How to Make $100,000 Farming 1/2 Acre You Don’t Own


Alright! This is John Kohler with growingyourgreens.com.
Today we have another exciting episode for you and I’m here working in my garden today
planting stuff out as you guys can see. Things are growing slowly here in the winter, but
at least there’s no snow in the ground. Like, where my next guest actually farms.
So, you guys saw the title of this episode is how you can make $100,000 on a half an
acre. And this is what my guest today, Curtis Stone, does! Actually, he doesn’t even have
a half-acre, he has a third acre in this pasture he made $100,000 on a third acre with only
two people farming. A third acre worth of space. And this is what I want for all you
guys, I really don’t want people to work for the man, work for the system, work for
a job they don’t like for money they don’t need, right? Do something you love, but more
importantly, when you do something you love, provide a service for others. And one of the
things I think is required in this society today is there is higher quality food because
the crap at the grocery store sucks. You know, if you guys like farming and rowing your own
food and you have some extra space, and you maybe want to quit your job this would be
a really good thing to do is to start growing your own food for community. And to make it
work and make it successful. And to do that you need to have a model. So you know I didn’t
just learn everything that I learned from trying out things, but I learned from researching
how people have done it. You know, I was inspired a long time ago by the Durveys family, like
who how did they grow a lot of food on a small plot. I could do it too, right? And maybe
I inspire a lot of you guys and that’s great. For those of you guys that want to be farmers,
because I’m an urban gardener, Curtis here is an urban farmer and he wrote a book, “The
Urban Farmer” growing food for profit on leased and borrowed land. And he does this
not in California, not any place that actually has any kind of decent climate. He does this
in Canada, eh? With about 7-8 month growing season, so he has like 4 months off. It’s
amazing! Alright, Curtis, so what was the motivation for becoming an urban farmer in
the beginning? I mean why do you even want to do this, what was your previous job anyways? Well the motivation actually was because I
thought the world was going to hell, and I actually started watching your videos 6 or
7 years ago and I was always interested in health and community and I was trying to find
a way to find a niche that way. And I found just through YouTube literally, and other
farmers and I was trying to buy land because I had this idea you know I want to be a home
setter, I want to do what you’re doing, I want to live off the land, I want to live
by my values and I didn’t want to support the big box stores and eat all the big box
crap. So, I was kinda at this place where I wanted to be a farmer and live off the land
but buying land is so expensive. Because where I’m living in Colona BC Canada, an acre
of land can be almost a million dollars. Holy shit, Man! It was not possible, so I kinda had this despair.
I actually rode my bike down the west coast, I came through Santa Rosa, Pantaloma, all
these places and saw what people are doing and I was really inspired. But still had this
dilemma, like how can I buy land? How can I do this? So I heard about a guy named Wally
Saswitch in Saskatoon, Canada who was making a 6-figure salary on land he didn’t own
on lots, urban lots. So I was really inspired by him. He had a book called Spin Farming
that was kind of a starting place for me. And I started with that, I said, you know
what I’m gonna do this. I went, I did a season of tree planting. My past is I’m
actually a working musician, I was living in Montreal, Canada, where it’s really cold
and but I supported myself doing that by being a tree planter, which is a very Canadian job,
we go in the bush and work our asses off but we make good money at it. So I had about fourteen
thousand dollars of cash, and I was like you know what I’m just gonna go all in and try
this thing, and let’s see what happens. I just had no fear at this point. I road my
bike from Colona to Tijuana so at this point I was like, you know what I can do anything.
So I just went for it, made tons of mistakes. But you know what, it worked. My first year
I had just a little under half an acre and I did about $22,000 my first year and I felt
good about that and I kept doing it and it doubled every year and it got to the point
where I grew my business to be about two and a half acres with about eight staff and it
kinda got top heavy, and those of you who know anything about business and that you
know, if your expenses outweight your income then there’s a problem. So I kinda learned
the hard way. But what happened that year was really neat because I was growing 90 different
vegetables, we had a CSA box program with 80 members and I looked at the spreadsheets
at the end of the year and I discovered that 10 crops made 80% of the income of the farm.
