Episode #163
JM Fortier: Envisioning A Hyper Local Small Farm Revolution

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Our JM Fortier interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Dave Chapman interviews JM Fortier:

JM Fortier 2 0:00
Welcome to The Real Organic Podcast. I’m talking today with JM Fortier. JM, so good to see you again.

JM Fortier 2 0:07
Hey, happy to have you here, Dave.

Dave Chapman 0:09

JM Fortier 2 0:09
Thank you for the drive, for driving here.

Dave Chapman 0:11
Yeah, it’s great. Not that far. Not that far. So here we are in one of your beautiful greenhouses. And you’re growing all this great food for a new restaurant and inn.

JM Fortier 2 0:22

Dave Chapman 0:22
Is a new adventure for you.

JM Fortier 2 0:23
Yeah, it started last year. This is about five minutes from my home farm. And you know that for seven years, I was running FQT Farm, the training farm, where you were last time that we did this. And I’m still a part of that. But I wanted to come back home. It was an hour commute to the other farm that I would do, you know, twice a day. So coming back, and then I tried to come back to my home farm. But my wife said, You know what, I kind of like it, now that I’m running the show, and I really felt that, okay, she’s running the show. And, you know, I saw this place here, and it had been for on sales for two years. And it’s a landmark of the area, the old mill, the site and the building is 1849. And I’ve been driving here for many years, and I was seeing this big field, just by the restaurant. And I was like, wow, that would be a great farm to table, you could do a market garden there. And eventually, it became my new project.

Dave Chapman 0:23

JM Fortier 2 0:29
And now almost a year and a half later, you know, the restaurants been open since March. We’ve had clients, you know, throughout the whole season, it’s been really a good response, people are excited. It’s 100% local. So all the ingredients that we cook, come from the local area, here, there’s a few exceptions, all the veggies come from the garden, I grow them, local wines, local everything, local meats.

Dave Chapman 1:56

JM Fortier 2 1:57
So it’s a real, genuine farm to table. And for me also, it’s an it’s a space where I can connect with people that come and visit the garden, visit in the winter greenhouse, I educate them on that. And I’ve really taken on a role here in Quebec, to talk about food sovereignty. And trying to express this idea that food sovereignty doesn’t involve high end technology in the winter. It involves, you know, perhaps low tech greenhouses, and that you can really feed, you know, you can feed your house, feed the nation, the province of Quebec, with local food year round.

Dave Chapman 2:35

JM Fortier 2 2:36
And so that’s really what the project that I’m working on with this. And I’m also enjoying, you know, fine dining in the garden and all of that.

Dave Chapman 2:43
Yeah so, okay, you know, I want to talk a little bit about, I find your path fascinating, because you started as a farmer. And of course, you’re still a farmer, but you’ve clearly, on a pretty big way, become an educator.

JM Fortier 2 3:06

Dave Chapman 3:06
And and an activist, I would say, a political activist, that that is all based on the farming.

JM Fortier 2 3:14
Yep, thank you for recognizing that.

JM Fortier 2 3:18

JM Fortier 2 3:18
Because that’s really what I’m all about.

Dave Chapman 3:20
And, you know, there are a lot of great educators who actually aren’t so strong on farming, you know, they have good intentions, but they don’t really maybe understand it, you really understand it. And I also believe, and I’ll say this, that I think you’re one of the most effective educators that I know of.

JM Fortier 2 3:40
Thank you.

Dave Chapman 3:41
You have really helped many, many, hundreds, if not 1000s, and I suspect 1000s of people, to become better farmers through your efforts. And that’s, like Elliott, you have cast a big shadow in which people have been protected from the sun and learned how to grow things and learned how to make a living.

JM Fortier 2 4:04

Dave Chapman 4:05
So yes, gardeners, but also farmers.

