SPIN an old concept into a new idea

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Many think of farmers and gardeners in a country setting, but what about within the city limits in city lots?

Andy Pressman, an agriculture specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, led a workshop designed for urban farmers April 15 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Youngstown.

The workshop was presented by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, GROW Youngstown, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation and the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Pressman talked about SPIN — Small, Plot, IN-tensive. It is a non-technical and inexpensive to implement vegetable farming system that makes earning an income from land plots less than an acre in size.

He talked about how to best use the space available and what rotation a growers can use in planting vegetables to get the most for his buck.

Pressman also discussed farmscaping. It is a whole farm approach to pest management, that uses hedgerows, insectary plants, cover crops and water reservoirs to attract and support populations of beneficial organisms such as insects, bats and birds of prey.

He said the best way to avoid problems in the smaller size garden areas is to increase environmental pressure against pests.

Pressman, a man who uses the practices he talks about, also told the group how important healthy soils are to making a profit in the limited space city lots can provide.

“We need to be farming what’s underground, that’s what really matters,” Pressman said.

He said maintaining soil diversity and fertility is what can make the difference between a profit and no profit, and recommended maintaining or increasing organic matter in the soil.

Pressman also recommended using compost cover crops and keeping pesticides to a minimum.

Hedgerows are used to create windbreaks and slow the erosion of dirt.

Another issue Pressman discussed was alternatives to groundhog or gopher control. He said using the traditional route of shooting the animals doesn’t work in city or suburban lots.

One way is to use owls, which eat plenty of rats and mice. He said one nest per 10 acres will help and more can be placed in the area if the problem is severe.

“The idea is to work with nature, “ Pressman said.

Pressman gave suggestions to the group about how to develop a profit through a small amount of land. He said the garden bed should be what is considered a standard size. It should be 2 feet wide and 25 feet long if possible.

He also told the group that it should include high value crops such as leafy greens, a salad mix and scallions.

Lower value crops include potatoes, tomatoes and garlic.

Pressman said farmers need to plan SPIN relays. They require planting vegetables as early in the year as possible and lengthening the growing season.

The relays can include spinach, radishes, carrots, scallions, lettuce and Baby Dill.

He also suggested that farmers schedule the plantings and keep a written record of what the garden has included and what it should include in the near future.

Pressman said that the marketing portion can be made easy. He told the group to step away from a price per pound model and instead go for a tier system such as two vegetables for $2 or three for $5. He said it allows farmers to sell more vegetables at a higher price at farmers markets. He said he has found by limiting individual prices, he sells more at a time and increases his profits.

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