We thought that this year we would make the effort and attend the Mother Earth News Fair of 2015, on the 8th & 9th of August in West Bend, Wisconsin. (we currently subscribe to the magazine Mother Earth News http://www.motherearthnews.com)
One of the people that I wanted to see was Jean-Martin Fortier. He is a chap from Quebec Canada, who makes a good living ( not to mention a good life too !!!) living off less than two acres of land. Living in Wisconsin, I was thinking …
Man …if that guy can get stuff to grow that far north, even we should be able to do better than that.
Most commercial farming requires a lot of land, and a lot of capital investment, in order to be successful. However Jean-Martin says that there is an alternative, and he and his wife set out to prove that it could be done. All the naysayers didn’t put him off trying.
Photo of Jean-Martin Fortier. Photograph by Chris Kirby.
What I like about him is that this is not just some crazy hypothesis, not just “all talk”, but rather this is something that he has actually proved workable, for several years running.
His mantra is “Grow better not bigger”.
In order to do this he deliberately farms small, and very intensively. What this means in practice is that rather than owning large expensive tractors he chooses to forgo this option, and use manual labour and a “walk behind” tractor instead.
This keeps his input costs very low.
Now the “intensive growing” part of his plan is that crops are farmed very close together ( at much higher densities) in raised beds, and with heavy use of crop succession, and poly tunnels to extend the growing season. This is similar to Eliot Coleman who gives a very good description of a Parisian market garden in his book The Winter Harvest Handbook.
So growing crops closer together means its less distance to cover with manual labour and small machines. The ground and weeds get torched with a gas flame just before planting his crops. This kills off the weeds and their seeds. It gives the seedling that he then plants, a head start.
The shade of his dense planting also crowds out the weeds, limiting their growth. Obviously one needs good soil and a very good composting system to support the high density of planting.
Jean-Martin says that he gets visitors from all over the world who come to see his farm for themselves. Most are disappointed. Is this all there is they ask? They are looking for complex, complicated systems, instead they find low input cost, simplicity, low capital investment, all producing high yields and good margin.
Look him up at www.themarketgardener.com
I was enthused by Jean-Martin’s lecture and bought his book – The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-scale Organic Farming – Check it out on Amazon (It’s very unusual for me to part with 25 dollars for a new book I might add !!!), it’s quite a good read, and covers all the detail. It’s now in my local library, so look there first.