Patrice Gros farms on just a half an acre of beds in northern Arkansas without ever tilling the soil. And while it sounds like gardening, he’s definitely farming, grossing $80,000 a year from the crops he grows. Founded in 2006, Foundation Farm builds on ten years of experimentation with various methods for growing organic vegetables, and markets produce through farmers markets, retail stores, and a small CSA.
It’s worth noting that Patrice keeps a pretty sharp pencil, and rakes in a 70% profit margin doing all of his farming in just three mornings a week with a small crew. And I do want to emphasize, the no-till farming that Patrice does isn’t just an occasional no-till crop here and there. He doesn’t own a tractor or a tiller, and doesn’t even use a broadfork on his soils.
We dig in to – or rake in to – the details of how he manages his system, from scheduling and weed control to fertility management. Along the way, we explore how Patrice has planned his farming operation around his family’s needs, how he evaluates crop profitability, and his efforts to balance productivity and quality of life with his employees.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
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Quotes from the Show
The only thing that [touches] my soil is a rake to prepare the beds, and trowels and small transplanting devices.
If you bring all of the different situations that are absent of work, you’ll reduce your labor, you’ll reduce your need for machines and for time spent. And the bottom line of all that is to become immensely profitable.
No till means that I use a lot of organic matter, and I layer that organic matter on a regular basis.
Make this work based on your calculations of yield and money. Don’t make it a sentimental, emotional decision, make it a money decision.
The true no-till structure is made of the most pristine and nature-based aggregate that has this bacterial glue that creates this crumbliness that is not what you get from a tilled soil. It doesn’t matter how much compost you till in, it doesn’t matter how much cover crop you play with, you will never get to the structure of no-till soil.
A really challenging thing for the farmer is to balance the sense of this is a professional place… and this is also a place to enjoy life.
I have a very keen knowledge of my profitability. I do not grow corn, and I do not grow okra, and I do not grow strawberries, because they are simply not profitable enough. I love strawberries, but I will not sacrifice my square footage of soil to a crop that can make only half the money that arugula or basil makes on the same space.
I was so lost in the passion of gardening… that I lost the sense of what it took to make quite a bit of money.
You have to align your farming scale to the lifestyle that you have decided for yourself.
The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, by Scott and Helen Nearing.
The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka