J.M. Fortier is the author of the award-winning book, The Market Gardener. At his farm in Quebec, J.M. and his wife raise 1 ½ acres of produce in permanent raised beds, grossing over $100,000 per acre. His biologically intensive farming practices have inspired readers around the world to imagine human-scale food systems, with a focus on intelligent farm design, appropriate technologies, and harnessing the power of soil biolog. We talk about how J.M. and his wife came to their farm in Quebec, how they developed their approach to farming, and get into the nitty gritty of farming practices at Les Jardin de la Grelinette, including the proper use of the broadfork, J.M.’s approach to record-keeping, minimum tillage, and where to find the best waves for surfing in Montreal.
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Quotes from the Show
When you’re young sometimes you forget certain important things, [like] a teepee in Quebec is not the same as a teepee in Santa Fe.
It was such a small parcel of land that when we were doing the farm design, just the edge row for the tractor to turn was taking up too much space.
The farms that I had worked on were such a mess, that I was looking for efficiencies early on.
[On a tree planting crew] there’s always one guy or one girl that in the same context is planting double the number of trees that you are… when it was time to farm, I was looking for ways to make myself be efficient in what I’m doing, and design was a natural evolution to that.
On our farm, harvesting is half of the work that we do. Half of the time, we’re down in a squatting position. The fact that we can reach to the middle of our [thirty-inch] beds without hyperextending our backs makes a difference in my overall posture and overall stamina throughout the year.
We figured out that eighteen [inch walkways] is more comfortable and we’re not breaking broccoli heads with our butts. The whole idea with intensifying the production is to have great soil structure so that the root systems can really shoot down and not compete with each other for nutrients and water.
From the get-go, we wanted to derive both of our salaries from our farming operation and we wanted to have a quality of life. Every year we sit down and we would revisit that and we would try to make the farm work in that sense.
We’ve had goats, and we’ve had chickens, and we’ve planted an orchard, and when you’re caring for ten fruit trees it’s the same work as if you’re caring for fifty, except that you’re adding another level of thing to manage. And we’ve thought that the forty vegetables were managing was enough.
One year, we decided to [limit our working hours]. That really changed our farming big time. Just the same as when we had the land constraint really define our operation, when we put a time constraint, it really forced us to deepen our commitment to planning and not wasting time on this or that. The year that we did that, we accomplished more doing less work.
I like planning, and I like when a plan works.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. (attributed to J.M.’s dad)
Broadforking is always good. You can’t overdo it, as long as you’re not inverting the layers.
I think that all of us as organic growers should be paying more attention to the ecosystem of the soil.
I’m a strong advocate of substitutions. Once you get your systems going and you’re making a profit and you’re balancing your workload with your life, now’s a good time to make a chance. If you don’t want to use plastic wait until year seven. But if you’re starting with all of these principles, wow…
If when you’re broadforking, it’s a challenge, then you should be broadforking. It allows you to penetrate the soil, bring air into the soil, open up the soil, but without disturbing any of the ecosystem. It’s a really a gentle tool but it really does the work that deep tillage does.
J.M. is the author of The Market Gardener, which describes his production techniques in detail.
J.M. talked about the influence of Cuba’s organoponicos, as pictured and described here.
J.M. has an in-depth article about the two-wheel tractor-mounted power harrow on the FarmStart website.
“[Ben Hartman’s] The Lean Farm was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.”
We talked about using ramial wood chips in the pathways and their later incorporation into the garden beds. Michael Phillips has a short article about the basics of ramial wood chips.
Besides the broadfork, which his farm is named after, J.M.’s favorite tool is the flame weeder from Flame Weeders. He uses the 5-torch model with a hood.