Some of the takeaways from Fortier's speech were as follows: He said small farmers should change the way they grow so that there's more attention to regenerative agriculture that focuses on the importance of soil biology to plant growth and brings nature back into the system of farming. He said, “What we need is food grown with care, by and for people who care.” He sees agriculture essentially as applied ecology on a daily basis which is ecological, human-scale, profitable, and nourishing.
According to Fortier, it isn't a farmer's job to feed the world. And he finds it absurd that many U.S.-based food and agriculture companies tell farmers they should do so. “Feeding the world? People in Africa don’t need the U.S. to feed them.” What we need, he argues, is small farms feeding their communities, and that task is difficult enough.
Fortier, born and raised in Quebec, began farming with his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, as interns and WWOOFers. Years later, they started their own project on rented land. Like many others, they dreamed of farming on their own land and worked hard to make that a reality.
Fortier’s philosophy is “grow better, not bigger.” Better to him means not only better food that is grown in better soil, but it also means a better quality of life. He prides himself on the fact that he can take winter vacations with his family.
The couple’s approach to growing food is what Fortier refers to as “biologically intensive,” incorporating permaculture methods like conservation tillage, building permanent beds (as opposed to creating new ones every season), and crop rotation. And, like many young farmers growing in colder climates, he cites Eliot Coleman as an inspiration.
The Market Gardener gives the aspiring farmer the sense that they can pick up the book and follow it step-by-step to start their own farm. The book begins by explaining Fortier’s approach to small-scale farming and ranges from tips on how to choose a site to designing the layout. “The aim is to organize the different workspaces—inside and outside—so that the workflow will be as efficient, practical, and ergonomic as possible,” he says.
He troubleshoots through difficult topics and makes suggestions on how to fertilize organically, start seeds, manage weeds, insect pests, and diseases to practical advice on harvesting: “In order to avoid having to fetch more elastic bands in case we miss some, we always carry an extra box in our harvest cart.”
In the book, he has an entire chapter dedicated to minimum tillage and appropriate machinery, like the broadfork and the two-wheel tractor. (The couple provides detailed information about all the tools they use and where to get them on their website.) The broadfork is the namesake of their farm, explains Fortier. “The broadfork traces its origin back to the grelinette, a tool invented in France by André Grelin in the 1960s,” he says. “We named our business, Les Jardins de la Grelinette, after the tool because it is so emblematic of our philosophy of efficient, environmentally sound, manual gardening.”
Fortier’s approach to basic skills and design concepts can be used all over the world. Fortier and Desroches have spent time on farms in Cuba, Mexico, and New Mexico which he sites as inspiration. “We had been to Cuba, and we had seen acres and acres of farms running on permanent beds without tractors and thought that was a brilliant way to do it,” says Fortier.
These practices are commonly used in South America and Africa on both small- and large-scale farms, but they are far from mainstream in North America, and could have a big impact on farm productivity.
“My message is that if you want to get into farming, this is a pretty bright way to do it without a lot of input. And you can make a living,” said Fortier.
We enjoyed having the chance to hear Fortier speak. In a future blog post, we plan to share the insights and practical information we gained from the workshops we attended at the conference.