So at that point I kind of, I still had a lot of ideology but I had some practicality
come in too because you gottta have a little bit of diversity and I said you know what
why don’t’ I focus on those main 10 crops, I grew about 20 different crops, but those
one, focus in on that, so when I looked at that land in the previous year that all that
money was made on, it was about a third of an acre. You know what, I’m going to get
rid of the two acres and a bit, focus on 5 urban plots, that way I could actually move
back down to the city which is why I started urban farming to begin with, I wanted to live
in the city and do that. And that year we did $75,000 on a third of an acre. And I was
like, ok this works. So it was all about, you know have you heard the term Preto’s
principle. It’s the rule of 80/20. Yeah, I knew the 80/20 principle. The 80/20 thing. 20 percent of your customers
will give you 80% of your business. 20% of your products will give you 80% of your revenue.
So that’s what it was it was an 80/20 thing. I boiled it down to the 80/20 with the products,
as far as the crops. But what I also did was I boiled down the customers. I really looked
at my customer demographics and said who’s spending the most money and who’s really
the kind of people I want to work with. So I really focused in on that and catered to
that market and it’s worked ever since. So that’s what lead me to write a book about
it. That’s awesome, so how long have you been
doing this now? I’ve been farming for 6 years commercially.
I’ve been into this stuff for a long time in a permaculture for maybe 10 years. But,
6 years as a commercial enterprise. And yeah, I’ve been teaching it actually for 5 years.
I started teaching workshops the year after I did it because so few people actually made
money at this that there was a lot of people just asking me. And because I had a background
in music and performance people were like hey can you come to our garden club and talk
to us at the garden club, then it was like can you talk to the high school, hey do you
want to come to the college, do you want to go to the conferences? And then it just kind
of kept going, and I just kept talking and people liked coming to hear me talk and so
yeah, I kept farming and kept talking. That’s awesome, that’s awesome! Yeah,
so I mean one thing is that Curtis has experience behind him. And he’s a smart guy, I’ve
been sitting here talking with him before we made this video and he’s a smart guy
and I appreciate many of the things that he’s actually doing and that he was able to write
this book to share with you guys how you guys could turn your plots or turn your plot and
get plots that you don’t even own because actually the land that he’s farming, most
of it he doesn’t even own. Which is kind of crazy. So, let’s talk about that Curtis,
let’s talk about how many different plots do you have? And do you own any of them? And
how are you making money in using these plots? Yeah, so when I started I didn’t own any
of it. I was living in an apartment, living with my mom actually. I moved back from Montreal,
I moved in with my mom just to get my feet on the ground to get started and I leased
out, basically I rent out people’s yards. So you know, we look around your area. Somebody
will give me their yard and I’ll come in and I’ll grind it up. I don’t do raised
beds because it costs too much and since I don’t own the land I don’t want to put
in that investment. So I’ll go in, I grind up the lawn, till it a bid, I actually d a
lot of no-till stuff and I just get it into production. So on a 2000 square foot lawn,
like maybe some of the corner lots here, you could do almost $20,000 in revenue on that
much space. And the key is, is what I call I write about it in the book, high rotation
planting. Whereas you’ve got an area or a bed and everything I do is in a standardized
bed. It’s 30 inch wide by 25 foot long. High rotation means that’s going to get
rotated many time in the seasons. So I’m focusing on quick growing, high value, and
high yield, and short days to maturity, and popular crops. In the book I write about the
I cal it the CVR scale, the crop value rating. So basically anything that doesn’t meet
that criteria I don’t grow from my farm. And that’s how I can make money on tehse
little plots. I can go into somebody’s yard, dig it up, and within a month have vegetables
in there, and a month later I’m producing a steady income off those plots. So to go
back to your original question, the only place I own is my home. And I didn’t. Actually
at first I was farming in the yard of the house that I now own, and then they asked
me to rent it and then they asked if I wanted to buy it and I eventually bought it and now
it’s my home base. But when I started I didn’t own a single piece of land. The only
reason I bought my house was because I didn’t want ot move. My landlords were telling me
that, you know we gotta seell this and I was freaking out and I didn’t think I could
actually get a mortgage. I hate mortgages to be honest with you. Yeah, me and you both! I hate banks too! Yeah, me and you both! I did get a mortgage because it made business
sense. And so now, my home is the place that I operate. I have a passive solar greenhouse
there, we do all of our vegetable washing there, I have a office there. I have a renter
in the suite, so it is a revenue stream so I kind of bundle it into the business. But,
you know, you don’t need to own anything. In fact, the farmers that are doing the best
right now are landless farmers. They don’t own land, because owning land is a huge undertaking Huge liability, yeah. Huge liability, and there’s really no advantage
to it. There’s no upside especially if land is
so much, unless you live in Minnesota or something or Kansas Here’s the thing, it’s the economics of
it that’s really interesting. And yeah, you’re right. In the Midwest, it’s cheap.
