'The basic idea is to use backyard spaces in the city and to farm them intensively'
What’s this new business about?
Chad: The basic idea is to use backyard spaces in the city and to farm them intensively and whatever produce we get to sell it to farmers’ markets. We’ve applied to sell it at the Kingsland Farmers’ Market.
What kinds of plants do you want to grow?
Rod: Greens, your salad mixes and root vegetables, including onions, garlic and shallots. We’ll probably do your standby ones: carrots, potatoes and beets, radishes — all of those things that look good at a farmers’ market.
Why are you doing this?
Chad: Rod is a farm boy and I grew up spending my summers on farms and it’s just something we wanted to get back into as a hobby or a career. Rod has been involved in the local food scene for a while and he came across this idea. The strategy or technique was developed in Saskatoon, accumulating smaller plots to gather your acreage.
So, say I’m a homeowner who wants in on this but I don’t know the first thing about gardening vegetables. What will you guys do for me?
Rod: We would look at the site because we need at least six hours of sunshine a day. We will actually have the equipment to turn to sod into soil. In our face-to-face encounter, we would work out exactly what your expectations are. So, we can do yard maintenance, share the produce, stuff like that.
What do you guys get out of it?
Chad: The space in exchange for our labour. It’s mainly going to appeal to people who have wanted to have a garden but don’t have the time or money to pursue it themselves, or just people who want to be a part of this greener city, urban, local foods. There is some reciprocation of the produce.
How much of the produce will you get?
Rod: We’ve thrown around some numbers, like we get 85 per cent of the produce, but really, it’s going to depend on what people are comfortable with. Obviously we want to make some money on it, as well.
What if I wanted the produce to be shared 50-50?
I think we would probably do less of the labour and have an expectation that you would do 50 per cent of the labour.
So, is this a money-making business?
Chad: It has been by some people who do it in Saskatoon. We plan to sell it in markets; because it’s sustainably and locally grown you can sell it at local markets and make a slightly higher margin than a grocery store. But it’s mainly intensive, hard work and long days, gardening, watering, weeding, harvesting, packaging.
What other cities do this?
Nelson in B.C. and someone in the Vancouver area are following this SPIN-farming (small plot intensive farming). And people in the U.S. are doing it, as well.
Will it be organic produce?
Rod: With organic, there’s a mountain of paper work, so our intention is to do organic methods but it’s probably better to call it natural.
How many times a week do you anticipate going to people’s homes and working in their yards?
Rod: We are shooting for roughly a quarter acre over the total number of plots, so it depends on the space we have.
Do you plan to do this in a specific area in Calgary?
Rod: We both live in the southwest quadrant, so we’d love to keep it in the Westgate and Glendale area.
Do you guys have other jobs, or will this be full-time work?
Chad: We are both stay-at-home dads with part-time jobs, so we have flexible schedules.
Fast forward five years later — where would you like to see this?
Chad: I think we’d like to see it as a well-established business in terms of an income. It would depend on whether we can hire people to help us out, having others joining in. There’s tens of thousands of acres of usable space in this city.
Do you guys have gardens in the city?
Rod: I’ve been gardening for the last few years; as a farm kid it’s my only connection to farming. I’ve been focusing on spinach and filled my freezer with spinach.
Chad: I don’t have one. We just moved back from Toronto, where my wife and I had a little apartment.
Isn’t it quite a challenge to do this in Calgary, where it can be difficult to grow vegetables in such a short season?
Rod: Yes, our kitchen tables have been overtaken by seed starts so that we can get a jump on the short season and we are selecting varieties that have short-maturity dates. We’ll see how things go this summer so that we have more information to do this next year.