Podcast

TheMarketGardener.com

Jean-Martin Fortier: A Model for Profitable Micro-Farming

Earn a living gardening on just 1.5 acres
Saturday, March 29, 2014, 10:19 AM

As we awaken to the realities in store for us in a future defined by declining net energy, concerns about food security, adequate nutrition, community resilience, and reliable income commonly arise.

Small-scale farming usually quickly surfaces as a pursuit that could help address all of these. Yet most dismiss the idea of becoming farmers themselves; mainly because of lack of prior experience, coupled with lack of capital. It simply feels too risky.

The refrain we most frequently hear is: I think I'd love doing it, but I don't know how I'd make a living.

Enter Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife, Maude-Hélène. They are a thirtysomething couple who have been farming successfully for the past decade. In fact, they've been micro-farming: their entire growing operations happen on just an acre and half of land.

And with this small plot, they feed over 200 families. And do so profitably.

The Fortiers are pioneers of the type of new models we're in such need of for the coming future. Fortunately, they realize this, and are being as transparent about their operations as they can -- in order to educate, encourage and inspire people to join the emerging new generation of small-scale farmers.

They have published a book, The Market Gardener, which is nothing short of an operating manual for their entire business. In it, they reveal exactly what they grow, how they grow it, what tools and farming practices they use, who their customers are, what they charge them, and how much profit they take home at the end of the day.

A quick summary of the numbers from their 1.5 acre operation:

  • 2013 revenue: $140,000
  • Customer sales breakdown:
    • CSA operations (140 members): 60%
    • Farmer's markets (2): 30%
    • Restaurants/grocery stores: 10%
  • Staff: 2 paid employees + the Fortiers
  • 2013 Expenses: $75,000
  • 2013 Profit: $65,000 (~45% profit margin)

Their initial start up costs were in the $40,000 range. Not peanuts; but fairly low by most new business standards.

Did I mention they're doing this in Quebec? (translation: colder, and shorter natural growing season vs most of North America)

Learning to do more with less, and doing it sustainably, will be a key operating principle for future prosperity. Here's a model that shows it's possible to do both, and have good quality of life, to boot.

We need more of these.

(Hat tip to PP.com reader Bill12 who brought the Fortiers onto our radar)

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Jean-Martin Fortier (34m:16s):

Transcript: 

Adam: Hello and welcome to the Resilient Life podcast. Resilient Life is part of PeakProsperity.com. It is where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I am your host, Adam Taggart.

When we talk about cultivating resilience here at Peak Prosperity, several themes frequently arise, such as improving our food security, eating more healthily, strengthening our local communities and building income streams that we have more control over. Starting your own local farm is a dream many hold up as a way to fulfill all of these goals at once, but for most folks, especially those with limited prior experience or capital, it often feels too risky and out-of-reach.

Or, perhaps it's not...

Today’s guest is Jean-Martin Fortier. Jean-Martin and his wife, Maude-Helene, are the founders of Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally recognized micro farm, known for its high productivity and profitability using low-tech, high-yield methods of production. Jean-Martin has recently published a book titled The Market Gardener, which serves as a handbook for the aspiring small-scale organic farmer. It lays out the knowledge and steps that he and his wife have followed to make a living wage growing high-quality food without a large capital overlay or access to large acreage. The Fortiers generate over $100,000 in gross sales from their one and a half acre micro farm, with profit margins in the 40% range. They are one of the pioneers of the new sorts of models society needs as we enter a future defined by more expensive energy and greater need for dependable access to healthy foods.

I have invited Jean-Martin to the program to discuss the practical steps for setting up a micro farm. Perhaps some of those listing might be inspired enough by this discussion to follow his model. Jean-Martin, thank you so much for making the time to join us today.

Jean-Martin: Hey, Adam, it is my great pleasure to be with you guys.

Adam: Thank you. And, you have been kind so far in our pre-discussion, but if I make any real butchering of the French here, please correct me.

Jean-Martin: That is fine. So far, so good.

Adam: All right, thank you. Well, let’s start by having you give us your brief story. How did you and your wife, Maude-Helene, decide to become farmers?

Jean-Martin: Well, that is an interesting story, because neither of us grew up on a farm, and you know, we have studied—we met at the university, at McGill University. We studied environmental science and ecology. And, when we finished, we knew we wanted to make a difference somehow. We had studied how the globalized system is not so good for the environment and our planet, and we wanted to make a difference in our work. But, we did not really know what we wanted to do. So, we ended up traveling for two years and among other things that we did was to work on a small organic farm in Norton, New Mexico. And, before going to that farm, we knew nothing about farming, nothing about the agrarian lifestyle, and even Organic was not as big as it is now. And, luckily enough for us, we started to work in a beautiful area, in Abiquiu, near Santa Fe, which, beautiful landscape. And, they had in Santa Fe an amazing farmer’s market, really strong, strong local support for local farmers. And, one of the farmers that was there was from Quebec. He had been there for ten years and so speaking French was something that he had not been doing for the last little while there. So, we started farming with him and with this guy, we learned how to farm, we saw what lifestyle he had, because he was outside, he was growing food, he was selling it to people that were thanking him. And, he was taking a month or two to go to Mexico in the winters, and we thought, wow, what a great lifestyle. And, that was our start in farming. We ended up farming two years there in Norton, New Mexico. And, that farming community was really amazing, and we have been hooked on it ever since.

Adam: Wow, great. And, so I take it you went back to Quebec and decided to do this full-time back in Canada, is that correct?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, we, after two years there, we were, after working some time with Richard there, we got employed as farm managers for this other small farm, because their farm manager left in the middle of the season. So, we did not have a lot of experience, but then we were in our early 20s managing a two-acre vegetable farm, and we learned a lot there. And, we decided to come back to Quebec, because that is where our roots are. And, we started our own micro farm here on rented land, and we put up a summer camp on rented land. We were, basically, we were growing on just, on a garden. And, we were bringing our produce to a local farmer’s market and we lived in a teepee for two seasons, and we were farming with hand tools. And, I remember, Maude-Helene was the one that would put the seeds in the ground, because she was fast at it. And, we were doing this by hand, so it really was a garden. And, we did this for two seasons, and at one point in time, we just thought, yeah, we like this, and we think there is a lot of great upsides to doing this work. So, we decided to jump in more professionally, and we bought a ten-acre farm. Which was a seven-acre wood lot, and it had this old rabbit house in the middle of it, and it was this old abandoned building. And, we bought that and we built a house inside the rabbit farm, and it ended up being that we had two acres of prairie that we could manage to make a living on. And, that was the start of our story at la Grelinette.

Adam: Well, let’s talk specifically then about what you are doing at la Grelinette. So, that is truly a micro farm. Is it the same two acres of prairie you just mentioned, or is it a separate property?