But here’s the thing, less than 2% of the people in the world know how to grow food
today and the average age of a farmer is 60 years old. So not only is the information,
and skills to farm land scarce, but farmers are dying. So, owning land, you don’t really
need to because look at the economics. There’s tons of land available, why own it? What’s
the point? You can get into a 5, 10, 20, even 100 year lease on a piece of land without
taking on that liability. So it’s, I think it’s actually advantageous because I started
my business on $5000 or $7000 actually. Made m22 my first year, reinvested capital as I
went. It’s all about a low- start up capital cost to get into it. And that makes it accessible
to a lot of people in the US who just don’t have jobs and they want to do something, they
want to contribute something to make the world a better place, they want to eat healthy and
all this stuff, and how can you bundle that into one lifestyle, and that’s what this
book is all about. Wow. That’s amazing. So, I’ve been thinking
this whole time while you’re talking, it’s really cool what you’re doing. But what
are the top 10 crops that people want to grow to make an income, but more importantly for
somebody like me that wants to be able to eat out of their garden that are fast turn
crops, I talk about this a lot on my show that I want you guys to focus on the crops
that would be expensive to buy but are easy to grow. Yeah, exactly. So it all goes back and I like
to tell people about my thinking behind this. Instead of telling you exactly what the crops
are, though I’ll tell you those. First the thinking. You want short days to maturity,
so I say focus on crops that are 60 days or less. You want high yield per square foot.
So things that cut and come again. Like spinach you can cut it, it comes back. Same with lettuce.
Radishes grow quickly too. You want a high price per pound. So, leafy greens baby root
vegetables have a high price per pound, same as cherry tomatoes and things like that. And
then you want long seasonality, you want a crop you can grow many months of the season.
So for me in Canada, that’s really crucial. I’m looking for things I can have at least
a 4-month season out of. That doesn’t necessarily mean I have one type of crop for 4 months,
it just means that type of crop can be in the ground being planted for 4 months and
then the other thing is crops that are popular that are in demand. So for me it’s all about
leafy green vegetables, spinach cut and come again lettuces, arugula things like that Radishes
baby root vegetables. I tell people we’re on a small farm we grow small veg, baby carrots,
things like that, that restaurants like high-end restaurants like. And then cherry tomatoes,
in determinate tomatoes especially because you can pick them and they keep coming back.
So it’s really stuff like that. And micro greens too, I do indoor micro greens. And
that’s certainly something that people can do at home too. You can grow a flat of sunflower
shoots, they’re so nutritionally dense and they’re ready in 10 days. So, it’s stuff
like that. Quick turnover, I can grow for a long period of time. Cool, yeah. I want to encourage you guys that
are home gardeners, grow some of the things he’s talking about. I always encourage you
guys to grow sprouts and micro greens. You can do this even if you don’t have any land,
or borrow a friend’s lot or anything. And the coolest thing that I think Curtis is doing,
is that he is literally farming on other people’s land. It’s like OPL, other people’s land!
OPP, who’s down with OPP what’s up? So, but yeah, so this is something that’s available
to everybody wherever you live in the world. You can find some land, get into a lease,
maybe some people will let you use their land if you give them some food. So let’s talk
about that, have you had instances where somebody said hey use my land, I just want some of
the food off of it. Absolutely, and that’s how it works. Is
I don’t pay rent, I just feed the people. So they get a basket of veggies each week
that’s an assortment of all the corps I grow. Not just what’s on their properly.
So sometimes I have to specialize the plots. I have an ordering system where all my landowners
can pick between $20-$30 of vegetables depending on the season and I just, we bring it to them
or they pick it up at the farmer’s market each week. That’s the exchange, so it’s
really cheap because I didn’t need to take on a mortgage or get all of these overhead
costs to start a business. But you know the coolest thing about it John, is it’s actually
when you really boil it down it’s about building and fostering community. Because
people see a garden, and everybody likes a garden. And it gets a dialogue going in the
neighborhood and people go and say, man that’s so cool. And not only that but they learn
a ton. And the cool thing about what I’ve done is that every place where I farm, and
I’ve had over 20 different plots over the years, every place that I’ve farmed there’s
been at least 10 people that have become avid gardeners just by seeing me. They’ll see
me out there in March planting stuff. Aren’t you worried about the first frost? Forget
the first frost, it’s all about the crops you grow during the times of optimal season.
So you optimize your production based on what the season can offer. And so, you know it’s
had a ripple effect where now there’s like hundreds of gardeners maybe even thousands
of gardeners in the city I live in that have learned from me just because I’m there.
