Increased Profitability for Small Farms in Silicon Valley Through Year-Round Production of Baby Greens

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $23,204.00
Projected End Date: 12/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G334-21-W8613
Grant Recipient: Spade and Plow Organics LLC
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Sam Thorp
Spade and Plow Organics LLC


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), greens (lettuces)


  • Crop Production: row covers (for season extension)
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal summary:

    Santa Clara County (SCC), home to 2 million people and the nation’s leading tech industries, was almost entirely made up of agricultural land less than 50 years ago. Over the last few decades, these areas have been purchased for urban development and, according to the Open Space Authority of Santa Clara County, “are considered extremely vulnerable to development over the next 30 years, with over 14,145 acres deemed at risk.” 

    Spade & Plow Organics is determined to lead the way for at-risk communities and farms who are navigating how to create sustainable and profitable production while staying in SCC. We are seeking to research how the fast crop of leafy greens can be grown year-round, doubling the production and quality, while using minimal acreage and labor costs. Leafy greens have posed a profitable solution to small and urban farms struggling to remain afloat. To expand this crop group's potential, we will test the utilization of insect netting in warm months to control pests, remay cloth in cold months to retain water and sunlight, and directly planting seeds into a thin layer of compost to increase yield, quality and decrease production cost. To track the progress of treated and untreated beds on a 2.75 acre plot, we will record weekly yield, percentage of crop with pest damage, total labor hours spent, and soil temperature. This information will be shared with SCC’s small farmer network, universities and news stations through an extensive report, workshops, volunteer days and ongoing farmer to farmer conversations.



    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Establish and standardize a process for effective year-round leafy green production using a combination of seeding directly into compost, application of remay cloth and netting to create a cost effective and accessible recipe for small farm use.
    2. Track the quality and profitability of production and methods throughout the year.
    3. Evaluate and share information with Silicon Valley small and urban farms, active community supporters of small farms, and the larger community of California at-risk farmers. This will be done through workshops, presentations, volunteer days, and publishing a research report.
    4. Create an opportunity and network for small farms to continue profiting and growing as land becomes less available. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, "About 3.4 million acres of land in California's agricultural counties are now urbanized" and "Development is now consuming an average of about 40,000 acres of agricultural land per year." With shrinking land comes shrinking profit and a need to maximize space in a more sustainable way. By having a cost-effective, data backed solution available for other farms to model, they will be able to add on a group of high profit crops with less land required.
    5. Distribute weekly fresh produce to small farm supporters and families in low income communities. Spade & Plow Organics already has an existing successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program delivering over 700 boxes a week to local families. 200 of these homes are designated as living below the poverty line by California Census' Standard Poverty Measure and receive free weekly subsidized boxes paid for by the Farmers to Families Food Relief Program (FFFR) and other local non-profits. By increasing the year-round production of leafy greens, Spade & Plow will be able to include this healthy produce in consumer's weekly boxes, whereas we are currently only able to add it at certain times of year and in limited quantities.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.