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10 Tips from JM Fortier's Market Gardening Workshop

February 9, 2015

On Wednesday, Feb. 4, four urban farmers and I traveled to Lexington, Ky. to learn from a Canadian market gardener who averages $100,000 of revenue per acre. Jean-Martin (JM) Fortier, author of The Market Gardener, intensively cultivates one and a half acres in Quebec with many rounds of succession planting each season. He walked us through his pre-season planning, soil management, tips for increasing efficiency, and divulged his cost and crop management approach.

The 150-person audience maxed out the workshop's capacity and I found other attendees from Purdue, Indianapolis, and Bloomington, Ind. To capitalize on the learning and enthusiasm, I followed up with the Hoosiers who traveled to the workshop to have them share their most valuable takeaways. 

Special thanks to Indiana Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) and Purdue Extension – Hancock County educator Roy Ballard for supporting our trip and to Community Farm Alliance for organizing the workshop.

Top 10 Tips from JM Fortier’s Talk: Making a Living on 1.5 Acres

Each tip was contributed by a workshop attendee; the tips describe the most interesting and useful information they heard at the daylong workshop.

#1

A huge key to success is prepping your soil from the very beginning and understanding that this will be the basis for all of your plant growth in the future.  JM uses permanent beds, and doesn’t do any earth moving once the beds are established. He focuses on building soil over time. However, reducing tillage does not mean the top layer of the soil is never touched. Cultivating the soil with a hand tool is a critical step for JM to control weeds, break up crusting, and aerate the soil for micro-organism life.” 

Tamara Benjamin, sustainable agriculture and natural resources scientist for Purdue University

#2

My number one takeaway is something I was aware of but am inspired to re-double my effort:  Reduce or eliminate tillage in order to build soil structure and biological activity, especially in order to support a more intensive use of space at the farm.

Tim Dorsey, farm manager for Butler University Center for Urban Ecology Farm

#3

The thing I am still thinking about is the green canopy effect that JM described. He spaces plants so that leaves touch at 75 percent maturity to create a canopy over the bed. The canopy both shades out the weeds and provides earthworms the cool, dark soil they love. It’s a living mulch.” 

Kate Franzman, urban farmer for Growing Places Indy

#4 

"A unique weed control method that JM described was the use of tarps and plastic covering to "pop" weeds before you plant. This is done by covering a bed with a dark, opaque tarp which increases soil temperature and moisture creating ideal weed seed germination conditions. The weed seed germinates under his tarp and then dies without any sunlight to grow. JM uses tarps a great deal on his farm as part of his bed preparation process." 

Emily Toner, urban agriculture educator for Purdue Extension - Marion County. 

#5 

Careful planning is essential.” 

Amy Matthews, urban farmer and owner of South Circle Farm

#6 

It is important to walk through the process of crop planning by setting financial objectives, estimating what you plan to sell, and creating a sales chart with time and space dimensions  to determine a crop succession plan. This helps with seed orders and estimating farm management needs during the growing season.” 

Daniel Garcia, Indianapolis resident and urban grower

#7 

JM standardized all of his bed sizes, 30” x 100’. By maintaining the beds in a standardized measure you can lower your costs. This translates into many efficiencies on your farm: you always know how big your area is, the equipment such as drip irrigation is cut to the same length, you can standardize your inputs and yields, etc.” 

Tamara Benjamin, sustainable agriculture and natural resources scientist for Purdue University

#8 

"There are so many new tools, resources, and techniques being developed now--it's a good time to be a small farmer!” 

Amy Matthews, urban farmer and owner of South Circle Farm

(New tool examples from the talk: Paper Pot Transplanter and Quick Cut Lettuce Harvester)

#9 

"There was a huge source of content not just in what the speaker has to say, but also the attendees. I met farmers from Tennessee, Kentucky, Indianapolis, and Georgia all with different backgrounds, experiences, and challenges.  I was able absorb the situation of others to help develop a business plan for my farm.” 

Daniel Garcia, Indianapolis resident and urban grower

#10 

"It was so incredibly refreshing to see a farmer so honest and open about how they have worked towards making their farm as efficient as possible, while still valuing quality of life. Jean-Martin should be heard by every small acreage farmer across the world. He brings a message of hope to those that struggle with trying to figure out how to make a living off of a very small parcel of land while also confronting many of the challenges he and his wife have had to face as they learned how to "cultivate the soil" and "use the power of soil" to create a complex agroecological system that is social as well as economically sustainable.” 

Tamara Benjamin, sustainable agriculture and natural resources scientist for Purdue University

 

The talk was based on JM Fortier's book, The Market Gardener. If these tips peak your interest, I recommend taking a look at the book.

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