The local food and farm-to-table movements are pushing forward a whole new generation of farmers; farmers who look at farming in a completely different way than the traditional mega-agriculture farmer would. Instead of using sprawling landscapes, these greenjeans are concentrating on the most efficient use of even the smallest plot of land, getting a lot of bang for their buck and a lot of food to the market. For them, working the soil is a combination of honest hard work, a love of what they do, and a smart business model – the end results of which create the best of both worlds where farmers actually feed people and make money.
This new farming model is filmmaker Olivier Asselin and Possible Media’s latest video offering, “The Market Gardener’s Toolkit,” where they follow farmer Jean-Martin Fortier through the daily functioning of his Quebec farm, sharing his knowledge of operating a successful farm on 1.5 acres. The film, designed specifically as a video tutorial for those desiring to enter the world of farming for profit, removes the mystery from veggie rearing and opens up a whole new world of modern farming.
From the very first chapter,“The Market Gardener’s Toolkit,” takes a no nonsense, high common sense approach to farm design, management, and food production. Fortier focuses on the “three E’s” of farming: environment, economy, and efficiency. The majority of tools they use on his farm are hand tools, with only one multipurpose Rototiller-style, gas powered tool that uses under $300 of gasoline yearly; such low equipment costs ensure few barriers into entering the honorable profession of farming. Some equipment can even be custom-built on the cheap (like the canister vacuum powered tray seeder Fortier demonstrates) and are pure Yankee ingenuity (or pure Canadian ingenuity, in this case).
The meat and potatoes of this video (well, at least, the potatoes part) clearly defines everything one needs to know about successfully running a market garden farm. Fortier outlines in detail land requirements, equipment, startup costs, farm design, marketing the product, resources, potential pitfalls, and everything in between. Some of the most valuable information he provides is the reasoning behind their best practices, and why taking a different approach than his may or may not work for you.
Fortier also gives you the tools to customize your approach so that you have measurable and consistent success. For example, he standardizes his vegetable beds to serve as a unit of measure; this allows him to calculate yields and inputs on his crops with a very small margin of error, thereby removing some of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that normally plague the traditional farmer. Such standardization also lends itself to making other things on the farm easier to implement and duplicate, such as irrigation, greenhouse length and width, row cover requirements, and rotation of crops each season.
And what to do with those crops once they’ve been harvested? Fortier also covers all processes that follow harvesting, including cleaning, bundling, storage, transport, marketing and sales of his crops. The film approaches farming with an eye to vertical integration, from the soil prep to the end sale of product. With each concept, Fortier sows the seeds of the future farmer’s success by leaving nothing to chance; the inputs of time, materials, and manpower have all been calculated with the business acumen of a Wharton graduate, and tempered with almost Amish common sense. Fortier has had plenty of practice condensing his considerable field knowledge prior to filming; his book, "The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower's Handbook for Small-scale Organic Farming," has sold over 70,000 copies.
Possible media’s previous successes include ”The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic,” "Permaculture Skills: A Cold-Climate, Applied Permaculture Design Course," and "The Art and Science of Natural Plaster," both of which incorporated dense information with striking visual appeal. True to form, Asselin and Possible Media have again delivered a clean, crisp, fresh DIY tutorial that is both attractive to the eye, and to the ear. The flyovers of the farm, and the macro views of the rich garden environment would entice even the brownest thumb to try their hand at farming the land. The film style is lively and dynamic, and even static shots where Fortier is explaining the method at hand are not boring. Add to that the whimsical artistic drawings announcing each chapter, and a toe tapping soundtrack that would inspire even the most jaded composter, and “The Market Gardener’s Toolkit,” makes for an attractive education in profitable farming practice.
Making your own distilled spirits has been a largely ignored area in the DIY market, and not since Prohibition has there been serious interest in “homebrewed hooch” until now. With local microbreweries and wineries popping up everywhere, it was only a matter of time until people’s interest turned to the harder liquors, the fine spirits market, and a surge of enthusiasm for home distilling. Indulging that hobby, however, is not easy. It requires a still, fire, is illegal to do in some states, and is a gray area with very little good information…at least until Victoria Redhed Miller’s latest book, "Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home" hit the bookstores.
So, how does one make a smooth dark rum, a single malt scotch, or a kickin’ tequila without poisoning yourself or blowing up your house in a still explosion? Miller, an avid do-it-yourselfer, went on the quest to answer those questions and documented the entire process, soup to nuts; all her hard work has made for an exceptional book that anyone can use to make the booze of their dreams.
Miller begins with a short history lesson on the “what” and “why” of liquor and liquor law (while making a most excellent case for Federal legalization of home distilling), but quickly progresses into the “how” of still construction and operation. She details every step of still assembly clearly so that even the least mechanically-inclined can duplicate her process. She also explains the liquor lingo of “heads”, “tails”, and other alcohol-related nomenclature as she moves through building, cleaning, testing, and using her distiller to make numerous spirits. Ingredients, mashing, fermentation, and aging are all covered thoroughly; Miller generously shares all of her experimentation, both successful and failed, and garnishes the lessons learned with a twist of humor.
As a bonus, Miller includes a chapter on boozy peripherals, such as the classic mixers of bitters, syrups, homemade tonic water (the real stuff without the high fructose corn syrup, mind you), and even maraschino cherries. The recipes included for these mixologist necessities are a pleasant bonus; even if you have no desire to build your own still, you might just want to make the best ginger syrup on the planet.
Miller’s chapter on the economics of liquor make for an interesting lesson that no farmer (or government) should ignore. Her concise, almost balance sheet-like analysis shows how anyone with extra fruit or grain could easily pad their wallet with a bit of networking and resourcefulness. Miller closes a farm-to-table loop that’s usually left open to waste by connecting the dots between the produce grower, the distiller, and the stockyard; information like that could easily keep more farmers in business and improve the overall economy of the United States.
Miller moves easily between the history, science, and implementation of creating homecrafted hard liquor, intertwining the three into an easy read on a difficult topic. If you’ve made your own wine but were intimidated by raising your game to include brandy or kirsch, fear not – this book was written with you in mind. All told, "Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home" condenses a vast amount of hard liquor information into a great read that goes down like a Château de Montifaud cognac – smooth, easy, and leaving you wanting some more.