Monday October 5th, 2020

The Market Gardener: Earning a good living from small-scale farming

Photo: The Market Gardener.

The Canadian ‘Rock-Star Farmer’ says there has never been a better time to get into growing.

“It’s time to reinvent agriculture, and make it human scale and profitable.” So says Jean-Martin Fortier, who has achieved international acclaim for his ventures in small-scale organic agriculture. He argues that it is possible to make a good living out of farming less than 2 acres. That message, spread through a best-selling book, many media appearances, events and tours, has earned Jean-Martin the sort of fame not usually enjoyed by horticulturalists; some have even dubbed him “The Rockstar Farmer.”

Jean-Martin set up Les Jardins de la Grelinette, together with his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, in St Armand, Quebec, Canada. It is a thriving micro-farm which produces fresh, organic and nutritionally dense food at a higher rate of productivity than conventional farms, while improving the health and biodiversity of the local ecosystem and contributing towards a more ecologically friendly future in farming. Founded in 2004, Les Jardins de la Grelinette rapidly achieved international attention for its incredible productivity and profitability, even though only 1.5 of its 10 acres are cultivated in permanent beds. The farm produces enough food to feed over 200 families per year through weekly vegetable boxes and CSA shares; a system in which consumers invest in the farm and share the costs of production, and in return receive regular supplies of fresh, local food. Les Jardins de la Grelinette grosses over C$100,000 per acre and has operating margins of around 60%; it has commonly been quoted as being able to “produce five times more on a surface five times smaller.” Jean-Martin Fortier says its success demonstrates that small-scale, bio-intensive farming can easily compete with or even surpass the productivity of traditional large-scale crop-farms. And it may make you happier, too: “The goal is to increase production but also the quality of life each year. We want to produce more while working less.”, says Jean Martin.

Jean-Martin Fortier. Photo: The Market Gardener.

Maude-Hélène Desroches studied environmental studies at university; the aim being to pursue a lifestyle which would have a positive impact on the environment. She believes that local organic farming does just this: “It is important to inspire humans to live in harmony with nature. I see in regenerative agriculture a source of hope for the future and positive impacts in our communities.” Fortier and Desroches’ micro-farm takes its name from a traditional gardening tool, the ‘grelinette’ or broadfork. This tool is used to manually break up densely packed soil to improve aeration and drainage, without disrupting the structure of the soil layers and so preserving the ecosystems within. For this reason, the grelinette is an effective tool for a ‘no-dig’ farm system; a method of farming which the couple implement on their farm.

The farm operates on a human-scale, bio-intensive model, where crops are grown over small areas and intensively to make the most of the abundant resources provided by the soil. By very sparing use of machines, they reduce their carbon emissions, while trapping organic carbon through the biodiverse ecosystems they develop. This is an example of ‘regenerative agriculture’; a method of farming which enriches the natural ecosystems locally by improving biodiversity, soil health and watersheds, all of which also contribute to higher crop yields. The microfarm produces over 40 varieties of vegetables, alongside free-range meat cattle, chickens and pigs; all of which are sold locally.

To inspire others, Jean-Martin wrote a book called The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming, which, by 2020 had sold 170,000 copies worldwide, published in 8 languages and won numerous awards and accolades from leaders in the field. In it, he argues that farmers can earn six figures on just a few acres of land; a message which should appeal to young people who want to farm sustainably but who worry they won’t make a real living. “More and more people are becoming sensitive to the problems of big agriculture, and they are turning to small growers to provide the answers. Therefore, there’s never been a better time to get into farming; our world needs more farmers. We need to replace mass production with production by the masses.”

La Ferme des Quatre Temps. Photo: The Market Gardener.

Jean-Martin and his innovative methods have received widespread media attention; tools which they have used to further spread the word about small-scale, organic agriculture, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Fortier’s book was the inspiration for his online course, developed and released in 2017, which has been taken by thousands of students from 56 countries; the aim being to create a global community of like-minded people with the ultimate goal of increasing the popularity of small, local, fresh-food production worldwide. Fortier says, “Today’s small-scale organic vegetable producers face a real vacuum when it comes to acquiring training in the cutting-edge techniques. The Market Gardener’s Masterclass is an online course where, through written and video instruction, they can get the exact methodology, tools and techniques I use to grow crops successfully. The goal is to take their market gardening to the next level.” Alongside his book and online course, Jean-Martin and his team invite interns to their farm to learn through a hands-on experience, where trainees participate in the working life of the farm, and so learn the techniques and methods which have made Les Jardins de la Grelinette successful. Jean-Martin has developed an extensive online catalogue of hand tools which work effectively at small-scales and preserve the integrity of the local ecosystems. Jean-Martin insists: “Good tools can make all the difference in the success of a gardener-marketer. On our farm, we have experimented for over a decade with different tools and techniques to find out what really works.”

In 2015, Jean-Martin was invited by the business investor André Desmarais to advise on production at La Ferme des Quatre Temps; an experimental farm whose goal is to prove that small-scale ecological farming methods can be more productive and profitable than those of conventional agriculture. La Ferme consists of four acres of bio intensively farmed land, 60 acres of rotational animal grazing and large greenhouses to grow vegetables year-round. Biodiversity has been boosted by planting flowers, digging ponds and building birdhouses and beehives; providing natural pollination sources and pest-control. The farm already supplies several Montreal restaurants with fresh, organic vegetables, but at affordable prices – a fully sustainable model of farming which Jean-Martin and Mr Desmarais wish to popularise. “We’re looking for a way to both make money and produce good, competitively priced, nutritious food for a healthier society,” says Mr Desmarais. They hope to produce a farm shop comparative to a ‘general store’, where consumers can buy locally grown organic meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and freshly made products.

Jean-Martin said: “My mission is to inspire, educate and empower people to work together towards multiplying the number of small ecological farms all over the world. This, I believe, is how we can replace the poison and destruction of industrial agriculture with a food system based in nature and community. Food that is grown with care, by and for people who care,” says Jean-Martin.

If you want to find out more about The Market Gardener, you can visit their website at:


Categories: Pioneer model farms. Tags: market gardener model and pioneer model.
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