When people walk by, they see you, they talk to you, they ask questions and so it engages
people. The cool thing from my end, from a selfish standpoint is that they become diehard
customers. Yeah, right! They become diehard customers and then people
will say to me, oh but you’re training people to grow their own food. Aren’t you worried
you’re gonna lose customers? No, that’s scarcity-thinking man. It’s all about abundance
thinking. That by sharing the information people actually not only appreciate the, because
if they grow it themselves they’re not going to become full-time farmers, not all of them,
they’re going to appreciate fresh so much more that now they are going to go out of
their way to support the local farmer and get the fresh stuff because they see the real
value of it and then they tell their friends and then they speak highly of you. And that
just has this abundance effect where it’s a multiplier, and you gain more customers,
you gain more influence, and you just make tons of friends. And that’s what’s cool
about being multi-locational too, is it’s like I have five groups of neighbors. So on
all my five plots I’m just like somebody who lives in that neighborhood because I’m
always out there. I get to know the community, the neighbors. I know them by name, I give
them veggies when they walk by. It’s all abundance. I want to encourage you guys to have abundance
mentality thinking, this is huge right? Curtis, he’s more than just a farmer, right? He’s
more than just a businessperson. He’s an educated and teacher, and these are all very
important roles to play. And as an entrepreneur myself, you need to wear many hats if you’re
an entrepreneur and he’s really done this quite well and I want to encourage all you
guys, we need to educate the general world and public at large about the food system.
The food system that’s being dictated to us in the stores, grocery stores, big box
stores, whatever. It really is not the way to do it, see its centralized agriculture.
What Curtis is the exact opposite, decentralized agriculture. Because he has many small plots
instead of just one big plot of land and he grows many different crops. And we know they’re
the most valuable. You know, we need to decentralize the farmers
and that’s what this is all about. Because one farmer can make $100,000 on a half an
acre. How much land do you need to farm? It all of a sudden takes away the incentive to
say, “go big or go home.” Like I need a thousand hectares or thousand acres to farm.
You can farm on a half an acre, make a good living, contribute to your community, and
have a nice quality of life. And then we maybe have a hundred more of those farmers in your
city, why not? Let’s decentralize it. The more things are decentralized, the more stable
they are and that’s how we build resilience. Because if one farmer has a bad year that
doesn’t jeopardize the whole local food system. It creates a resilience, I like the
term anti-fragility actually, it’s some of you are familiar with Naseem Talib and
the whole idea of anti-fragile, things that suffer shocks like in nature, it’s like
what doesn’t kill you make you stronger. It’s that whole thing. When you suffer shocks
you have, you learn to bend and flex and you actually become stronger and more resilient
and that’s what it’s all about. Yeah, that’s why I encourage you guys to
grow a lot of different crops instead of just one thing. I have so many different crops
here, something’s always going to be making me some food. And man, it’s just really
cool what you’re doing. Spreading this knowledge, and not only is Curtis doing this he is actually
teaching you guys how to do it so you guys can put him out of business, just don’t
do it in BC. Just kidding. Well, you’re probably not going to be in the same neighborhoods
as him anyway, so he doesn’t care. This is the cool thing, right, this is the new
business model that I see. Open source model, where Curtis is just sharing how he’s been
able to make a living. Make $100,000 on a third of an acre. You guys could probably
do a half. And get everybody to do this, because this is how the world is going to change.
This is why I make my YouTube videos. So that I can change the world, and I want everybody
to get into farming because if everybody had local gardens, local farms like Curtis did,
people would no longer buy their shit in the store. And the world would be a much better
place. So, Curtis, let’s talk about your book here. So why did you decide to write
the book after farming and teaching and doing all this stuff you’re doing. People kept saying to me I should write a
book. I didn’t really have a way to do that. I’d never written, I’ll probably get criticized
on the grammar in the book. I had an editor, it’s a published book and it’s the ideas
to me that are the most important. But it just seemed like it was the right thing to
do. It felt like, you know when you have a book it becomes more accessible, it becomes
newsworthy, I had a friend who wrote a book on the same publishing house a guy named John
Martin Fortier who’s a great farmer and author. He connected me with the publishing
house, and they said they’d love for me to write a book. Because I’ve been teaching
and lecturing for a while so it kinda just feel into place. I’ve been writing lectures,
so I was just kind of like streaming my content into something like this, which is a challenge
because this is limited Pages are limited. I have an online course that I teach, and
there’s very little limit to that because you can just have videos for an hour long
or whatever, right. But a book is challenging, it was cool because it really made me think
about what I really think about philosophy, the 80/20 rule, the preto’s principle, how
can I boil this stuff down in the least amount of time to give people the most amount of
impact, like what are the crucial things they can learn about so that’s what I’ve put
in the book. That’s awesome! Yeah, so I mean, now you
guys can start your own business, make your own money by helping others. By educating
others. And more importantly, feeding others. Because I know a lot of you guys, you know
might have a job you don’t like. And I think everybody once again, should get into farming
if they enjoy it. Because I mean, what better thing is there to do than to be out in nature,
get your hands in the dirt, and to help others on this planet. And to create a difference
in the world. I mean that’s why I grow a garden, that’s why I have this YouTube channel.
