Small is beautiful

 ALL OVER THE WORLD, awareness was made about the serious misdeeds of industrial agriculture: pesticides, GMOs, cancers, the agrifood industry, etc. This awareness has translated into a craze for an agriculture organic, healthy and local. The rebirth of farmers' markets and the launch of different formulas for solidarity-based marketing, such as Community-supported agriculture (ASC, or CSA in English)
in Quebec or the Association for the maintenance of agriculture Peasants (AMAP) in France, respond people need to reconnect with those who feed them, in addition to remedying certain quality problems.


In Quebec, these ideas have developed thanks to the concept of “family farmer”, brilliantly developed by Équiterre, an organization that today oversees one of the most important groups of organic producers and citizens in solidarity with ecological agriculture.
Thanks to the different marketing formulas, today there is a flourishing niche for small-scale agriculture and the opportunity is real for many young people (and not so young) to settle in the countryside and make agriculture their livelihood.

My wife and I started our farming career in a very small and expensive market garden by selling vegetables for markets. farmers and a CSA project. We had rented a small plot of about 1000 m2 where we have established a temporary camp during the summer. he has very little investment in terms of tools and equipment to start. Being in rental has also enabled us to limit expenses so that our operation covered its fees leaving enough money to invest, spend winter and travel a bit. At that time, we were happy to just garden, and live!

Then came a time when they need to settle down became imperative. We felt a need for security, a desire to build our home and to take root in our small community. This new deposit meant that our gardens would generate sufficient income to cover the repayments of the land, the needs of the family, and the construction of our family home.

Rather than going towards the mechanization of our cultivation operations and follow the route of a more traditional market gardening, we thought it was possible, if not preferable, to intensify our production and continue to work more or less manually. Our credo was to do better rather than doing more. With this idea in head, we set about looking for horticultural techniques and tools that could make more efficient and profitable market gardening on a little surface.

Finally, our research and our findings, resulting from many experiences, have allowed us to develop a productive and profitable market garden micro-farm. Our gardens feed more than 200 families weekly and generate enough income to support our housework. Our initial strategy, which was to establish ourselves with a "low-tech" system, allowed us to limit investments related to start-up so that after only a few years of operation, our company was already profitable. Our charges have always remained a little high so that to date, no financial pressure is stifling us. As at our beginnings, our main activity is gardening, and despite all the developments surrounding the farm, our way of life is still the one we chose at departure. The farm is at our service, not the opposite.

Along the way, we took the liberty of designate ourselves as "gardeners" with the idea of ​​promoting our choice to work with manual tools. Contrary to contemporary market gardeners, we do not cultivate fields, but gardens, and this, using very few fossil fuels. All of our activities - high productivity on a small surface, the use of intensive production methods, the use of techniques to extend the season and direct sale in public markets - is part of the French market gardening tradition, although our practices have also been influenced by those of our American neighbors. Most great of our influences is that of the American Eliot Coleman, whom we have met on various occasions, and from his book, The New Organic Grower, who served as our guide when we started.
It is this work that will have allowed us to glimpse that it was possible to make less than one hectare in cultivation. To this day, Mr. Coleman remains the benchmark in terms of experience and innovation in diversified market gardening on a small surface. He owes a lot.

Of course, the vast majority of established farmers believe that tractor-less gardening is too trying and laborious work, that we are young, and that, inevitably, the mechanization of operations will facilitate our work. I do not pay their opinion. Work techniques of soil described in this manual reduce the time and the energy required for its preparation. Intensification of crops greatly reduces the burden of weeding, and the tools used in our gardens, although manual, are very sophisticated and designed to improve work efficiency and ergonomics.
All in all, apart from the harvests which remain the bulk of our work, our labor is very productive and efficient. Manual work is fun, profitable, and very much in keeping with a way of life healthy where birdsong replaces most of the time the noise of the engines.

That being said, I would not argue that the mechanization of cultivation operations is to be avoided. Moreover, the best vegetable farms that I visited, except for Mr. Coleman's, were often very mechanized. My point of view is rather the following: the use of a tractor market gardener and other weeding and work tools mechanical floors does not necessarily lead to more profitable horticultural practices. The non-mechanization or use of alternative machineries, such as a commercial tiller, compo1te different advantages to consider, all in one startup context.