Jean-Martin: No, it is the same one. We have had that two acres that we needed to manage, and we had to make two incomes from it, because both of us wanted to farm full-time. And, it ended up being that we have an acre and a half in permanent raised beds. And, when we decided on the site, what it implied—because we did not have more space available—we left out the tractor, because we did not have any room to accommodate the tractor in the spacing that the tractors use up for weeding and just for turning at the end of the row. It is just too much space. So, we left that out and we started to farm a bit differently using these permanent raised beds that are packed with heavily, densely seeded crops that eventually shade out the weeds. And, that is the whole thing with our growing model is that we are doing intensive spacings, so on not a lot of yardage there is a lot of production.

Adam: Great. Well, let’s dive into that then. So, when you say intensive spacing, what exactly do you mean and what types of practices are you using? I have looked through your book. I see you do biodynamic farming, and that might actually be worth spending a moment talking about, the biodynamic approach. And, I believe you are…

Jean-Martin: It is actually, Adam, is bio-intensive, so there is a bit of a difference there.

Adam: All right. Well, let’s talk about that.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, well what it is is that when we started—the story boils down that we had this land constraint and we wanted to make the most out of it, and we had already been farming with hand tools. And, so in a nutshell, what the bio-intensive method is—and you can find a lot of books coming from California about that—is that you want to have amazing soil structure and have really good soil, deep soil, so that you can closely space your crops and still have the roots of these crops really shoot down, so that they do not compete with one another. And, when you do that, then you have crops that end up—the leaves of these crops, they end up touching one another really rapidly in their growth, and when that happens, it forms a canopy. And, the canopy shades out the weeds and it just retains moisture and it darkens the soil, so the earthworms and the biology is just enhanced because of this. So, effectively, you are creating this living mulch with the crops that you are growing.

And, this is possible if you are not using the tractor, because usually in a tractor setup, the spacing between the crops is determined by the weeding implements and the tractor itself. So, by leaving out the tractor we were just able to grow these permanent raised beds with crops that are densely seeded and densely transplanted to get a lot of yields, but also to get some beneficial factors with regards to climate enhancements and the biology inside the soil. And, in a nutshell, that is really what we have been doing. We have been building soil here and not turning it, and using minimum tillage techniques and hand tools that really work well. And, we have been planting crops really close to one another like somebody would do in a garden, but we are doing it on a commercial scale.

Adam: Oh, very interesting. And, so obviously, I think the spacing is very important. It sounds like the soil itself is very important, too.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, they work hand-in-hand, these two, yes.

Adam: Yeah, and I noticed in your book there is a big focus on fertilizing the soil, creating your own compost. Obviously, when you are in raised beds, you are growing lots of vegetation repeatedly in the same beds themselves. So, how do you keep them active? Do you have to have them lie fallow for a while, or how do you keep—since you have such a limited spacing, how do you keep as much of it active as possible for, in terms of the productive standpoint?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, well, that has to do with crop planting. Because, we are planning to have as many successions as possible in our short growing season. We are in Quebec here, and it is not that cold, because we are St-Armand, Quebec, but still, it is not California. And, so…

Adam: I was going to say, it is all relative. Relative to me, it is really pretty cold where you are.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, well, today it is. But, we have good light, which is important for growth in the spring and in the summer. And, so we plan to have as many successions as possible, and how we manage this, if you know, a succession is being, let’s say you have a bed filled with radishes and when you are done with the radishes, you want to have something else taking over. Let’s say there are lettuce heads, but you want to have started your lettuce heads three or four weeks before in your nursery, so that you have this three or four week gain in the season. You are growing inside the greenhouse and then you are bringing your produce out to the beds. And, these successions, we plan them in the winter months and we have a crop planting calendar that we follow that basically tells us what needs to be planted where, and by what is it going to be replaced with, and when do we need to start these other plants that are taking over. And, this is all managed in the winter months, because we have more time and then it is put in the calendar, and then basically, when spring kicks in and we get really busy, we just follow where to plant, the guideline that tells us what to plant, where, when to do our starts. And, basically, we could not be doing all the production we are doing on our micro farm if it was not for that planning process, the crop planning is really important.

Adam: Yeah, there is one thing I have learned as a novice farmer operating on a micro-fractional scale of what you are operating on and, being attuned to when you need to plant and when you need to replace and when you need to replenish is critical in terms of yield management.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, and we are doing CSA here, community supported agriculture. We have a 140 families that we feed, and we also do two farmer’s markets, which basically ends up feeding about 250 families, which is quite a lot considering that we are on an acre and a half. And, the reason why we are able to manage this is because we really know in the winter all that we are going to be producing every week, and we are planning this to fulfill the needs of our CSA clients.

Adam: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that for a moment then. So, you are in Quebec. Canada has long, cold—at least from my perspective—winters. How do you extend the growing season? Are you able to grow all through the winter? How do you actually keep production going during those colder months?

Jean-Martin: We stop in the winter. We stop for three months. So, we stop around Christmas and we start again mid-March, because it is minus, it is just too—we are in Celsius, so I do not want to give a number in Fahrenheit, because I do not really know. But…

Adam: You can just say "really cold."

Jean-Martin: It is really cold, and too cold to really push the limits of farming here. But, we like this break, actually, because it gives us time to replenish ourselves, to plan best for the next season. But, we push the limits quite far, because of low-tech extension techniques, which are: row covers, floating row covers are really amazing. And, then we use mini tunnels, we use caterpillar tunnels, we have a couple of permanent hoop houses. We have one heated greenhouse for a nursery in the spring. And, it is just this combination of using all of them together, so it is probably hard for me to describe all of this to the listener here, but if they check out the book they will figure this out pretty easily. But, you have hoop houses that are big poly tunnels, and then you have mini tunnels inside of them. And, you also have, you are growing resilient crops which might be kale or spinach. They can take freezing and still be good to harvest. So, you are combining these low-tech systems, and you are really pushing the limits of the growing season. So, even in Quebec, all the way until Christmas, we are harvesting greens and then we are starting again in March when the temperatures start to rise again. And, it has to do with the light, it really has to do with the light, not as much as the temperature.

Adam: Oh, well, it really is impressive to me, having grown up in New England, that you are able to get a nine-month growing season, essentially, up in Quebec. And, it sounds like most of that is not in a greenhouse, that that is mostly using a combination of sort of smaller, simpler technologies, hoop houses and some of the other things that you mentioned. I should also mention, too, that in your book, there are illustrations of I think everything you mentioned there. It is very much sort of a practical manual for what to use and how to use it and when to use it.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, the whole idea of writing the book was to kind of pass along hard information about what we have been up to on our farm, because when we started, there was not a lot of models out there of what we are doing now. And, it took us a quite a few years to kind of fine-tune our systems and get it right. And, at one point I felt, you know, I think when people, they want to start out a micro farm—because I know that that dream is alive in a lot of people and rightfully so, because we need a lot more farmers to feed these communities. But, farming, even on a micro level is really technical. And, if you are going to growing 50 or 40 different vegetables, you need to have a pretty good understanding of every part of the growing season, the techniques, the tools, know-how. And, I have always thought that a veteran grower that is there to tell you how he is doing everything is a good example to follow. And, then from there you can just pick and choose, or make your own experiments. But, at least you have one system that you can follow and rightly or wrongly, you can adjust or whatever. But, sometimes you have books that present a lot of models, a lot of ways of doing things, but, then, when you do not how to do it, you are confused, because, "should I be doing soil blocks? Or should I be doing this other way of doing my seedlings?" Yeah, so that was my goal. And, hopefully, all of the things that we have developed over time, it can really help other people kick-start their own project and gain a few more years. It took us eight years to really figure things out, and we have been surfing on that for a couple of years now. But, yeah, I am just happy to be sharing what we have been up to.

