Jean-Martin Fortier: A Model for Profitable Micro-Farming

As we awaken to the realities in store for us in a future defined by declining net energy, concerns about food security, adequate nutrition, community resilience, and reliable income commonly arise.

Small-scale farming usually quickly surfaces as a pursuit that could help address all of these. Yet most dismiss the idea of becoming farmers themselves; mainly because of lack of prior experience, coupled with lack of capital. It simply feels too risky.

The refrain we most frequently hear is: I think I'd love doing it, but I don't know how I'd make a living.

Enter Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife, Maude-Hélène. They are a thirtysomething couple who have been farming successfully for the past decade. In fact, they've been micro-farming: their entire growing operations happen on just an acre and half of land.

And with this small plot, they feed over 200 families. And do so profitably.

The Fortiers are pioneers of the type of new models we're in such need of for the coming future. Fortunately, they realize this, and are being as transparent about their operations as they can -- in order to educate, encourage and inspire people to join the emerging new generation of small-scale farmers.

They have published a book, The Market Gardener, which is nothing short of an operating manual for their entire business. In it, they reveal exactly what they grow, how they grow it, what tools and farming practices they use, who their customers are, what they charge them, and how much profit they take home at the end of the day.

A quick summary of the numbers from their 1.5 acre operation:

  • 2013 revenue: $140,000
  • Customer sales breakdown:
    • CSA operations (140 members): 60%
    • Farmer's markets (2): 30%
    • Restaurants/grocery stores: 10%
  • Staff: 2 paid employees + the Fortiers
  • 2013 Expenses: $75,000
  • 2013 Profit: $65,000 (~45% profit margin)

Their initial start up costs were in the $40,000 range. Not peanuts; but fairly low by most new business standards.

Did I mention they're doing this in Quebec? (translation: colder, and shorter natural growing season vs most of North America)

Learning to do more with less, and doing it sustainably, will be a key operating principle for future prosperity. Here's a model that shows it's possible to do both, and have good quality of life, to boot.

We need more of these.

(Hat tip to PP.com reader Bill12 who brought the Fortiers onto our radar)

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Jean-Martin Fortier (34m:16s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/jean-martin-fortier-a-model-for-profitable-micro-farming/

Totally inspiring podcast! JM, congrats to you and Maude-Helene on all that you’ve accomplished. Your book is on our todo list this week.

… to earn a living farming ones own land. It strikes me as a throwback to times past seasoned with the spice of higher technology. This interview really piqued my interest in micro farming, but alas the link to the website doesn't seem to work…at least not for me. Anybody else having difficulties with this link?

http://www.themarketgardener.com/

Thanks Adam and Jean-Martin!   Truly inspiring!   Just bought the book.

A very cool, very inspiring interview. I would have never thought something like that is possible. I doubt I could ever get my sh*t together enough to do it, but maybe . . .

I've ordered the book also. This is something I have been thinking about and working toward for a while. I'm sure I'll find some good ideas in the book. Everyone has to eat. Or not!

First, I'd like to say it's a pleasure to hear what you are doing and I'll probably buy a copy of your book.  It will not doubt contain valuable information for my home gardenning project.
Having said that, I cannot read anything without remembering Albert Bartlett's admonition to "do the math."

On the second page of the book there is a statement that you feed 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  My first reaction was that you cannot provide the entire food supply for 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  Then I considered that you meant that you supply the organic vegetable content of the food for 200 families.  This doesn't even work out for me, unless these families subsist on diets containing very small portions of vegetables.  

I'm not arguing that you don't provide part of the vegetable content of 200 families diets from your 1 1/2 acre farm, or that you aren't producing an amazing volume of vegetables from such a small space, just that the math for 200 families doesn't work for me.  If it did, according to my calculations, we could feed the entire population of the planet using only 22,000,000 hectares of land.  I simply can't see it.

What a podcast and a source of inspiration for me. Finally a book written with direct experience in organic intensive gardening in my plant hardiness zone, Quebec. To top it off profitable only on 1.5 acres. Will buy.
I intend to visit them one day this summer. Only an hour away in St Armand.

PP Thx for bringing Jean Martin on !

Congrats Jean Martin & Maude Helene 

NN

 Thanks, Jim, for the link but it still isn't working. I keep getting a "Yahoo—The requested URL cannot be found or is not available" message. I've tried all the links in in the transcript as well. Doh!!! I guess I'll just have to buy the book, but I'd really like to see Jean-Martin's website as well.
The requested URL "http://www.themarketgardener.com/" cannot be found or is not available. Please check the spelling or try again later.

Earthwise,It must be you cause the link works for me .
NN

 The Schleprock syndrome. Woe is me.
It's obviously my computer. It works on my wife's laptop.

