Designing the Market Farms for Success with Jean-Martin Fortier – Part 1 of 3


Market gardening is a vital part of the local food movement. If enough people become serious about it, market gardening could replace large-scale vegetable production. This has the potential to improve overall soil health as well as human health. 

Many young people are interested in agriculture but have trouble entering the industry. For budding market gardeners, it can be nothing short of daunting to look at an established, well-organized farm and imagine being able to do something similar. 

But many seasoned growers have been building their farms for thirty or forty years, while young people who are interested usually have no cash and therefore can’t make the jump. The farms they’ll be in competition with are just too big. 

Small-scale Farming 

Jean-Martin Fortier is an avid advocate of small-scale farming because it’s a great way for young (and not-so-young) people to get into farming. You can have a successful business on a small farm with low acreage, low start-up costs, and low overhead costs. 

How? By having a lean farm design and good management practices

You’ll need to learn the skills to be a good grower. It’s going to be a trial-and-error endeavor of growing and selling various crops. You’ll make mistakes along the way, but you’ll surely learn from those mistakes to become an even better grower. 

Learning from Mistakes 

JM and his wife, Maude-Hélène, had no preconceptions about farming when they started. They worked with another farmer for a while who was seen as a hero of his community—he was the salad king whose greens people would line up to buy. 

They were so enamored with farming that when they returned to Quebec they started a market garden on a fifth of an acre of rented land. They had no tractors. They farmed only with hand tools, planted seeds by hand, and lived in a teepee for two years. 

They made their mistakes and learned from them. When they had saved enough money to purchase their own piece of land, they already had a solid idea of how to start designing their farm. 

Key Experiences Fundamental to the Farm’s Design and Evolution

Cuba and the Organoponicos. When JM and Maude-Hélène visited Cuba, the people were farming in organoponicos: raised cement-contoured beds of densely planted crops. Organoponicos were all over the place—inside and outside the cities and in the countryside. The cement structure helped retain soil moisture. 

The organoponicos proved one thing: farming on permanent beds with biointensive, densely planted crops works. 

France and Soil Health. JM and Maude-Hélène also visited farms in France, where they observed intensive glasshouse production. The French have a tradition of cultivating small plots in their homes and directly selling their produce to outlets. 

The take-home lesson from France for JM was to not overwork the soil. If you want to build up your soil over time, never use a rototiller. Rototillers destroy soil health and create soil compaction that takes years to undo. In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about several design factors, including permanent beds and equipment.

You can learn more in this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart with market gardener Jean-Martin Fortier:

And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.

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