Adam: Well, and it is so wonderful that you are, and that is really what drew me to you. And, when one of Peak Prosperity’s readers actually introduced me to your work, we, at Peak Prosperity, we talk about the need for the new models that are going to bring us into this future that we see as defined by the forces that we call the Three Es, basically that have to do with, at its base, with resource depletion and increased energy and input costs going forward. So, finding ways to grow food like this is something that is of great interest to a lot of our readers, and many of them are discouraged because they do not have the know-how or they feel like it takes a lot of capital. And, I think many of them would love to have the benefit of a mentor, and that probably would help a lot of people feel more comfortable about getting into this. But, one of the things you probably discovered in your journey is, with the rise of big agriculture over the past two generations, there really are not that many farmers that can act as mentors for a small-scale or micro farming. Really, they just know the big industrial input, huge machine-based farming practices. And, so there are not a lot of people out there for interested parties, particularly young people, to go to and learn how to do what you are doing. So, I think the fact that you are being so transparent about it here is a great, great asset and a great value to people. So, thank you, and I would love to dive into—well, actually sorry, let me let you answer that.

Jean-Martin: Well, I was just about to say that that is, I feel that is important. And, the farming community—the organic farming community—is great for that, because people, they share. Farmers, they share. I have done a lot of traveling and we have learned a lot from different farmers. And then it is about putting all of this together and people shared with me, so it is just feels right and natural to just pass along. And, then hopefully in the right hands, people will pick up The Market Gardener and feel inspired by it and then start their own thing and then bring all of this to another level. And, because there is a lot of future in micro farming. And, the fact that we do not have a tractor is not because we are dogmatic or it is not even philosophical. It is just, we do not need one. We are farming productive and profitably because we are without one. And, so this is a message that is kind of new and different and not—actually not a lot of people really believe us. But, when they read the book, or even better, if they come and stop and look at what we have been up to on our farm for the last decade, they really see that there is a lot. On an acre and a half, you can grow a lot of vegetables and have employment. And, we are basically using no fossil fuel to grow all of our crops, because we are using hand tools.

Adam: Which is fantastic, and what we found is that you can discuss something sort of academically as long you like, but what really convinces people—certainly to take personal risk—is seeing other people actually go out and blaze the trail before them. And, so again, I think that is a huge part of the value of what you and your wife have done here, is shown people that not only can you generate so much yield from the small amount of acreage that you have, but that you can do it profitably. And that is what I would like to dive into next here, which is not only have you dispelled the fact that you can generate a lot of revenue off of the small space that you have, but you can actually generate profit and make a good living off of it. So, I think that is probably the number one thing that is keeping a lot of younger people from getting into this, is the fear that there is just not going to be enough money in it for them, especially if they have to take up some up-front costs early on in the process. So, do you mind talking a little bit about the economics of your operation?

Jean-Martin: No, I do not, because I feel it is really important part, just for the reason that you mentioned. Because, if you want to look at farming as a career, you need to know that you are going to make it out. And, so basically on our farm, we are on an acre and a half, and we have been growing here for a decade. And when we started the farm, we bought more or less $40,000 worth of equipment to get pretty much everything going. This equipment that we are still using now today. And so that was pretty much our start-up cost, which is not a lot when you compare it to owning two or three tractors or, the bigger farms, the mechanized farms, how they are organized. And, so that, our start-up costs have always been pretty low. And, we started with 30 CSA baskets, 30 families. And, then on rented land we went to 60, and then when we bought the farm, we went to 80 families, 100 families, and then we went to 150, 200. And, we have been growing our clientele as we have been growing our skillset also.

And, for pretty much everything that we have developed on the farm, it was not about getting new tools and new equipment, it was just about learning how to grow better. How can we grow more of this without actually expanding the land base, because we do not have more land. And, really got us to optimize everything that we are doing on our farm. And, so that is why I always talk about—this is not a capital intensive farm base, it is really a knowledge intensive farming system. And, that is where it gets interesting, because if you can manage to start a little farm without spending too much, and you can still feed a lot of families, and your expenditures are your labor, well, you end up making a pretty decent living. And, we have been making more than ends meet on the farm for a decade, just by doing things a little bit better every year and just maximizing the output without putting that much input into the farm.

Adam: Great. Well, if you do not mind, let me just ask you a couple of rapid-fire questions about the numbers here. So, you said your start-up costs pretty much were around $40,000.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, to get all the equipment that we needed—hoop houses, seeding equipment, walk-behind BCS tractor, a two-wheel tractor, the implements, it is all laid out in the book. And, yeah, so that was the start-up cost for the equipment that we needed on a farm. It does not count for having a vegetable delivery truck and these things. But, just for the equipment that we needed, it is pretty digestible.

Adam: All right. And, now after your years where you have gotten up to a fairly mature operation on these two acres, what gross revenue are you producing right now?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, last year the sales of the farm were $140,000 worth of vegetable produced on site. And that is at a 45% profit margin, meaning that when we have paid—we have hired two people now, so we are four of us working on the farm. And, when we have paid them, when we have paid these guys and when we paid for seeds and compost and everything that we need, all our expenditures, just a bit less than half comes back to Maude-Helene and I as our salary, which is not so bad if you compare it to other trades and the farming world. That is pretty, these are pretty good numbers.

Adam: They are pretty great numbers, especially for that small amount of acreage. So, that is great, so about $140,000 in revenue, yet it is you and your wife and then two employees that you have since brought on. And, then the rest really is operating profit for you and your wife.

Jean-Martin: Yeah.

Adam: Great. And, in terms of your customers, you mentioned you service about 200 or so families through a CSA model, and then you also go to farmer’s markets.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, it ends up being 140 members of our CSA, and about 30% of our business sales is farmer’s markets. So, we count them as CSAs. So, we usually say that we feed more or less 200, 250 families with the vegetables that we grow on the farm.

Adam: Okay, great. And, so just to repeat those number then, it is about 70% of your sales are done through the CSA model, and then about 30 at farmer’s markets?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, well, it ends up being about 60, because we also, 10% of our revenue on the farm is for mesclun, which is a salad mix that we grow here that we sell to different restaurants.

Adam: Okay, great.

Jean-Martin: And, to the local grocery stores, so that is the breakup of all of our numbers on the farm.

Adam: Okay, great. And, I am just curious from a food standpoint, when you are talking about the profit that comes back to you and your wife, is that after you have been able to—are you able to eat—are you feeding yourself as well from this land?

Jean-Martin: Oh, boy, are we. We are feasting like kings, and that is best part of it. We are eating our vegetables through the whole year. We have a root cellar also.

Adam: Great, so your food costs are obviously very low and your food quality is very high.

