Urban farmers want your land

If you've got a backyard to plant this spring but don't have the green thumb to do it, a pair of Calgary entrepreneurs might have a proposition for you.
A Calgary company borrows backyards to do small-plot intensive farming and provides produce in exchange. ((Patti Edgar/CBC))

If you've got a backyard to plant but don't have the green thumb to do it, a pair of Calgary entrepreneurs might have a proposition for you.

Rod Olson and Chad Kile borrow small plots of urban land, grow vegetables on it, sell the produce to markets and restaurants and share the bounty with the landowners.

"There's a lot of interest," said Olson, who co-owns Leaf and Lyre Urban Farms with Kile. "People really love the idea. Now we're just trying to turn a little bit of that moral support into acreage."

Their business is modelled on the concept of small-plot intensive farming, or "SPIN farming", which began in Saskatoon but has caught on in Vancouver and in parts of the U.S., Olson said.

Advocates say that by eliminating the need for expensive heavy equipment and big tracts of land, SPIN farming brings people into the industry who couldn't otherwise afford it.

"This is a way for me to be that farmer, when the traditional methods are quite prohibitive," said Olson, who was raised on a farm.

And small-scale urban farming has some advantages. The city's ambient heat can lengthen the growing season, and there aren't any deer to eat the crops, Olson said.

Lending land to a SPIN farmer would be ideal for elderly people unable to maintain their backyards, Kile said. 

So far, Leaf and Lyre is farming 185 square metres, Olson said. The two men hope to have about a quarter of an acre — likely 10 to 20 backyards — preferably all of it in and around the southwest neighbourhoods of Westgate and Glendale, where Olson and Kile live.

With that amount of land, a SPIN farmer can gross up to $50,000, according to, a website that promotes the practice.

But that projection is probably too optimistic, Kile said.

If the promise of veggies and herbs isn't enough to persuade Calgarians to lend out their backyards, the pair will consider throwing in mowing and raking work, Kile said.  

"That's valuable work, and it costs to have it done," he said. "It's something that we're going to be able to negotiate, because it's such a personal, face-to-face transaction."

This season Olson and Kile plan to seed lettuce, as well as onions, garlic, shallots and some root vegetables.

"But we're probably going to be focusing on the leafy green," Olson said. "Everybody likes a nice salad in the summertime."