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Fortier relays farming story to NOFA-NJ

By JANE PRIMERANO
AFP Correspondent

NEW BRUNSWICK (Feb. 15, 2015) — Jean-Martin Fortier’s bottom line is “a farm doesn’t need to be big to be profitable.”
He is proving that to be true on his farm in Quebec.
Fortier was keynote speaker at the 27th annual winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey.
He said he became a successful organic farmer almost by accident. After studying environmental science, he decided he wanted to do something “hands-on and positive” so he traveled and volunteered on a small organic farm, then did an internship in Santa Fe, N.M.
On a visit to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, he met the Salad King of Santa Fe and was amazed at how much profit he was making.
After a stint at a Montessori School with a farm attached, he went back to his native Quebec inspired to start a market farm.
He rented land, put up a tipi which he moved into.
“I chose the site for the view, but it was a north slope,” he said.
He made $12,000 the first year and $30,000 the second.
Not wanting to spend the winter in a tipi in Quebec, he traveled.
“I went to Cuba because there is no fossil fuel after the Soviet Union fell,” he said. “They had to reinvent farming.” He liked their use of raised beds of dense crops. A trip to France was another lesson in intensive farming. Because so much of France is built up, land cannot be left fallow.
Back in Canada, Fortier found 10 acres of land, which became Broadfork Farm.
Seven acres is woodlot and two and one-half are prairie.
Fortier and his wife, Maude-Helene Desroches, worked on converting a rabbit house into their home over the first winter.
From the beginning, Fortier said, he wanted the farm to produce two incomes and he didn’t want a winter job.
The cornerstone of the system that makes this work is permanent raised beds, he said.
The beds are 30-inches and the paths are 18 inches, just the right width for wheelbarrows. Fortier made sure all of his tools are suitable for the 30-inch beds.
Fortier also relies on natural methods. “I get the earthworms to till. I replaced mechanical tillage with biologic tillage,” he said. “The employee of the month is always the earthworm.” He explained he doesn’t keep a no-till farm, but rather a “minimum till.”
He explained how he planned everything on the farm for maximum efficiency.
He has a two-wheel walk-behind tractor, a power harrow and a flail mower rather than any bigger power equipment.
He advocates simple hand tools.
His house and storage building are in the middle of the property and all field lots are close to the washing station.
He built a greenhouse to start with and several hoop houses later on to help extend his season.
“Good design is critical,” he said, noting on a small parcel of land he has to maximize every inch of space.
Crops are planted close together to provide a canopy to shade against weeds and retain moisture in the soil.
“The leaves of the crop touch each other at three-quarters growth,” Fortier said.
The farm’s namesake, the broadfork, is a gentle tool, he said, that doesn’t disturb the ecology.
He also credits using compost with woodchips for keeping his soil in good shape.
For transplanting, he uses a paper pot transplanter that can adjust spacing to 2- 4- and 6-inches.
Fortier has a dog to patrol for deer, but “he’s not as efficient as he gets older.”
His methods work. With one and one-half acres in permanent beds, he operates a 140-family CSA and attends two farm markets 20-weeks out of the year.
He has achieved what he has wanted since he was influenced by the Santa Fe farmers’ market. “
There I interacted with a crowd of people eager to buy produce from us. I have that now,” he said.
Broadfork Farm grosses $150,000 with a 45 percent profit margin.
Four people work on the farm from March through December, he said.
“I used to travel in the winter until my book tour,” he said, referring to The Market Gardener which was a best-seller. “Now I go to conferences.”