In Food

In March we hosted a workshop on SPIN farming with Curtis Stone, a successful SPIN farmer of Green City Acres, and it was a huge hit. With the seeds Curtis sowed here in Calgary, our city is in for a local food revolution! Read on to find out what we learned and see an interview with Curtis.

What is SPIN farming?

SPIN stands for Small Plot Intensive. It is a small-scale farming system that addresses some of the major barriers people face when trying to become farmers.

These barriers include:

  • Unaffordable land access
  • Difficulty entering markets to sell crops
  • Long distances to get to markets
  • Rising costs of fossil fuels
  • Rising costs of fertility
  • Lack of labour in rural areas

Typically SPIN farming is done in the city, where urban farmers already have access to land (in their backyards!), the production is occurring right where the food is being consumed, there is a readily available workforce, and the fertility comes from urban compost – often food scraps from the people and restaurants the SPIN farmer is supplying to. 

In contrast to most agricultural practices, SPIN farming uses very little embodied energy. In fact, Curtis amazed everyone when he announced that he spent only $137 on fuel during the entire growing year. He did this by running a business almost entirely driven by bicycles – a practice only possible because he sells his food in the same city that he grows it. The only fuel-based tools he uses are his BCS tractors (versatile rototillers). With its inherently low fossil fuel consumption, the price of SPIN farmed food is minimally affected by rising energy costs.

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***Those of you who’ve sworn off tilling are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “How can a farming system that relies on rototilling be sustainable? Isn’t that bad for the soil?” Well, you’re right to wonder – it isn’t the ideal permaculture system. But Curtis put it simply when he said that SPIN farming is an A to B solution, not an A to Z solution (the all-encompassing systems that permaculture aims for). It may not address all of our concerns as permaculturists, but it does address some important ones. Certainly, it fulfills one of David Holmgren’s 12 Permaculture Principles: “obtain a yield”. In other words, it’s a very good start. And we’re sure that as environmentally and socially conscious SPIN farming operations like Curtis’ evolve, they will get closer and closer to reaching the Z.

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The convenience and practicality of the SPIN farming system is setting the stage for an unprecedented level of urban agriculture in North America. And it’s solving so many problems at the same time! By farming in urban yards, we get rid of energy-consuming lawns and replace them with energy-producing farms. For more on lawns, food and energy, see our blog, The Grass Isn’t Greener.

I had the chance to interview Curtis while he was here, which you can see in the video below. Thanks, Curtis, for inspiring Calgary’s would-be farmers to get started – locally!


To learn much more about SPIN farming, visit the official SPIN Farming website. Calgary already has a few SPIN farms up and running. You can check them out below: 

Leaf and Lyer

Leaf Ninjas 

Locavore Urban Farms


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