So, Curtis I want to give something of value for my viewers that have stuck through to
watch it to this point. What’s something, a tip or something that you could leave with
everybody today that’s really going to help them become a better farmer or a gardener? Yeah, I’ve got a good one that I think is
really important for new farmers. Start small! So many people get into this and they go,
I want to grow everything! I want to do what John does, I want to grow all that stuff but
I want to make it on a farm. Start small, if you’re gonna farm commercially don’t
start on anymore than a quarter acre especially if you’re going to use intensive techniques
like this. Start small and focus in on some of the things that you think are gonna be
the best sellers. So one way to find that out is do market research. And a really easy
way to do market research as a local farmer, is shop at farmer’s markets. Go to the farmer’s
market, talk to the farmers and here’s one tip I’ll give you which is really easy to
do. If you want ot figure out where there’s a niche market at the farmer’s market. Go
to the farmer’s market in the morning, see what’s on the tables, make notes, take pictures,
and then go back at the end of the day and see what’s still there. Don’t grow the
stuff that’s still there. Grow the stuff that was sold out at 10 o’clock. Focus on
the niche. Find the unique things that you can cater to, where there’s a high demand
for. That has got to be one of the best things you can do. Wow, that was just one of the tips and there’s
so many more in this book, that’s actually, it’s my copy. He signed it to me, let’s
see what he wrote. “John, you’ve been a huge inspiration for me over the years.
I’ve followed your stuff for at least 6 years, keep on rocking Curtis Stone. Yeah!
So now I have this book, not that I’m going to go into business because that’s not my
calling. My calling is to educate you guys and let you guys know about people like Curtis
doing this kind of work so now you guys can get in business yourself. So Curtis, I want
to put together a good deal for my viewers here because I always like to give them a
good deal for people I have on the show. We’re going to go ahead and put a link down below
to Curtis’s stuff so you can buy his book or get his online course at a discount. Only
available for you guys Absolutely, yeah So, I know Curtis is in town only because
he’s actually doing lectures in this area. This video will probably be aired after all
those lectures. But how can somebody learn more about you, and get connected with what
you’re doing so that they can start their own business and be independent and help everybody
out? Yeah, so they can go to my website theurbanfarmer.co
and I’ve got a YouTube channel like you, if you just put in YouTube Urban Farmer Curtis
Stone, or Curtis Stone Urban Farmer anyone of those you’ll find me on there. And my
farm’s website is greencityacres.com and my online course is profitableurbanfarming.com. Wow! Great man, and yeah, thanks for coming
out today. I appreciated it. If you guys enjoyed this episode with Curtis, please give me a
thumbs up, I’ll do more videos with Curtis in the future when we’re in the same place
at the same time. Maybe I’ll come visit his farm in Canada during the season to check
it out more if you like this video. This is one of the things that I really want to encourage
you guys to do, to start your own business and to help others because when I think about
business, I don’t think about how can I make money, I think about how can I serve
my fellow man I think about how can I help my fellow man? I do that these days by actually
making these videos, and Curtis does that by actually educating people on how to make
money by farming but also serving people by giving them food and also educating them at
the same time. I mean what better thing in the whole planet could you be doing? I don’t
think there’s much else Check out his website, I’ll put links down below. And also be sure
to click that subscribe button, right down below to be notified of my new and upcoming
episodes. I have new and upcoming episodes coming out about every three to four days.
And also be sure to check my past episodes. I have over 1100 episodes now, show you guys
all aspects of urban gardening. And I like to have a lot of urban farms that I visit,
but I’m not doing that myself yet. So, in any case once again this is John Kohler with
growingyourgreens.com. We’ll see you next time, until then remember keep on growing!

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