I am loving his tools page;
http://www.themarketgardener.com/market-gardening-tools/

so much practical "how-to" and sourcing stuff… really helpful.  Taken together with (our own) Phil Williams' website, we have a real cornucopia of small scale farming/growing how-to;

http://www.foodproduction101.com/

Here's an excellent source of blacksmith crafted broadforks from Black Earth Wisconsin.
http://gullandforge.com

The one I have is something like serial number 185 and it is almost a work of art.

Great website and resource for craft-made tools… Thanks.  Interestingly, when I dug into the broadfork website a bit, I found my way to the author's scythe-related info;http://toolingtherevolution.com/index.html
which is not the commercial front for the scythes… that is here;
http://www.onescytherevolution.com/index.html
Which finally brings me to my point;  you did I think comment earlier regarding your skepticism about small scale farming being able to provide for our needs… and there is some discussion of this point on the scythe revolution website;

NO FUEL, NO NOISE, NO POLLUTION. Whether you are alarmed about Climate Change, Peak Oil, Social Justice, Health Care, Food Safety & Security, or all of the above... At their roots, they all have one solution in common: We must fundamentally change the way we grow our food!  Big, mechanized, chemical agriculture is ruining our health, depleting our soil, building up toxins in our environment, wasting the remaining oil, massively increasing CO2 levels in our atmosphere, and financially devastating the closest thing that we have to sustainable farmers; namely small family farms.     Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg states that in order to continue to grow the same amount of food in the future, without the use of cheap oil, we will need 40-50 million farmers, farming 3-50 acres, mostly with hand tools. No, not like in the Middle Ages. We are talking about appropriate technology here.  Small-scale farmers, meet one of your new tools. The modernized "Austrian" scythe....

Another question is where does he get fertilizer? To take so much produce out of a garden requires a huge input of compost or chemical fertilizer or something. I think he is "organic", meaning tremendous volumes of compost to keep his soils alive. He must have a fantastic, cheep source of manure close by. Freight has always been an issue in non-chemical agriculture. It's easy to move bags of NPK  100 miles to the farm, but a truckload of turkey manure is much more labor and fuel intensive.
We have 4 horses which give us almost enough compost for our 1/4 acre, but would like more.

I have already bought his book and maybe will find the answers there, but logic tells me that this may not be a plug and play system for everyone with 1.5 acres. 

[quote=LesPhelps] there is a statement that you feed 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  My first reaction was that you cannot provide the entire food supply for 200 families from 1 1/2 acres.  Then I considered that you meant that you supply the organic vegetable content of the food for 200 families.  This doesn't even work out for me,   I simply can't see it.
[/quote]
Les …I tend to agree that 200 families is a lot.  What do you estimate that a family consumes?
I have 11,800 square feet in maximum production (1/4 acre) so I should be able to feed 33 families ???  Usually I have 1/2 to 2/3's of that planted cause I rotate beds out of production and grow cover crops. We store potatoes and sweet potatoes for the winter, so most of those two crops do not go for sale, It takes a big chunk of what we grow in our garden  just to feed two of us year round.

At a locally owned bookstore of course. :wink:
Already got some wire and 6mm plastic sheeting for some hoop tunnels.
Merci JM!

You read something into what I said.  I do believe we can feed the existing population… for a while, provided we have enough water.
It's just going to take a whole lot more people farming and food will be much more expensive.  Some people won't be able to afford it.  Some will be unwilling to contribute labor to the effort.
I just think we need to be careful about making statements out of context or not strongly supported by facts.  Al Bartlett talks about this at some length.
An example I always remember, is an email that my father in law received and forwarded to me, not once but twice.  The email was an energy rant focusing on the Balkan oil field and the fact that it would provide our energy needs for the next 20 years. 
Energy is one thing I keep a close watch on.  I did the math and sent an email to my farther in law explaining that at current US oil consumption rates, the entire Balkan play would only cover US demand for 3 months.  I included the math and sources.
Several months later, he forwarded to me and everyone the same dang email.
Erroneous statements and misleading facts taken out of context, tend to have a life of their own.  As Al says, everyone should do the math, especially if a statement seems to good to be true.

I don't have a figure to throw out.  There are a lot of people with more accurate estimates than I.
I currently have 1/2 acre available with only a small portion in production.  I feel, if I expanded my garden to most of the non shaded areas on my half acre, I could provide all the vegetables and protein (beans) my wife and I need, year around.  Right now, I only produce enough for my in season needs plus a little freezing and dehydrating.  I doubt I could produce all the grain we require as well.
Plus, I must confess, I am not a vegetarian much less vegan and really don't want to become one.  I have no room for animals to provide meat and milk.  The town I live in currently does not allow back yard chickens. 
Based on my experience at home, I am convinced that I could not feed 66 families, therefore, I question whether anyone, however talented can feed 200 families on 1 1/2 acre.