Jean-Martin: Yeah, we go to market and we trade with our neighbors for meats and cider and all these great things, cheese, all these great things that you need in life. And, so we end up having a lifestyle that does not—and plus, we do not need to really dress up for work. We are kind of going natural on that way. And, there is no traffic jam to go to work and it just makes a lot of sense for us to have this homesteading, and plus having a pretty good living at it. And, again, I think we have been managing this because of our approach. And, that is really what I wanted to share in the book, because I know that if we need more farmers then we need to have farming schemes that are more accessible. And, it is all about learning how to do it.

Adam: Yeah, and we have always agreed, you need to have—to get people to move, you have got to give them something positive to move towards and you certainly seem to be painting a very attractive picture for somebody that is…

Jean-Martin: And, if I could add something.

Adam: Sure.

Jean-Martin: I would also, something cool, because it is good that it is positive, but it needs to be also popular and cool, and that is how I am really stoked about how there is more and more recognition about small farmers, how important they are in communities. And, I think it is really important that that recognition be more and more, because it needs to be a popular trade if we are going to get bright people to go into farming—bright and young people—they need to think that it is going to be something desirable, and that is the other thing that I think is important to get youth into farming.

Adam: Well, agreed. I live in an area where small-scale farming is also fairly popular. And, it is certainly one of the more, I think, sort of respected professions out here. But, boy, if anybody who is listening works in mass media, maybe a movie around—a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as a micro farmer would be a great next thing to do.

Jean-Martin: That would be wonderful. I would like—can I play in that movie?

Adam: [Laughs] Sure, sure, as long as Maude-Helene is okay with that.

Jean-Martin: Well, yeah, we will not tell her.

Adam: Well, hey, so you have painted I think a really attractive picture here. Let me ask you, let’s say there is some young person who has listened to this podcast who is really inspired and begins to think that they really want to follow your lead here. What are some of the things that you would say to them, particularly lessons you learned along the way, maybe helping them avoid some major mistakes, or at least just being wary of things that you learned were really important as you have gone through this on your ten-year journey?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, well, I do not want to be selling out here, but I would say to them, read The Market Gardener and try to pick up the important ingredients in there. Because, I know that there is not one recipe for success. Farming is going to be different in different areas, but I know that there is a lot of key ingredients that need to be added to the mix for it to work. And, so if you can read The Market Gardener, I think that is—if I had a book like that when I started, it would have saved me four or five years of learning all of this, because it is all laid out. So, that would be one advice I would give, and then the other would be: go work for a full season on an organic farm, and then you will learn from that grower perhaps everything that he does well and the other stuff that he does not do as well you will pick up on it. And, most importantly, you will see if you like it. Because, a lot of people, they have this ideal about farming, but you need to put your knees in the ground. And, sometimes it is wet soil and temperatures are changing all the time, and you really need to commit to one full season I think, in order to see if you like it and if you want to stick with it. And, believe me, if you do like it, probably the chances are you will not be wanting to do anything else, because it is addictive to be outside and to grow crops. And, you know, if you have an outlet where people, they celebrate you for what you are doing, my God, this is, I would not say a perfect job, I would not go as far, but it is definitely a worthwhile time to spend your—you know, we are going to work half of our, more than half of our time spent on earth, is going to be spent working. So, you need to find meaningful work, I believe. So, these are my two advice. Read The Market Gardener and work one full year on an organic farm, and then my third advice is: at one point start your own. Start your own small operation, feeding 30 families, or 30 acquaintances is not such a big thing. And, you will learn a lot by doing it yourself. So, there you are.

Adam: All right. Well, that is great advice. So, Jean-Martin, so we have got the book, The Market Gardener. I imagine it is available on Amazon and through most other ways to buy books these days, is that true?

Jean-Martin: Yeah, it is also available on my website, so you know you are buying a book directly from the author. And, the website is themarketgardener.com, and just if people want to read a couple of chapters, I have put them out there on the website, and all the tools that we are using, they will see pictures of the tools, where they can get them. Because, these tools, you cannot find them at the hardware store. So, even if you are just a home gardener, what is great is that you are learning from a pro, and so the tools that we use, there is a reason for them and they are basically hand tools that are simple, but they are quite sophisticated in their design, to make the work effective and productive.

Adam: Well, excellent. And, Jean-Martin, I hope we have you back on again in the future to talk in more detail about some of the specific practices and the specific tools that you use, but this has been a great overview of the model that you pioneered. And, I really appreciate you being so transparent with the economics, because I think that is something a lot of people do not get. And, it is information that often times I think is limiting when people do not get it, because they do not see that it is actually possible to do this to make a living. So, thank you for the work and for the risks and for the really positive picture you and your wife are painting for the rest of us.

Jean-Martin: Well, Adam, thank you for having me on your show, and I am just, I want to thank you because I think it is important that we talk about small-scale farming. And, I really believe that there is a lot of future in it, and there is a lot of demand. And, I know for a fact that once people, they go to a farmer’s market and they taste real food, there is no turning back. They are not going back to the supermarkets. And supermarkets, they cannot compete with small growers if you are putting a face on your produce, if you are selling directly, and if you are growing top quality, which is really what we are aiming here at the farm. You need to grow top quality stuff, and then you are putting your face on it, selling it directly, and boy, these corporations, they cannot compete with that. So, the more we are out there feeding our communities, I think we are reclaiming the local economy. And, yeah, I believe there is a lot of future in that.

Adam: Oh, very well said. And, I could not agree more. So, Jean-Martin, thank you very much.

Jean-Martin: All right. Have a great one, guys.

Adam: You too, bye-bye.

About the guest

Jean-Martin Fortier

Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches are the founders of Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally recognized micro-farm known for its high productivity and profitability using low-tech, high-yield methods of production. A leading practitioner of biologically intensive cropping systems, Jean-Martin has more than a decade’s worth of experience in organic farming. 

He is a graduate of the McGill School of Environment and is a passionate advocate for strengthening local food systems, notably working with Montréal’s Équiterre to help create Canada’s most important network of CSA farms. He helped create and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Brome-Missisquoi Land Base Project which aims to match land owners with aspiring farmers. He has also facilitated more than fifty workshops and conferences in Canada, France, Belgium and the United-States promoting the idea of micro-scale farming as an alternative lifestyle. 

Jean-Martin has written articles about his work for popular magazines such as Canadian Organic Grower, La Terre de Chez Nous and Growing for Market.  He also contributes as an equipment and tool advisor for companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Dubois Agro-inovation.  His first book, Le Jardinier-Maraîcher sold more than 14,000 copies in the original French language since its release in the fall of 2012.

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52 Comments

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
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bonjour from Upper Canada

Totally inspiring podcast! JM, congrats to you and Maude-Helene on all that you've accomplished. Your book is on our todo list this week.

earthwise's picture
earthwise
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A promising possibility......

....... to earn a living farming ones own land. It strikes me as a throwback to times past seasoned with the spice of higher technology. This interview really piqued my interest in micro farming, but alas the link to the website doesn't seem to work.....at least not for me. Anybody else having difficulties with this link?

