Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
I recently attended The Six Figure Farming Tour Conference with Jean Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener- A Successful Growers Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming. The conference was hosted by the Missouri Young Farmers Coalition a state chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition. The daylong conference not only gave us a ton of useful information, but also allowed us to network with like minded growers. With over 140 in attendance, the conference doubled as an exciting social event to share ideas and stories with fellow farmers. In Fortier’s book, The Market Gardener, he describes how beginning farmers can follow in his footsteps to make farming on one acre profitable and fulfilling. The entirety of his garden planning is centered on building healthy soil. The Market Gardener is a comprehensive guide to small scale farming using environmentally practices and no till methods. Fortier includes well organized chapters which gives the reader equal parts knowledge, encouragement, and a touch of humor. Fortier graciously includes soil building strategies, supply lists, planting charts, weed prevention techniques, disease and insect prevention steps, garden maps, cover crop recommendations, and so much more. His book illustrates how to successfully earn a living from selling vegetables through CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture) as well as local Farmers Markets. Fortier and his wife own Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec, Canada, where four individuals operate a successful growing operation on just 1-1/2 acres of permanent raised beds. Their motivation for improving on efficiency in the fields was to increase their quality of life as a family. They wanted to spend more time just walking through the fields with their children as well as more time spent engaging with them in nature outside of the farm.
In his workshop, Fortier described soil as the engine that runs the farming operation. The engine is the active fertile soil which contains a plethora of micro organisms, earthworms, fungi, spiders and life giving nutrients. He described a good soil as loose, breathable, and rich with bacterial life. In order to achieve this, the soil must have a nice warm temperature, have good pH balance, good aeration and drainage, and must be fed with organic matter including compost. In addition, crop rotation and cover cropping are vital components to soil health. Good soil yields good crops. The natural fertilizers Fortier uses include chicken manure from a local farm, compost that is shipped in to avoid weed seeds. Fortier has tree trimming companies that clean up along power lines deliver tree trimmings to his farm that he lays on pathways to add carbon and focus on fungi in the fields.
His model of soil building focuses primarily on permaculture techniques to achieve permanent raised beds. For example, on a 100 ft bed, he makes permanent beds and lays silage tarps (a French growing method called occultation) on the fall to smother weeds. In the spring, he removes the black plastic and underneath is a layer of clear plastic which warms the soil. After a few weeks, he removes the clear plastic and then uses a rotary plow, a broad fork to loosen soil which activates life in the soil, adds vermicompost for nutrients and finally uses a harrow as the final bed preparation for loose soil to plant easily in.
To save time and resources Fortier and his crew have a strategic plan in place which is consistent, yet adaptable. They sow seeds in trays using a vacuum seeder. They transplant with a paper pot transplanting implement. They use a flame torch to remove weed seedlings from crops such as carrots. They also use a variety of hand tools such as the collinear hoe for weeding which are sharpened daily as well as a wheel hoe. They use overhead sprinklers for germination.
His advice to beginning farmers is, “Start small and then gradually add on. Focus on specialized processes that you enjoy doing.” In terms of choosing a sustainable growing model, his advice to beginning farmers is that it is best to choose one model of growing which includes operating costs, budgeting, seed selection, growing methods, weed and disease prevention and management and stick to it. With Fortier’s method and his book, rather than reinventing the wheel, beginning farmers have a complete guide to small scale farming at their fingertips. His book is a step by step guide which walks the reader through every process included and offers plenty of troubleshooting assistance. He encourages beginning farmers to go apprentice on a farm for a season to first see if it’s a compatible profession with the individual.
Fortier has weeded out any unsuccessful aspects of his farming operation. He leaves a percentage of his operation open to change and advances in technology or improvements made on trusted tools he uses regularly. He is always looking for new innovative methods of improving quality, maximizing efficiency and reducing his carbon footprint. While his success as both an author and a farmer is astounding, Fortier makes it a point to humble himself and to make it known that he is always learning and deeply expresses his gratitude to those who have taught him along the way, such as Organic Gardening Guru, Eliot Coleman. He prefers that the credit be given to the concepts and ideas rather than to him. When asked why he wrote a book giving away all his secrets, Fortier responded, “I am just passing along useful information just as it has been passed along to me… Donnez au Suivant (pay it forward).”
Fortier’s meticulous attention to detail and diligent record keeping have allowed him to devise a plan which can easily be implemented around the globe, with some flexibility and adaptations of course. His ability to seamlessly keep crops in rotation, weeds at bay and harvest bountiful speaks to his dedication to the environment and his personal passion to love the life he lives and make a living while doing it. Farming is hard work and one of the ways Fortier motivates himself his employees and their interns is integrating archaic harvest songs from cultures around the world into their daily work routine. He looks at different tribes and their historical connection with food. Song is often a part of the harvesting process. Additionally, he receives inspiration from other agrarian cultures without big machinery devised efficient methods of farming in relation to posture, weight balancing, planting techniques, harvesting methods, as well as many others.
Fortier relies heavily on the support of his community and the support from local foods organizations. For example, Fortier is involved with Equiterre, a Non-Profit Organization based out of Canada which aims to create healthy solutions to pressing environmental issues. One aspect of their operation is a farmer network, which hosts one of the largest CSA networks in the world. This organization has helped build a strong community involvement in sustainable agriculture and the local foods movement, which is necessary for education and awareness. Fortier believes that localization is reversing the trend of globalization. Through eating and growing, the good food revolution is illustrating, demonstrating and painting a picture of how we can be a part of the solution.” As farmers by bringing quality food top the communities and as consumers, supporting local farmers, the needs are met in a sustainable and mutually beneficial way. The relationship between growers and community members thrives becoming a symbiotic relationship. Fortier appreciates the concept of Terroir, a French word describing the essence of where a revered crop is grown, how the air the water the sun and the soil are components to its robust flavor. It’s often used in describing the terrain and geographical location and all of its specific components of grapes that give wine its various flavors. Terroir relies on the desire for individuals to value where their food comes from and is a vital aspect of marketing the food that farmers grow. There is something to be said about growing fresh organic produce in healthy soil. The vibrant sun kissed fruits of the labor are the very thing that nourishes and sustains us. Fortier has an unmatched passion for teaching others the importance of growing quality food. The future of food looks brighter because of individuals like Jean-Martin Fortier planting the way for future farmers to easily implement eco friendly farming methods in their own communities. Jean-Martin displays a true sense of earth stewardship in the farming community.
For more information and practical small scale farming advice, visit Fortier’s website, The Market Gardener.The website also has a plethora of tips, tutorials and videos that explain practical small scale farming techniques and tips.
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