Many people believe that a small-scale market garden can’t compete economically with larger industrial growers. For more than a decade, however, my wife and I have supported our four-person family solely by intensively farming 1.5 acres. We offer our experience here as a road map to help you start your own successful market farm.
We began our farming careers as “WWOOFers” (volunteers with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and later worked as farm managers on someone else’s market farm. After we spent some time learning abroad, we came home to Quebec to pursue our own farming project. We started small by growing produce on one-fifth of an acre and by living simply — in a tipi!
After a few years, we longed to put down roots in the community and expand our farm, but we needed to generate income. To make payments on a small plot, fund the construction of a modest home, and cover the expenses that surround a growing family and business, we made a decision that might sound contradictory to economic growth: we decided to stay small.
We wanted to continue relying on inexpensive hand tools and light power tools. We even named our farm Les Jardins de la Grelinette after la grelinette (“broadfork”), a tool that epitomizes efficient hand labor in organic gardening. We’ve always believed that it’s possible — even preferable — to intensify production through smart gardening techniques. Our motto became “Grow better instead of bigger.”
A Biologically Intensive Approach to Market Gardening
We began by investing in a large quantity of organic matter to create rich, living soil. We continue to add compost regularly, while restricting the tilling of the soil to the surface. This method keeps the soil’s structure as intact as possible. By improving the soil’s structure, we’ve been able to sow crops close together, resulting in higher yields and reduced weed growth.
We further maximized our growing space by planting as many succession crops as possible. To make a crop-rotation plan, we had to first determine the length of time each crop would spend in the garden, and then schedule our plantings so we could replace harvested crops with new plants or seeds as soon as possible. With our crop-rotation plan in hand, we succeeded in producing multiple harvests from the same permanent garden beds.
Use a Walk-Behind Tractor for Maximum Production
We wanted to avoid the investment necessary for maintaining a large, four-wheeled tractor, so we rely on a small-but-mighty walk-behind tractor with multiple detachable implements.
Read the full article by Jean-Martin Fortier here.