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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yracaz's picture
yracaz
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Just what I needed

Thanks Adam and Jean-Martin!   Truly inspiring!   Just bought the book.

craazyman's picture
craazyman
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Really Cool Stuff

A very cool, very inspiring interview. I would have never thought something like that is possible. I doubt I could ever get my sh*t together enough to do it, but maybe . . .

Don35's picture
Don35
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Neat!

I've ordered the book also. This is something I have been thinking about and working toward for a while. I'm sure I'll find some good ideas in the book. Everyone has to eat. Or not!

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Good podcast

First, I'd like to say it's a pleasure to hear what you are doing and I'll probably buy a copy of your book.  It will not doubt contain valuable information for my home gardenning project.

Having said that, I cannot read anything without remembering Albert Bartlett's admonition to "do the math."

On the second page of the book there is a statement that you feed 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  My first reaction was that you cannot provide the entire food supply for 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  Then I considered that you meant that you supply the organic vegetable content of the food for 200 families.  This doesn't even work out for me, unless these families subsist on diets containing very small portions of vegetables.  

I'm not arguing that you don't provide part of the vegetable content of 200 families diets from your 1 1/2 acre farm, or that you aren't producing an amazing volume of vegetables from such a small space, just that the math for 200 families doesn't work for me.  If it did, according to my calculations, we could feed the entire population of the planet using only 22,000,000 hectares of land.  I simply can't see it.

Nervous Nelly's picture
Nervous Nelly
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Intensive Gardening Book from my Plant Hardiness Zone

What a podcast and a source of inspiration for me. Finally a book written with direct experience in organic intensive gardening in my plant hardiness zone, Quebec. To top it off profitable only on 1.5 acres. Will buy.

I intend to visit them one day this summer. Only an hour away in St Armand.

PP Thx for bringing Jean Martin on !

Congrats Jean Martin & Maude Helene 

NN

earthwise's picture
earthwise
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Is it just me....?

Thanks, Jim, for the link but it still isn't working. I keep getting a "Yahoo---The requested URL cannot be found or is not available" message. I've tried all the links in in the transcript as well. Doh!!! I guess I'll just have to buy the book, but I'd really like to see Jean-Martin's website as well.

The requested URL "http://www.themarketgardener.com/" cannot be found or is not available. Please check the spelling or try again later.

Nervous Nelly's picture
Nervous Nelly
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It's strange it works for me

Earthwise,

It must be you cause the link works for me frown.

NN

earthwise's picture
earthwise
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It strikes again.

The Schleprock syndrome. Woe is me.

scheprock.gif

It's obviously my computer. It works on my wife's laptop.

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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Themarketgardner website

I am loving his tools page;

http://www.themarketgardener.com/market-gardening-tools/

so much practical "how-to" and sourcing stuff... really helpful.  Taken together with (our own) Phil Williams' website, we have a real cornucopia of small scale farming/growing how-to;

http://www.foodproduction101.com/

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Broadforks

Here's an excellent source of blacksmith crafted broadforks from Black Earth Wisconsin.

http://gullandforge.com

The one I have is something like serial number 185 and it is almost a work of art.

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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Les...

Great website and resource for craft-made tools.. Thanks.  Interestingly, when I dug into the broadfork website a bit, I found my way to the author's scythe-related info;

http://toolingtherevolution.com/index.html

which is not the commercial front for the scythes.. that is here;

http://www.onescytherevolution.com/index.html

Which finally brings me to my point;  you did I think comment earlier regarding your skepticism about small scale farming being able to provide for our needs.. and there is some discussion of this point on the scythe revolution website;

NO FUEL, NO NOISE, NO POLLUTION.

Whether you are alarmed about Climate Change, Peak Oil, Social Justice, Health Care, Food Safety & Security, or all of the above... At their roots, they all have one solution in common: We must fundamentally change the way we grow our food!  Big, mechanized, chemical agriculture is ruining our health, depleting our soil, building up toxins in our environment, wasting the remaining oil, massively increasing CO2 levels in our atmosphere, and financially devastating the closest thing that we have to sustainable farmers; namely small family farms.  
  Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg states that in order to continue to grow the same amount of food in the future, without the use of cheap oil, we will need 40-50 million farmers, farming 3-50 acres, mostly with hand tools. No, not like in the Middle Ages. We are talking about appropriate technology here.

 Small-scale farmers, meet one of your new tools. The modernized "Austrian" scythe....

Oliveoilguy's picture
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Les

LesPhelps wrote:

there is a statement that you feed 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  My first reaction was that you cannot provide the entire food supply for 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  Then I considered that you meant that you supply the organic vegetable content of the food for 200 families.  This doesn't even work out for me,   I simply can't see it.

Les ....I tend to agree that 200 families is a lot.  What do you estimate that a family consumes?

I have 11,800 square feet in maximum production (1/4 acre) so I should be able to feed 33 families ??????  Usually I have 1/2 to 2/3's of that planted cause I rotate beds out of production and grow cover crops. We store potatoes and sweet potatoes for the winter, so most of those two crops do not go for sale, It takes a big chunk of what we grow in our garden  just to feed two of us year round.

Oliveoilguy's picture
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Soil depletion?

Another question is where does he get fertilizer? To take so much produce out of a garden requires a huge input of compost or chemical fertilizer or something. I think he is "organic", meaning tremendous volumes of compost to keep his soils alive. He must have a fantastic, cheep source of manure close by. Freight has always been an issue in non-chemical agriculture. It's easy to move bags of NPK  100 miles to the farm, but a truckload of turkey manure is much more labor and fuel intensive.

We have 4 horses which give us almost enough compost for our 1/4 acre, but would like more.

I have already bought his book and maybe will find the answers there, but logic tells me that this may not be a plug and play system for everyone with 1.5 acres. 

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
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just bought the book...

At a locally owned bookstore of course. ;-)

Already got some wire and 6mm plastic sheeting for some hoop tunnels.

Merci JM!

LesPhelps's picture
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Jim H wrote: Which finally

Jim H wrote:

Which finally brings me to my point;  you did I think comment earlier regarding your skepticism about small scale farming being able to provide for our needs..

You read something into what I said.  I do believe we can feed the existing population... for a while, provided we have enough water.

It's just going to take a whole lot more people farming and food will be much more expensive.  Some people won't be able to afford it.  Some will be unwilling to contribute labor to the effort.

I just think we need to be careful about making statements out of context or not strongly supported by facts.  Al Bartlett talks about this at some length.

An example I always remember, is an email that my father in law received and forwarded to me, not once but twice.  The email was an energy rant focusing on the Balkan oil field and the fact that it would provide our energy needs for the next 20 years. 

Energy is one thing I keep a close watch on.  I did the math and sent an email to my farther in law explaining that at current US oil consumption rates, the entire Balkan play would only cover US demand for 3 months.  I included the math and sources.

Several months later, he forwarded to me and everyone the same dang email.

Erroneous statements and misleading facts taken out of context, tend to have a life of their own.  As Al says, everyone should do the math, especially if a statement seems to good to be true.

