The author takes the reader into a journey to discover how one can set up a proftable micro-farm on just 1.5 acres. The market gardener is a compendium that shows how in ten years the author and his wife have been able to set up their farm with proven horticultural techniques and innovative growing methods.
This complete guide is packed with practical information on: Setting-up a micro-farm by designing biologically intensive cropping systems, all with negligible capital outlay; farming without a tractor and minimizing fossil fuel inputs through the use of the best hand tools, appropriate machinery and minimum tillage practices; growing mixed vegetables systematically with attention to weed and pest management, crop yields, harvest periods and pricing approaches.
Inspired by the French intensive tradition of maraichage and by iconic American vegetable grower Eliot Coleman, author and farmer Jean-Martin shows by example how to start a market garden and make it both very productive and profitable. Making a living wage farming without big capital outlay or acreages may be closer than you think.
Jean-Martin is becoming a big name in the market gardening community through Canada and the States, and his name is crossing oceans. We can say without error he sits close to Eliot Coleman and John Jeavons for many positive results he has obtained.
The author is a man that has been into market gardening for the past ten years, well now its thirteen, and has proved that growing food can be profitable and more than satisfactory.
When we search his name up we nearly certainly encounter big discussions about how Jean-Martin demonstrated that just in a few years he broke the 100.000 dollars earning barrier and has since then kept up with such rates.
But is this what has to take interest for the reader? No, in my opinion we can't look at Jean-Martin's story and think it is necessarily exportable everywhere, and with that income.
Growing vegetables is no easy and relaxing work. So what is it that Jean-Martin has shared so well that makes us want to read this book, and catches our thoughts. We seek something else reading this book.
The author explains how he managed to set up a micro farm on 1.5 acres of land and make it become his and his wives work. First thing we're speaking of 1.5 acres! And thats what really hits our minds, it’s not how much he earns with his yield but how much he has been capable of growing on such a small piece of land. Jean-Martin is in fact a very serious advocate of intensive cropping, like I said he sits close Jeavons and Coleman, having demonstrated a long with many others that intensive cropping is a solution.
There is more to his story though, it’s not only about intensive cropping, and that is what really grows through the whole book, and accompanies the reader from start to end. Jean-Martin and his wife have managed to demonstrate how design, starting from permaculture based design is so important. For design I'm not speaking only about spatial design, how one sets up the beds or the greenhouses, etc. No, I'm speaking of design through time and space, organization, having in mind goals and paths that have to be set to reach those goals. Jean-Martin is not an example because he managed to earn a lot, he is an example because he managed to show how a well-designed lives-work can make one live with his rhythm, doing what he feels best.
This book is about designing consciously, and deciding to do so. Designing on a small acreage has been the real breakthrough for this couple of market gardening practitioners. Designing starting from what are you needs and desires, following up on how you can make them real, that’s what this book shares.
Jean-Martin describes how they managed to evolve and strengthen their project, making it become a work that gives a good living, and more. It’s not only about their lives, because a small farm like theirs shares something strong even with the local community. A part from being in a CSA, and all that comes with that sort of social-economic idea, their farm shares a different way of thinking of food, its production and consumption. We’re speaking of the importance of organically grown food and the importance to have it fresh and produced locally.
Examples of farms like this make communities grow into something different. Luckily these sort of farms are growing!
The book explains how one should search for the right site, and how then to design the farm. The solutions adopted by the author are based on their personal experience.
A small farm doesn’t have a high investment in big machinery, and that helps those that don’t have access to big sums, and don't want to get in debt with banks, to start their business.
Jean-Martin then gets into direct examples of how to design the beds of the garden, maintain soil fertility, and make it grow in the years. He insists, rightly, on the importance of soil fertility that is directly tied to what, when and how we can grow on a farm.
This where the book has to be thought through starting from the readers specific climate. Their choices and solutions may not be viable for all of those that read these pages. But the way they have determined their solutions sets the mark. This is the message we take home: it’s about design and observation.
