Permaculture Hamilton

Theresa McCuaig's Urban Permaculture News Aggregation & Commentary

Review of Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener

Jean-Martin Fortier, The Market Gardener, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, 2014, ISBN 9780865717657, $24.95. Preview: Originally published in French as Le jardinier-maraîcher by Les Éditions Écosociété, Saint-Laurent, Québec, 2012, ISBN 9782897190033, $30.

▶ Jean-Martin Fortier on starting to farm – YouTube.

Reluctant celebrity Jean-Martin Fortier is a 36-year-old farmer from St-Armand, Québec, where he and his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, routinely perform agricultural miracles on just 1.5 acres. Their Fortiers started their farm, Les Jardins de la Grelinette, for a mere $39,000 (much of which was grant money). Remarkably, the farm turned a profit its first year, and now produces $140,000 in sales during their nine-month growing season, with a 40% profit margin ($56,000). Hence, the Fortiers can take the whole winter off to ski and enjoy their two children. The real inspiration is that the Fortier family work with hand tools only — no expensive tractors, mechanized equipment, or indentured work gangs required.

Fortier writes with the precision that is the trademark of McGill University graduates. His academic but accessible approach is a pleasant contrast to chatty, “purple” permaculture books full of New Age vapour, whose authors omit the necessary Latin names of plants, and blather on about nonexistent “aleopathy” when they really mean “allelopathy“. If you enjoy reading Eric Toensmeier’s detailed books, then you will enjoy The Market Gardener. Where other no-till authors make vague, generic recommendations, Fortier shaves off a lot of research time for the reader by specifying the best suppliers, cultivars, and tools, and estimating costs. He recommends cheap, labour-saving devices, such as a power harrow, flame weeder, wheel hoe, tarpaulins, broadforks, drill-powered salad harvester, and row covers. Even a complete newbie can understand Fortier’s text easily because of its extensive glossary and crop notes. His annotated bibliography provides shortcuts to the best resources for garden planning, farm finance, soil health, insect and disease control, ponds, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) networks. It is rare to find a how-to book so specifically geared to the needs of the Canadian market gardener.

Fortier does not restrict himself to techniques from those icons of permaculture, Bill Mollison, Masanobu Fukuoka, and Sepp Holzer. He is an eclectic farmer, cherry-picking methods from the highly productive market gardens of Paris in 1845, and modern methods from Eliot Coleman, John Jeavons, and Will Allen. Permaculture purists may balk, but Fortier has successfully interwoven many strands to make that coveted $140,000 to sustain his family. The permaculture nuclei of ‘obtain a yield’, ‘small and slow’ and ‘observe and interact’ are still at the centre of The Market Gardener. Think of Geoff Lawton’s analogy of permaculture as a clothes wardrobe, and the various techniques of gardening as the useful hangers sporting outfits within that wardrobe. Selecting the right gardening technique for your specific site is as crucial as selecting the appropriate article of clothing to suit weather conditions. We should not fear mixing techniques because ‘it’s not pure permaculture’.

The Market Gardener warns the wanna-be farmer against common mistakes, such as:

  • Choosing a site for its great view, rather than its utility
  • Laying out paths that will waste time through unnecessary walking
  • Forgetting presentation is important; leaving the tops on carrots to indicate freshness makes the consumer choose your bunch, rather than your competitor’s organic but denuded carrots
  • Working unnecessarily; employ tarps to solarize weeds, rather than hand-weeding
  • Neglecting to work for a farmer for a year to learn the trade properly
  • Buying rather than renting land; make your initial mistakes at someone else’s expense, before investing heavily in your own land
  • The Market Gardener is a clear, concise, eminently usable book for seasoned gardeners seeking small-scale retirement jobs, or impoverished young gardeners who do not want to take on huge debts at the start of their careers. Fortier provides idiot-proof directions for start-up farmers who just want to work 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. in standardized, 30-inch raised beds, for nine months of the year. Reading The Market Gardener is like conversing with your own habitant advisor because the author anticipates so many of the reader’s questions. Small wonder FarmStart chose The Market Gardener as its premier textbook. Highly recommended!

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