JM Fortier 2 4:07
Yeah, well Elliot paved the way in many ways, because I really took his playbook for my farm. And then, you know, I worked on it, worked on it, and then eventually came up with a different thing. And I think one of the big differences, earlier on also, is that we were really land constrained. We had two acres, that was it. So we needed to make it work for that two acres. And then another thing that you would understand that happened is that really early on in our farming career, we had some professional greenhouse growers come to our farm, and teach us how to grow professionally in our greenhouses. And then that was one way that we got just more production out of the same small space. We just kind of doubled, tripled, the quantity of vegetables that we were growing in our greenhouses, so that had a huge impact on our trajectory on our bottom line.

Dave Chapman 5:02
Were they consultants, JM?

JM Fortier 2 5:03
Yeah, they were consultants, and we were the first one here in Quebec, from the small farm movement, to have them come. And I think they took us as a pet project. Because obviously, you would know this, they came into our greenhouses and they were like, Okay, well, you know, you have a nice greenhouse, you have a heating system, we can do something here, you know, I’ll teach you how.

Dave Chapman 5:26

JM Fortier 2 5:26
You know, grafting the plants, growing on two or three leaders, really going with much more density, learning how to prune and trim and, you know, really adjust the plant. So took us two years to really get better at it. Yeah. And then we would report to other growers in our winter conferences. And then eventually, you know, it spread.

Dave Chapman 5:48
It spread.

JM Fortier 2 5:48
Yeah, and then these consultants started to do work with other farms. And now, you know, there’s a pretty high level of competency here in Quebec, with greenhouse production.

Dave Chapman 5:58
There’s a thing that I have seen, which is that there’s a mindset. It’s not just about technique, it’s not just about, you know, run this temperature, and this humidity and this spacing, but there’s a kind of thinking and I immediately, not immediately, we started on our own, just like everybody in a hoop house or actually pre hoop house in a two by six house. And and, you know, we were building them with gussets.

JM Fortier 2 6:30
Yeah wooden?

Dave Chapman 6:32
Wooden houses, yeah.

JM Fortier 2 6:34
Now that’s pre history.

Dave Chapman 6:35
Actually our first one was two by four. Yeah. And we designed that, it was horrible. And then we started to use a design from University of Connecticut. And two by six, and, yeah pre history, but it all worked. It blocked a lot more light than the hoops, and it was heavier. But it’s not hard to build a greenhouse. The miracle drug was the plastic coating.

JM Fortier 2 7:01

Dave Chapman 7:01
Which made it very easy to need to build something strong enough to hold glass and all that.

JM Fortier 2 7:06

Dave Chapman 7:08
But very soon in there, we started working with a Dutch consultant. And we’re just lucky that we stumbled on this guy. And he didn’t know anything about organic.

JM Fortier 2 7:22

Dave Chapman 7:22
But he did know a great deal about greenhouses and tomatoes, and climate, and how to make climate and what that meant. And, you know, it took years of studying with him, he came every three weeks, for years.

JM Fortier 2 7:37

Dave Chapman 7:37
And, and we ended up learning a great deal. And I’m on my second Dutch consultant. And he doesn’t come as often. But, you know, when we need him, he’s there. And part of what I see that they taught was a way of thinking about problems. And I think you also, in your education, and in your own development, you’ve developed a way of thinking.

JM Fortier 2 8:03

Dave Chapman 8:03
Right, about systems?

JM Fortier 2 8:05
Yeah, yeah systemising. I’ve always had that, in me. My wife really has the Green thumb, for sure, more than me, she spends a lot of time with the plants. And that also is part of it, you know, intuition and having the acumen of just plants. But for me, it’s systems, it’s organizing labor to be efficient, it’s organic design, like a big part of my learning, was also studying permaculture, really, really earlier on. I’m reading a lot of Bill Mollison work, he was talking about zones, and planning and how to set up things with regards to how many times they’re visited per day. And in limiting, you know, foot circulation on the farm. I was reading about that.

JM Fortier 2 8:47
And then there was also another moment where I went to Cuba, and we saw farms that were run without tractors, but these were like acres and acres of permanent raised beds. And so all these things for me, they had a big impact on my bottom line and on my farm, and on my farming life. And so soon enough, when I wrote my book, I was just wanting to kind of give back the way I got kind of, you know, education was the way we got to be successful growers, by learning from others. So I was like, I want to give back, and then my book became something really a powerful book for many, because it was a primer, but I think it was giving the hope that you can have a small farm and still be, you know, profitable and have a life and you can. So that’s kind of how all of this evolved. And you saw the FQT farm.