Crop planning is a very interesting point of the book, because it all starts from that: planning your market needs and relating them to how much space you need for the single vegetables in the beds you have. The author shares their experience and solution in planning.
The strength that lies under the positive story Jean-Martin tells us, is one made of hard work, sweat, errors, and blisters on the hands, let’s be clear! Market gardening is not easy.
I don’t completely adhere to all he has shared in the book, my discordance with the author is when he speaks about the natural fertilizers he uses on the farm, he tells us he buys dried and pelletized poultry manure.
I want to quote the paragraph: “From having heard it so many times from interns who’ve worked at our farm, I know many aspiring vegetable growers tend to express concern about the origins of such poultry manure. It does come from farms where birds are raised intensively in confinement. To a certain degree, it also acts like a fertilizer more than an organic amendment, which seems to emulate conventional agriculture in its principle. These are legitimate concerns that deserve deliberation. In the context of our system, I view poultry manure as a supplementary fertilizer needed for optimum plant growth: it reinforces the compost but does not replace it. It is cheap and easy to apply, and gives good results without being contrary to the natural processes of organic fertilization. For such reasons, I feel this proven solution it is called for. Even so, if another product comes around offering the same advantages, I would substitute it without any hesitation.”
My problem is not on the use of poultry manure as a fertilizer, but the way he shares without real concern that the manure comes pelletized from who knows which distance from the farm, but most of all, from farms where the birds live in intensive confinement.
This is the point that disturbs me most. Cheap or not cheap the solution would have to be straightforwardly different.
I’m sorry to have had to underline this, but I think even though I believe it does not undermine the overall importance of the book’s message, it is an important point. I still think this book is worth 8 acorns, but I have to admit I have had to think about the vote, this paragraph could have made it go down to 7 really, but I've wanted to save the rest, that is very significant.
I don’t know how many of us would be willing to make such a compromise in buying poultry manure with that origin, and it could even be, by now, that Jean-Martin has opted for another solution. I for sure hope so.
I give this book 8 out of 10 acorns. Very informative. I am not a market gardener at all, and not trying to maximise production as he does, but it had a lot of useful information for me about specifics of producing food in a climate with a cold winter.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
It provides lots of details of his example of market gardening, and is really useful for someone in a similar climate, with similar resources, to quickly create a profitable market garden. It goes into detail about crop rotations, farm design, the biologically intensive approach, making crops more profitable (e.g. emphasising freshness by selling root vegetables with their leaves on, focusing on crops that need human attention rather than tractors)
I would have really have liked to have heard more about how he first started, farming on smaller amounts of rented land, with no coldroom and none of the expensive stuff that he uses now that he’s more established. I think that for people starting on a smaller scale, we might be getting more from the small comments in the book that say for example that farming for a 30 share CSA and harvesting everything on the delivery day is possible, rather than the “how to start a 1.5 acre farm” example, where the start up costs section is intimidating and we’re left wondering which of these things we actually need if we just want to start small.
I also had some issues with the sustainability of some things the author recommends. There seems to be quite a bit of plastic use, the discussion on poultry manure mentioned in one review above, and I also question whether their most profitable crop of greenhousetomatoes is really worth it, given the energy use involved. Still, I think it is better for people to be using less land, growing without poisons, and being independent of the big agriculture system, even if it might not be the best possible approach.
There is still a lot of relevant information about the requirements of crops, which ones work best on a small scale, soil fertility, tools, and more, and these things are useful for people looking to grow more food for themselves, or farm on a small scale. The author gardens on beds rather than rows, and everything is scaled for hand tools and beds, so I find this aspect of the book really useful, where as many other market gardening books are based on rows.
I recommend this book both to people looking for a blueprint to start more expensive market gardens, and for those wanting to start smaller scale ones. I previously wrote about this style of market gardening as a possible way for people to escape cities and become independent, and I think this book is a really good thing to read for that.