LesPhelps's picture
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Oliveoilguy wrote: Les ....I

Oliveoilguy wrote:

Les ....I tend to agree that 200 families is a lot.  What do you estimate that a family consumes?

I have 11,800 square feet in maximum production (1/4 acre) so I should be able to feed 33 families ??????  Usually I have 1/2 to 2/3's of that planted cause I rotate beds out of production and grow cover crops. We store potatoes and sweet potatoes for the winter, so most of those two crops do not go for sale, It takes a big chunk of what we grow in our garden  just to feed two of us year round.

I don't have a figure to throw out.  There are a lot of people with more accurate estimates than I.

I currently have 1/2 acre available with only a small portion in production.  I feel, if I expanded my garden to most of the non shaded areas on my half acre, I could provide all the vegetables and protein (beans) my wife and I need, year around.  Right now, I only produce enough for my in season needs plus a little freezing and dehydrating.  I doubt I could produce all the grain we require as well.

Plus, I must confess, I am not a vegetarian much less vegan and really don't want to become one.  I have no room for animals to provide meat and milk.  The town I live in currently does not allow back yard chickens. 

Based on my experience at home, I am convinced that I could not feed 66 families, therefore, I question whether anyone, however talented can feed 200 families on 1 1/2 acre.

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Let's get down to brass tacks

Does anyone besides me know where the phrase "lets get down to brass tacks" came from?

Anyway, 1 1/2 acre = 65,340 square feet.  For those of you who prefer the metric system,  too bad.

Being really aggressive, lets figure only 5% of the area is required for walkways, since I haven't read the book.  That leaves 62,073 square feet for intense square foot gardening.  Dividing 62,073 by 200 families (what is the average size per family?) leaves 310 square feet per family.  Since I do intense raised beds, I'll use that as an example.  310 square feet divided by 4 (foot wide beds), gives you 77.5 feet.

So the area available per family is equivalent of 4 beds 4 foot wide by 19 feet long.  I produce seasonal vegetables for my wife and I from 2 beds 5 foot wide by 14 feet long.  Tip: never make your beds 5 feet wide.  It's too much, even if you have long arms.  I am still paying the price for that mistake.

I'd have to say that it is possible to provide seasonal vegetables plus some canning veggies for 200 families using 1 1/2 acres.  I still question year around vegetables.  Plus, that doesn't include grains, coffee beans (a must), sugar, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, wine, beer, junk food, or porterhouse steaks.

But the point is, if they were talking about seasonal veggies only, for 200 families, the number is a lot closer than I would have thought.

Now I am wondering about their profit numbers.  Guess I'll have to get the book.

Clear skies. (A popular closing for amateur astronomy enthusiasts)

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Don35
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feed 200 families?

Did he say in the interview that he was the sole source for food for those 200 families? I didn't catch that if he did. I guess he meant he contributed to 200 families. I agree that it is highly unlikely that small patch of ground could feed 200 families. I read somewhere that it takes a football sized field (US) to complete one person diet. I'd be happy to make a living off my property. Not interested in making money, just interested in making a living! smiley

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Don35 wrote: Did he say in

Don35 wrote:

Did he say in the interview that he was the sole source for food for those 200 families? I didn't catch that if he did. I guess he meant he contributed to 200 families. I agree that it is highly unlikely that small patch of ground could feed 200 families. I read somewhere that it takes a football sized field (US) to complete one person diet. I'd be happy to make a living off my property. Not interested in making money, just interested in making a living! smiley

Second page of the book.  The statement is open to some interpretation.  

You can read the first chapter free on the above link.

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Jim H
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Don35...

you said,

. I read somewhere that it takes a football sized field (US) to complete one person diet.

I think that this urban homesteader would argue that it takes much less space than that if done properly;

thatchmo's picture
thatchmo
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on the other hand.....

If things were different, one could plant a corner of your land in marijuana, which would provide the income to finance any number of improvements in the production of food, which your pot customers would need to alleviate the munchies....Just goofin'.  Great interview.  I'm buying the book.  Aloha, Steve.

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kaimu
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HAWAII LAND

ALOHA!! Honestly I have never lived in a place that has so much year round food production at so little cost as Hawaii. The jungles that surround my five acre property are always loaded with food that nobody fertilizes or maintains. Every weekend families park along side of the road and gather food in their truck. The bounty is still as incredible as when Capt Cook first described it in 1778. So much of this free food is uneaten when it falls on the ground and rots. In fact the mango trees produce so much that they could probably supplement 1000 family diets and that's just from the ones that fall on the ground. The mango rot is so pungent that it smells like "mango wine"!

I believe that the State of Hawaii could easily be self sustaining if the government would get out of our way. For instance the ag department restrictions for shipping make a lot of the food unusable. I always ponder whether these interstate and intrastate restrictions are really for the public's benefit or is it for Big Agro corporate benefit? Wherever governments intercede "on our behalf" the truth is always obscured by the politrix of money.

Ulu(breadfruit) and bananas ...

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this is supplemental

As a long time member of various CSAs and now trying to grow more of my own food, I think this is safe to say this micro-market garden of 1.5 acres provides some if not most of seasonal veggies for 200 families.  These families are not buying lettuce, brocolli, radishes, kale, chard, green beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, even berries perhaps, etc.   But I am sure they still buy eggs, dairy, meat, grains, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.  So  a bit of a mis-statement to say they feed 200 families. This is not to denigrate the significant achievement of Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene, but just to clarify and agree with the above posters that total sufficiency for 200 families is not realistic on 1.5 acres.

I am still in awe of what they coax from the land and how profitable they are.

Claire

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greendoc wrote: As a long

greendoc wrote:

As a long time member of various CSAs and now trying to grow more of my own food, I think this is safe to say this micro-market garden of 1.5 acres provides some if not most of seasonal veggies for 200 families.  These families are not buying lettuce, brocolli, radishes, kale, chard, green beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, even berries perhaps, etc.   But I am sure they still buy eggs, dairy, meat, grains, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.  So  a bit of a mis-statement to say they feed 200 families. This is not to denigrate the significant achievement of Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene, but just to clarify and agree with the above posters that total sufficiency for 200 families is not realistic on 1.5 acres.

I am still in awe of what they coax from the land and how profitable they are.

Claire

I think it is quite a feat!

The profitability is what I find striking. What happens during an "off" year? Overly dry or wet? Hot (most unlikely up there) or overly cold? (more likely)

Most "kitchen farms" or "market farms" barely break even.

See, I think about all of the "idle" crop land around me. It is idle because the farmers have become too old to farm, and mono-cropping has depleted the soil. I also live in the "tobacco belt" so farmers have given up and "lease" their tobacco base. So, the land sits idle. What a shame. We would have no hunger in our state if that land was farmed.

My point? Even if the farm supplied 50%  of the veggie needs for 200 families, 10 - One and one-half acre farms could provide the needs for 2000. Double the size and half the output and there is still profit to be made yes? I dare say profit is not the word I am looking for. "Earning a living" is more like it. Investing locally by those who have the land resource to those who are willing to work the land (there is the catch) is another way to act locally.

Most interesting.