Dave Chapman 9:42

JM Fortier 2 9:43
So the FQT Farm there, what was amazing, what is amazing, is that there I was being paid. And I was paid to develop the farm so that it was ever more efficient.

Dave Chapman 9:56
The farm was a nonprofit.

JM Fortier 2 9:58

Dave Chapman 9:58
Intended to educate young people, about how to do this successfully and make a living?

JM Fortier 2 10:03
Yes, so that’s the goal of the farm. That’s one of the goal of the farm. And then we do this by having them for two years. And they’re working, you know, like it’s their own farm. They’re working big days, big weeks, big years. And like, for me, the objectives like, I’ll train you so that when you’re on your own farm, you know the rough cuts, it’s like, this is real. And you’ve learned how to be in your fifth gear, because I am bringing you there. So when you’re on your own farm, you know how to operate in fifth gear, but doing that work, I was also shadowing a lot of the things that we were doing, trying to see where improvement could be done.

JM Fortier 2 10:47
And we filmed that, over four years, and that became the Masterclass, that’s the online course, that I teach now. And the Masterclass when we developed it, you know, I had no idea what would it would become, you know, we filmed it for three years, and then we did another year, but when we launched it overnight, there was I think it was 460 people that took the class. And so that kind of propelled another project. Now we have that. And now, you know, I was telling you, there’s more than 4000 people in the class in 91 countries. And so it seems like, yes, I start things, but they grow on themselves. And the book, you know, The Market Gardener, has a life of its own, I don’t manage it anymore. It’s just traveling on its own.

Dave Chapman 11:41
Can I ask a couple of questions about that? First of all, the book, it sold a lot of copies, right?

JM Fortier 2 11:47
Yeah. It’s more than 250,000.

Dave Chapman 11:49
250,000 people who bought that book?

JM Fortier 2 11:53
Yeah, it’s in ten languages.

Dave Chapman 11:54
And so that has touched a lot of people, many, many of whom are commercial growers.

JM Fortier 2 12:00

Dave Chapman 12:01
And some who are really good home gardeners, homesteaders.

JM Fortier 2 12:05

Dave Chapman 12:05
Okay. And then, when you talked about the Masterclass, having 4000 students, can you talk a little bit about how? It’s not that they’re all 4000 are taking the Masterclass at this moment, they’re part of an online community?

JM Fortier 2 12:21
Yeah, so the way the way we’ve set up, so now we’ve evolved it into a community. And it’s run by the Market Gardener Institute. So now there’s staff, that their role is to organize, how the community operates. And a big part of it is, when you get into the Masterclass, it’s an open library. So it’s a self directed course, you’re not with me at specific points, it’s all video based. And then you have the crop itineraries for all the vegetables, the way I do them, and then I explain to you why what I do is what I do. And then I’m inviting you to kind of follow in that footsteps. So people get into the class, they have all of that knowledge, how to grow the crops.

JM Fortier 2 13:13
But what we’re doing now is also troubleshooting sessions, I mean we’re creating sessions where people troubleshoot together. And we’re trying to bring new ways of helping growers, because not everyone has access to good education, a good extension agent, a good agronomist, consulting, you know, not everyone has that. So trying to have the community help one another. And so that’s really, really interesting. And that’s not something that I had foreseen. And now that it’s in 90 countries, we’re getting people from different places connecting together. It’s very cultural.

Dave Chapman 13:53

JM Fortier 2 13:53
Yeah. And I feel very excited about this. And then to bring it back to here. It’s also the headquarter of all these people that are working within the Masterclass. So now we staff, eight people full time.

Dave Chapman 14:07
For the Masterclass community.

