Can I rent your yard?

>> Saturday, March 15, 2008

I can pay you in produce.

Wally Satzewich and Gail Vandersteen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan started renting their neighbors yards when they realized that small-scale urban crops fetched a far higher profit than did the large-scale vegetable growing operation they had on a 20-acre farm north of the city. Most people don’t use their yards to their fullest potential and Wally and Gail are taking advantage of this unused ‘farmland’ themselves.

Vandersteen says, “They think it’s too much work, but the truth is, this is much less work than mechanized, large-scale farming. We used to have a tractor to hill potatoes and cultivate, but we find it’s more efficient to do things by hand.” You may be asking yourself how can this be more profitable?

Their savings over large-scale farming comes in operation costs. The city provides irrigation, there is always plenty of compost around, the urban setting repels pests, and the market is not far away. On such small plots as are found in urban lots, typically ¼ to ½ an acre, all the harvesting can be done by hand. And because the plots are usually unused anyway, rental costs are minimal. Many people volunteer their backyards in exchange for fresh produce and those who want money, charge very little.

What a wonderful way to help the environment too. More plants will of course attract more insect and wildlife. The added value of a ready-made garden plot could increase your property value. Maybe if enough people see what can be grown in their own yards they will be more inclined to carry on for themselves. This leads to less transportation of food to market.

Wally and Gail sold the 20-acre farm and now Wally operates Wally’s Urban Market Garden which is a multi-locational sub-acre urban farm. It is dispersed over 25 residential backyard garden plots in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, that are rented from homeowners. The sites range in size from 500 sq. ft. to 3000 sq. ft., and the growing area totals a half acre. The produce is sold at The Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Wally and Gail created a company called SPIN, Small Plot Intensive based on minimal mechanization an maximum fiscal discipline and planning. Their concept inspired Philadelphia’s Somerton Tanks Farm.

This concept is catching on because the idea is so simple that it can be done everywhere. It’s true, gardeners can be made as well as born.


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