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thatchmo wrote: If things

thatchmo wrote:

If things were different, one could plant a corner of your land in marijuana, which would provide the income to finance any number of improvements in the production of food, which your pot customers would need to alleviate the munchies....Just goofin'.  Great interview.  I'm buying the book.  Aloha, Steve.

Does Gangia grow well in tobacco base land? LOL! the ultimate "cash crop!"

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seriously.....

thatchmo wrote:

If things were different, one could plant a corner of your land in marijuana, which would provide the income to finance any number of improvements in the production of food.... 

My neighbor to the east has complained about our neighbor to the north's marijuana growing and 'cooking'  (hash oil) operation.  This is an individual I don't always believe, so I checked Google Maps and yep, he's a grower.  This same neighbor claimed the grower made $300k in 2012 (2013 numbers aren't in yet), but I have no way to confirm this. Judging by the number of new vehicles on his property the income number could be in the ballpark.  That being said, it is widely known locally that he is a grower, but to date everyone is either fairly Libertarian about these things or they have a vested interest. 

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On feeding 200 + famillies

Hey everyone, its Jean-Martin the author of the Market Gardener. I was reading in the forum that people were perhaps mislead by the statement that we feed 200 families. Here is are my explanation...

As a CSA family farmer, we supply our partnering families with a weekly vegetable shares (usually of 8 to 12 veggies grown in season) which, in most case, is enough vegetables for them not to have to buy some from the supermarket. We don't grow anything else than veggies at la Grelinette, so we don't supply our CSA partners with other staples (ie eggs, dairy, meat, grains, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc)

It would be more accurate to say that we provide more than 200 families with a seasonal share of weekly harvested vegetables for X number of weeks in the year...Its doesn't sound very good, but its more precise.

Perhaps we should fly with that in the future.

Best

Jean-Martin

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Jean-Martin

Thanks for the clarification. I have purchased your book and can't wait to get it. Anything that is written from experience ranks high in my world. I am a doer like you and know that each season or cycle brings wisdom. I highly value your efforts over the years, and having had commercial gardens, I know how much work is involved. I am 62 and am positioning myself for a retirement from construction and will be doing a small scale garden and aquaponics business to serve my local community. I am looking forward to once again having my hands in the soil every day.

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Jean-Martin

I have ordered the book as well and am looking forward to a good read.  I to am working to retire into a small scale for the remainder of my working years.  I am hoping to get some of my family involved as well.  Where I am having some trouble is getting land close by that is not taxed so high, I live in a suburb.  There is land available but because it could be used for homes, the taxes are through the roof.  I am looking at finding a 5 acre parcel that is contiguous, this way it can be considered as a green belt and is not taxed as high.  If anyone has any ideas I would appreciate it.  This was a wonderful podcast and is just what I needed.  Thanks so much.

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Very inspiring!

Very inspiring! Love the website, and thank you for the clarifaction.

Oliveoilguy's picture
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Great Book

The book came yesterday. It has a lot of content. I've already found great ideas by just thumbing through. For example "flame weeding" is something totally new to me and it makes a lot of sense. The illustrations are well done. Succession Planting charts; new tools to think about; I'm very excited. This will be a cover to cover study, and reference book. Not just a casual read.

Thanks Jean-Martin.

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Oliveoilguy wrote: The book

Oliveoilguy wrote:

The book came yesterday. It has a lot of content. I've already found great ideas by just thumbing through. For example "flame weeding" is something totally new to me and it makes a lot of sense. The illustrations are well done. Succession Planting charts; new tools to think about; I'm very excited. This will be a cover to cover study, and reference book. Not just a casual read.

Thanks Jean-Martin.

"Flame weeding!" I read that too on one of the websites that promoted the book. (I haven't purchased the book-yet)

Glad to see someone else interested in "flame weeding." I guess it's such a "guy thing." My guess it is something like this. Open flame, a propane tank (of some sort) and a nozzle that is lit and burns the weeds ala mini - flame thrower! What's NOT to like!!

Time to get my keister over there and buy the book!!

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We hav a flame weeder....

....and indeed it is something my son and husband love to use.  We use it more to disinfect the chicken coop and their run 1-2x year, can also be used to disinfect beehives. We flame the decomposed granite patio every spring...but be forewarned it leaves a lingering burnt smell and the scorched surface takes a while to recover....don;t plan on having friends over immediately afterwards.  Wait a week.

Claire

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A LOT of inputs required!

I would caution anyone who thinks they can turn their suburban lot into your exclusive family food source.

He is undoubtedly using TONS of inputs -- probably manures, possibly mined rock phosphate. These have to come from somewhere.

One cannot extrapolate his numbers and think that we all could be doing this. His operation is the tip of an iceberg that involves probably ten to twenty times as much area in hay in order to feed the animals that provide his manure. And meanwhile, those acres of hay are being depleted if the manure is all going into people's gardens, instead of maintaining the hay field.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

I laud his effort and results, but we need to be up-front and transparent about the inputs when making fantastic claims about gardening productivity.

PS: we use about 60 tons of manure per acre, which is the equivalent of about ten acres of hay.

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"Flame weeding" is not sustainable

Flame weeding is fun and useful. Just remember that propane is not a renewable resource.

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Jean-Martin Fortier wrote:It

Jean-Martin Fortier wrote:
It would be more accurate to say that we provide more than 200 families with a seasonal share of weekly harvested vegetables for X number of weeks in the year...Its doesn't sound very good, but its more precise.

Thanks. I find it is better to under-promise and over-deliver in the long run.

We have 60 goat herd shareholders. But no way could we supply 60 people with all their dairy needs!

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Bytesmiths
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Jim H wrote: you said, . I

Jim H wrote:

you said,

. I read somewhere that it takes a football sized field (US) to complete one person diet.

I think that this urban homesteader would argue that it takes much less space than that if done properly;

These people are not providing their complete diet exclusively from such small amounts of land!

Growing the plants requires just a small part of the total food "footprint." If they don't use "inputs," they will quickly wear out their land. If they do use external inputs, they should account for the area of land needed to produce those inputs in order to paint an accurate picture of how much land it takes.

Mind you, I applaud anyone who grows food anywhere, on any size of plot. But saying one person can completely feed themselves from a city lot ignores the complex web of life that is needed to support each of us.

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Inputs for our gardens

We have about 1/3 acre total garden with our combined two patches. Our inputs are horse manure and local vegetation that we cook in a compost pile. The four horses have 76 acres to graze and we still buy around 700 square bales of hay each year plus their feed. 

I am under no illusions that I have a sustainable system, but at least we are recycling our manure and building our soils. There is a lot of land used to create the inputs for the 1/3 acre garden.

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Living the Dream. Sharp Contrast 2 Insolvency-Management-Economy

Listening to this young man's story, I cannot help but to imagine just how devious the whole fractional-reserve-system is. In that over history - ever so steadily - our ability to create and sustain our own needs has been systematically taken (taxed, inflated, robbed) right out of us - in the name of freedom. Bravo!

www.thebookofgardens.com

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Following Your Heart

Thank you for bringing your incredible story to the world. What I appreciate is that you took your ideas from the classroom directly into the field/garden. In that process, the highly engaging and experiential nature of the "work" became an agent of knowledge, inspiration and transformation. Your life's work was been revealed! A lifetime of Meaningful Work is your destiny. The LOVE is evident in all that you are sharing.