JM Fortier 2 14:08
Yeah, for that just in itself, and then we’re also working on new content. We also have a technical person in house so people can kind of have, you know, professional advice about some growing concerns. And for me, I’ve always thought that if we want to influence the next generation of growers, in my opinion, like the better way is to help them become better growers. That’s it. Because the learning curve to become a good grower is so steep, takes so many years of trials and errors, and you do a winter greenhouse once and you’re off by three weeks, and then you need to wait a full year to do it again. But what if we could take like six, seven years and bring it down to two or three?

Dave Chapman 15:00

JM Fortier 2 15:01
And that’s the message that we’re getting, people take the class, they follow what we’re doing, and then they get successful after two or three years.

Dave Chapman 15:09

JM Fortier 2 15:10
Took me seven or eight.

Dave Chapman 15:11
My first year was a total disaster in a greenhouse. And I even had some pretty good technical advice from the Europe. But yeah, it’s a big process.

JM Fortier 2 15:24
And we were talking about this humanized like, I see the dot for me, is the cornerstone, or one of the pillars that we need to build on if we’re going to bring another generation of organic growers to become more, you know, influential and just have more of them out there. They need to learn how to be great growers. Yeah, they need other stuff, they need to be good at marketing, accounting, we talked about social justice, these are all important things in our community, but the growing part, becoming a good grower and learning how to do all these different things. For me, that’s what I teach.

Dave Chapman 16:06

JM Fortier 2 16:07
The rest is, you know, that’s my bottom line.

Dave Chapman 16:11
Yeah, yeah. It’s, you know, we’re building a culture of organic farming out of essentially nothing, not true. There’s a long history of it. And yet at the same time, much of that history has been blown away by the chemical revolution.

JM Fortier 2 16:32

Dave Chapman 16:32
And so these are, even if it’s not a first generation farmer, they usually grew up on a chemical farm, and they’re trying to figure out, well how do I do this differently? Right?

JM Fortier 2 16:42

Dave Chapman 16:42
So it really is something that requires a lot of helping each other. One of the things I learned from my Dutch consultant is that in Holland, in a greenhouse, every grower is part of a growing group.

JM Fortier 2 16:56

Dave Chapman 16:57
So they meet….

JM Fortier 2 16:58
And they troubleshoot.

Dave Chapman 16:59
Every two weeks, they go to somebody’s greenhouse, they’ll be like five of them.

JM Fortier 2 17:03

Dave Chapman 17:04
And then the next week, or two, they go to a different greenhouse, and they compare their growing notes and talk about their settings and their computer and their problems. And we don’t really have that model.

JM Fortier 2 17:16
We should.

JM Fortier 2 17:17
We should.

JM Fortier 2 17:18
We should, because that’s how I learned like, I would visit farms. You know, that’s another thing. I felt very, very privileged, because of my book, and because of other things, my curiosity, perhaps, and I speak French, so I went to France many times, and I would visit farms where the level of competency was high, super high. And then you come back and you’re like, Okay, I know, I’ve seen this, and I can tell you how to do this. And I practice it, too. So I’m not just kind of winging off things that I’ve seen, like, this is something that I see, I incorporate it, I practice it, I test, I trial it, and then I pass it on. But for me, it’s like, that’s the culture of agriculture is also geeking out on, you know, crop varieties and spacing and temperature settings and planting dates and successions, and tricks at farmers market. And, you know, all of this, for me is the core of what we do.

Dave Chapman 18:17

JM Fortier 2 18:17
It’s our trade.

Dave Chapman 18:19

JM Fortier 2 18:19
And then the rest. All the political aspects of small scale farming, which for me, are very important. They’re secondary.

Dave Chapman 18:29

JM Fortier 2 18:29
Because at one point, our job is to feed our community. That’s really what this is all about. So that’s really important that we learn how to do it well.

Dave Chapman 18:40
Okay, I want to go there, actually. But first, I just want to talk a little bit about the education because it’s such a key part of what you’re doing. And it’s working. I mean, comparing the Masterclass which is a series of virtual classes.

JM Fortier 2 18:59

Dave Chapman 18:59
Right. And, and you’ve taught me once that they should be very short, because you give somebody a 40 minute lecture, you lost them on minute seven, right?

