As a farmer who subscribes to the adage “small is beautiful”, it was inspiring to read Jean-Martin Fortier’s book The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming. In it he describes in thorough detail how he and his wife make their sole livelihood on 1.5 acres of land.
All too often within the farming community there is the expectation that a farmer must constantly grow her operation in order to earn enough money. Mr. Fortier completely debunks that argument and shows how it is quite possible to increase profitability without increasing acreage. He does this by continually refining his system. He has thought through every aspect of his operation to make an extremely efficient and profitable farm. And the most amazing part is that he has done this by not simply working himself to death, but by actually enjoying his work and life.
Jean-Martin and his wife own Les Jardins de la Grelinette (The Garden of the Broadfork) in Quebec, Canada. The farm has been their sole source of income for the last ten years. They farm without a four wheel tractor, and they use a two wheel tractor with several implement attachments.
This book is perfect for someone who wants to get into farming but doesn’t have access to a lot of land (which is the case more often than not). He takes the reader from start-up (site selection, garden layout, infrastructure, and equipment) to marketing and covers everything in between (seed starting, soil fertility, tillage, weed management, insect and disease prevention and control, season extension, and harvesting and storage). By focusing on low-cost tools and practices he makes farming – often a daunting profession to jump into – a realistic career choice that doesn’t have to mean mountains of debt.
Mr. Fortier goes into financial detail for each crop. This kind of data is often omitted from farming books, but it is essential information for someone who is seriously thinking about starting a farm. Beginning farmers need to know how much they can expect to earn if they take the plunge into agriculture. In the first year of production their farm grossed $20,000 on a ½ acre plot of land, and their farm now grosses over $130,000 on 1.5 acres. I would have like to have seen a comprehensive balance sheet that shows how much they net.
I also wish Jean-Martin had discussed labor – the elephant in the room. He mentions that they have interns, but he doesn’t talk about how many labor hours they contribute to the farm and how much they affect the bottom line. In addition, as a farmer in the Southern Plains, I found this book lacking some applicability to my operation as my climate is so vastly different from Quebec’s.
Nonetheless, it was encouraging to read about the strategies this young farmer used to achieve success and staying power through small-scale farming. The Market Gardener offers a detailed roadmap for successful farming from which new and established growers alike can profit.
You can learn more about the book at the Market Gardener website.