many inches down the soil is wet.  If only an inch you need to water more.

Equipment

Components of a work station:

  • Washing station – $100
    • Build one using 2x4s, 1/4″ steel mesh screwed on using wide washers, and pool liner on the underside to direct water into a large container which is then directed to some nearby plants
    • 34″ wide x 95″ long, x 31″ tall.  8′ x 3′ steel mesh, five 8′ 2×4, two 2x6x8′, 60″ x 100″ liner, 100 1.5″ wood screws, 50 1″ wide washers
  • Spinning machine – $70
    • Modify a washing machine and use a few laundry bags to spin dry greens. May need to modify the center cone to allow better fitment
    • Spin for 5 minutes then place on drying table
  • Drying table – $60
    • Build out of 2x3s with the steel mesh and a couple of box fans pointing down on table
  • Portioning area – $700
    • Analog scale for weighing bins
    • Digital scales for portioning
    • Collection of bags
    • Twist ties
    • Elastic bands
    • Shelving unit to store scales and bags
    • Tables for packing if you don’t want to use your market tables
    • Bins, crates, totes for packing
  • Walk-in cooler – $1000 – Used
    • Used to remove field heat, extends and allows more flexibility with harvest to sell time
    • Two medium sized walk-in coolers may be better than one if you need to move it around, or you only need to use one and then the other during times of harvest to save energy.  You can also use one for unfinished product and one for finished
    • Restaurant style or you can custom build one using CoolBot system (modify a $200 air conditioner) with an air conditioner for a compressor for cheaper energy costs
    • Size needed:
      • 1/4 acre – 4′ x 6′ x 6′  = $1-2000
      • 1/3 acre – 4′ x 6′ x 6′  x 2 = $2-4000
      • 1/2 acre – 6′ x 8′ x 8′ $2,500 – 5,000
      • 1/2 acre and larger – 8′ x 8′ x 8′ $3-6,000
  • Tools – $1550 – $7000
    • Pitchfork to loosen hardened ground – $40
      • harvest carrots, dig out weed roots
    • Broad fork – $200
      • loosen sub soil in no till beds, harvest carrots if bed width allows, weeds
    • Stirrup hoe – $60
      • weeding tool for walkways and perimiter
    • Lawn edger – $50
    • Landscape rake – $50
      • 3′ wide
      • bed preparation for spreading compost, shape beds, rake grass rhizomes out from beds
    • Rototiller – Walk behind tractor (maybe rent) – $5,000
      • Don’t need one on a 1/3 acre of less farm using no-till methods
    • Planting equipment – $600
      • Must for planting seeds
      • Start with a Earthway entry level seeder for $100
      • Jang seeder is the best Curtis has seen for $600 and the seeder he uses
    • Harvest bins – $500
    • Harvest Knives – $50
    • Quick cut greens harvester – $500
      • This can take a 8 hours job of cutting harvest down to 45 mins
      • Needed when harvesting 50 pounds or more of greens per week
  • Farmers market equipment – $1000
    • Get a good market canopy as you’ll be putting it up and taking it down hundreds of times. Usually 10×10′
    • Fold up tables – also buy good ones
    • Tablecloths
    • Display boxes/bins – Old fruit boxes for rustic look
    • Labels
    • Large sign
    • Cash box
  • Nursery equipment – $800
    • Start with a 12′ x 20′ greenhouse with vertical shelves
    • 10×20″ flats various sizes.  Curtis uses 200 & 128 sq. cell flats
    • 2-1/2″ and 4″pots
    • Mini soil blocker – Start lettuce, spring onions, beets, tomatoes
    • Germination trays – 1″ x 10″ x 20″ – Can fit 420 soil blocker blocks per tray
    • Soil mix – 1 part screened compost to two parts potting soil. Two quarts fertilizer to 210 quarts soil mix.  Mix three bins of 70 quarts at each time.
    • Compost
    • Potting soil – Use a organic peat-based mix with perlite
    • Soil sifter – Make fine soil – build a frame out of 2×4 and 1/4″ mesh steel and push soil through the screen
    • Soil mixing table – Build waist high using 2x4s and plywood to mix up soil
    • All purpose organic fertilizer – 4/4/4 NPK rating for general potting
  • Indoor vertical nursery – $900
    • Can use steel restaurant shelving or industrial with fluorescent lighting installed
    • Shelving should be 2′ deep and 4 to 8 feet wide
      • 2′ x 4′ self should have two T8 fluorescents (8 bulbs total) for enough light
    • Can be done in a heated garage or kitchen (watering can be done by placing flat in a tray of water)
    • Curtis uses about 32 10″x20″ flats to get his seasons crops going
    • Soil tamper – 3/4″ plywood cut 9.75″ x 19.75″ with a door handle screwed on back to tamp down soil for firm base
    • Light timer
    • Dehumidifier – If indoors to keep humidity low
    • Stand up fan to keep air moving – critical indoors
    • Soil sifter – see above
  • Greenhouse nursery – $500
  • Hoop House
    • 18′ x 48′ – Curtis purchased used for $1,000
  • Poly low tunnels 6 – for 12 beds – $500
    • Tunnels made with greenhouse plastic to cover two 30″ beds
    • 10′ 1/2″ conduit bent in the shape of half circle and pushed into ground 1′ deep
    • Tie together using nylon rope and anchored at beginning and end of tunnel with rebar in ground
    • Clamps hold plastic to conduit and rocks hold to ground
  • Quick tunnel – $500
  • Transportation – $0 – $3000
    • Biking around with transport can help marketing and branding as people see you during transport
    • Use electric assist and get a local welder to fab up a trailer
  • Office/Computer – $0 – $2000

Total = $8,000 – $20,000

Ideally they should be all close together aside from your office which isn’t location dependent.

Harvesting

Try and minimize movements and expend as little energy as possible.   Like when harvesting greens.  Instead of putting one leaf at a time in a bucket, cut off as many as possible that will fit in your hand and then place in bucket.

Overtime you go from point A to B try and bring something with you to minimize the number of trips back and forth.

Most harvesting will be done Thursday and Friday.  And try and take care of any other tasks while you are harvesting.

Check the weather forecast and try and harvest on cooler days. Also, avoiding rain.

If it’s sunny during harvest remove greens from sun into the shade and spray with a cool water to remove field heat. Tomatoes can just be placed in shade.

When you’re done harvesting quickly place harvest in to coolers.

Try to avoid watering before you harvest.  Maybe turn off any timers.

Washing greens dramatically impacts shelf life of greens and should only be done if you have to.   This is why it’s key to setup irrigation to not splash dirt onto crops.

Parting Words

You’ll never have all the info you need.  Just get started and learn as you go.

What it means to be a farmer:  one who is at the root of the community by serving the needs of those in it.  Farmers connect people to where their food comes from and empower others to start growing food themselves.  Farmers can turn derelict areas into beautiful and productive farms that are flagship examples of local food resilience.

 

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The Urban Farmer Book by Curtis Stone
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