Jean-Martin Fortier, a micro-farmer and educator also known as the Market Gardener, presented a workshop through the Yale Sustainable Food Project Speaker Series on December 2, 2014. Fortier, a native to Quebec, specializes in organic and biologically intense practices that allow him to cultivate only 1.5 acres of land, yet still gross more than $100,000 per acre.
Fortier began by explaining his journey to farming. While studying at McGill University, he and his wife were inspired to go to Cuba, where they had learned about their successful use of permanent raised beds without the reliance of fossil fuels at any point during production. Lessons learned in Cuba set the stage for Fortier’s own designs back in Quebec, where he currently standardizes his practice to:
- a total of 10 fields
- 30-inch wide permanent beds
- bed lengths of 100-feet
- aisle spacing of 18-inches
Fortier emphasized that this design largely contributed to his success. Standardization allows him to reuse materials, such as tarps and remay, at any given location on his farm. 18-inch aisles allow just enough space in the rows without giving away too much for paths, but also without being too cramped. 30-inch beds require Fortier to plant more bio-intensely as well as creatively.
The Market Gardener explained that when he plants his 30-inch beds with biologically intensive cropping practices, plant growth results in a canopy over the soil, which retains moisture and nutrients. While some might argue that this would result in a smaller product, Fortier showed how as long as there is soil depth and structure to allow for the plants to deeply root themselves, they will not compete with one another for resources. On the farm, he also lightly harrows the soil about 1 inch down which both helps to support soil structure and a healthy earthworm environment. Fortier compared rototilling the soil overtime to putting it in a blender, which renders it much more difficult for the plants’ roots to reach down as far.
On such a small plot of land, Fortier also has to be creative with his planting practices. Many local farmers may already be familiar with a few of the techniques he uses, such as trellising cucumbers and grafting tomatoes, but he also talked about a few other interesting experiments: growing onions in groups of 3 to maximize space and burying leeks rather than hilling them to produce a longer white stalk. He rotates the crops in his 10 different fields counterclockwise each year and plans their placement depending on where they can receive the maximum amount of nutrients based on which plant was previously there. Fortier mentioned that this careful planning is what supports the efficient functionality of his farm. He transplants everything to allow for quick transitions between crops and to also give the plants a head start on weeds. Fortier explained that this practice is more for weed prevention rather than control, and that UV-treated silage tarps are also essential in his weed prevention practices.
In addition to all of this information, Fortier shared many anecdotes and images from his farm while he delivered his inspiring workshop. He also talked about various tools that help him on his tractor-free farm, and describes them in depth on his website. Fortier continues to educate people through speaking tours, workshops, conferences, the media and his book, The Market Gardener.