For those in CA, you have access to the original biointensive pioneers at Ecology Action. They are located in Willits CA. You can spend time on their farm as a visitor, intern, or participant in workshops. I recommend that you check them out. Note: they sell books, seeds, and hand tools as well.

http://www.growbiointensive.org/

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Wendy S. Delmater
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Inputs

Frankly , if you want to supplement your food from a small kitchen garden, you really need to rethink your waste stream. Composting everything is a darned good start. All non-meat kitchen scraps, all yard waste, and shredded cover crops are a good start. But in a crisis situation, we may not be so squeamish. Using humanure, and your nitrogen-rich  urine may not sound palatable, but if it means the difference between eating and not eating, you'll use them.

In the meantime figuring out ways to decrease your waste stream is just sensible prepping. If the collapse is slow or sudden, either way eventually no one is gonna come and tote your excess packaging off to a landfill. Might as well get into the habit of using your resources properly. Cooking from scratch is VERY EASY and often just as fast as heating up some pre-packaged junk. Your body and taste buds will thank you, too.

I swear, every time i look at the supermarket flyers with their advertised specials on "convenience foods" with all their packaging and unhealthly ingredients (ingredients trucked in from god-knows-where with additives from some lab) - every time I read those flyers, I am struck by what an aberration this whole modern system of feeding ourselves is.

Stop carting your fertilizers off to a landfill, folks. Those organic (in a chemical sense), non-meat scraps belong in your compost pile. Will composting and a kitchen garden be enough to feed you on its own? Not hardly, But this is another example of do what you can, edging our lives in the right direction.

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Wendy S. Delmater wrote: All

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

All non-meat kitchen scraps... non-meat scraps belong in your compost pile.

You can certainly compost meat! It just takes longer, and so you may want to put it in a separate pile. (It still needs N and C to work with it.)

When our chickens die, I just dig a hole in the compost, and bury the chicken in there. By the time we use it, there's only bones left.

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Wendy S. Delmater

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

Using humanure, and your nitrogen-rich  urine may not sound palatable, but if it means the difference between eating and not eating, you'll use them.

Urine and wood stove ash are perfect complements. Urine is about 11:0.5:1, and stove ash soluate is about 0:10:10.

We soak and strain our stove ash, and combine it with one part urine and eight parts water to make a nice, gentle 1:1:1 organic liquid fertilizer. We pump it through our greenhouse irrigation system to "fertigate" via dripline.

When mixing potting soil in the greenhouse, I drink a lot of tea, but I never leave the greenhouse with a full bladder! :-)

We must close the nutrient loop!

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Bytesmiths wrote: Urine and

Bytesmiths wrote:

Urine and wood stove ash are perfect complements. Urine is about 11:0.5:1, and stove ash soluate is about 0:10:10.

We soak and strain our stove ash, and combine it with one part urine and eight parts water to make a nice, gentle 1:1:1 organic liquid fertilizer. We pump it through our greenhouse irrigation system to "fertigate" via dripline.

When mixing potting soil in the greenhouse, I drink a lot of tea, but I never leave the greenhouse with a full bladder! :-)

We must close the nutrient loop!

Bytesmiths please say more, add links, start a new thread, or PM me with info. I am interested! I have plenty of wood stove ash and, of course, plenty of urine. Sounds like a great method. Thanks! And closing the loop - yes!

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Bytesmiths
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Don35 wrote:Bytesmiths please

Don35 wrote:
Bytesmiths please say more, add links, start a new thread, or PM me with info. I am interested! I have plenty of wood stove ash and, of course, plenty of urine.

Not much to it, actually. I have the cooled ash about half-full in a 20 litre bucket, fill to the top with water, stir well, let it settle well for several days, then carefully pour the soluate off the top.

Then mix an equal amount of urine, with five times as much clear water. So you end up with 10% urine, 10% stove ash soluate, and 80% water, for a gentle organic 1:1:1 fertilizer that isn't hot enough to burn anything. We had corn in the greenhouse that shot up a foot after giving it an hour of fertigation!

If you're going to put it into an irrigation system, be careful not to pour any of the sludge off with the soluate, or it will clog your emitters!

We mix up a thousand litres in a "tote" and then feed it via a centrifugal well pump into our irrigation system.

Irrigation entryHere is one of three manifolds, one in each 24' x 48' room in the greenhouse. The top valve goes to clear water; the second valve goes to the fertigation tank via the pump. Below that is a four-port garden hose manifold, feeding a manual wind-up timer (no batteries!), a pressure regulator, and a valved "Y" that feeds the two halves of a greenhouse room separately. The main lines are 1" LDPE, the headers coming out of the "Y" are 3/4" LDPE.

Valved drip-lineThe two headers each feed 33 driplines, each 11' long, with a 1 gallon/hour emitter every foot. Each dripline can be controlled individually, so we can have fallow beds without wasting water on them. So either side takes about 300 gallons per hour, which is about the most you can get out of a regular hose outlet. (The entire 3,500 sqft greenhouse is fed by one garden hose!) But we can run half of one room on clear water, while running half of another room on fertigation. Or we can run more than half a room at a time, knowing we're going to get less water out of each emitter and leaving the water on longer.

Greenhouse full of plantsHere is the greenhouse, with 242 cucumbers (left foreground), 121 tomatoes and 121 basil plants (right foreground), and physalis (middle room). The far room has 242 more tomatoes and 242 peppers.

Hope this is helpful.

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Wendy S. Delmater
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You have to be careful

You have to be careful using ash. I learned this in my master gardener course. Trees are miners, constantly bringing up minerals, but they also bring up salts - and the salts can build up.

I use ash sparingly. It also lowers the pH of your soil, which is not necessarily a bad thing but there is a pH range most pants need to do efficient mineral uptake (major and minor nutrients) and slanting the pH too far to the "base" range can harm plants.

We heat with wood, and have plenty of wood ash, but test for pH before using it. And it should never be used on certain plants that require acidic soil, like blueberries.

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Bytesmiths
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Wendy S. Delmater wrote:You

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:
You have to be careful using ash.

Thanks for the reminder.

Unless you live in an arid region with calciferous soils, you probably have the opposite problem. Annual agriculture, with annual ploughing and subsequent low organic material, tends to make for acidic soil, as does silaceous or clay soils and adequate rainfall.

So most people don't have to worry about getting their ph too high if they are working with their local soil that has been in agriculture for some time. If in doubt, get a soil test kit or even a cheap ph meter. Ones designed for garden use are under $20.

Be careful if you use other amendments. Potting soil and such have been balanced to a neutral ph, and might be pushed basic with wood ash. And as Wendy mentions, keep acid-loving plants happy. We save all our coffee grounds (very acidic!) for blueberry mulch!

But unless you live in an area with basic soils, careful use of ash should not be a problem. Treat it like you would lime, and you should be okay.

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