JM Fortier 2 19:08
For sure.

Dave Chapman 19:09
So very short, digestible bits. And this is this, and the more complicated it is, the shorter it is. Yeah, I like that.

JM Fortier 2 19:17

Dave Chapman 19:17
So comparing that to the book, your first labor of love that reached, by numbers, a greater number, how do you feel the impact is, in terms of learning with these two quite different mediums?

JM Fortier 2 19:35
Well, you know, so the book, you know, is $30 and the Masterclass is like $2000. So it’s very different. It’s a very different product. The book is a primer. The Masterclass is a masterclass. It’s like for professional growers, and we’re really going into the details. I think the book, what was really a success about it is, people would read it from coast to coast. And they got it, they got the big picture, they got that it was possible to farm on a few acres. And they were explained a little bit of the key principles of how to do it. And that was like planting the seed in their mind that this is possible. And that’s what I’ve heard, a lot of growers that I meet, they’ll tell me, I’ve read your book, and it was what influenced me to start farming. That’s what I’ve heard, you know, many, many times over.

JM Fortier 2 20:32
So that was more of a primer, an introduction to market gardening. And then, at one point I was teaching that this was possible, but I was also teaching how to take it to the next level. That’s what I was doing at FQT farm. And I felt that I wanted to also share that. And so there’s levels. And I don’t know if it was like you for that. But when I was reading Eliot Coleman’s book in my first years, every winter I would reread it and I would understand new passages, there’s things that I had read before, but didn’t I didn’t relate to because I wasn’t there yet. But now I was reading them and I was understanding that passage, and I was understanding that now I was getting this passage because I had more experience. And so for me, there’s kind of levels, you know, you starting in farming, everything’s new, then you become an intermediate grower, then you become a professional grower. And then there’s higher education. I’m still learning a lot.

Dave Chapman 21:38
Sure, always.

JM Fortier 2 21:39
You know, always. Putting things in practices, smaller details. And for me, my Northstar, Dave, is always efficiency. That’s really what my mind works at, is how to shave time here, how to cut down this, how to make sure that everything’s tight, organized. And I want it to be there early on, because I want to finish the day at 5:00 or 5:30 PM.

Dave Chapman 22:07

JM Fortier 2 22:08
Because I wanted to be with the kids and I wanted to do other stuff. And I still think today that that’s really important.

Dave Chapman 22:15

JM Fortier 2 22:15
Efficiency is the driving factor of what you should be doing on your farm.

Dave Chapman 22:22
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s not quite what I think about, but I almost take it for granted, maybe. So I don’t even think about it.

JM Fortier 2 22:34
Yeah, because you’re well structured. You’re well organized. Your farm has been, you know, the procedures have been well laid out.

Dave Chapman 22:40
It’s a very mature.

JM Fortier 2 22:41
If you meet young growers today, they don’t have procedures.

Dave Chapman 22:45

JM Fortier 2 22:46
Some of them have structures. Some of them have good designs. But when I started, you didn’t have good designs. Beds weren’t standardized, beds were permanent. I had never met a farm that was on a permanent bed system, before I went to Cuba. Saves us so much time. You know, there’s been a big evolution over the last 20 years, in my opinion.

Dave Chapman 23:13

JM Fortier 2 23:14
So I’m kind of hopeful because what I see now is like people starting on something that’s a strong foundation.

Dave Chapman 23:23

JM Fortier 2 23:23
Yeah, I see that.

Dave Chapman 23:24
I see. So one more thing before we go on to that political and marketing and that world, is you also basically ran an apprenticeship program at FQT?

JM Fortier 2 23:36
Yeah. Ferme Des Quatre-Temps in French. It’s hard for everyone to say.

JM Fortier 2 23:39
It’s hard for me to say.

JM Fortier 2 23:41
FQT Farm, you can look it up, but it’s Ferme Des Quatre-Temps.

Dave Chapman 23:45

JM Fortier 2 23:45

Dave Chapman 23:45
Yeah, “Four Season Farm”, right?

JM Fortier 2 23:48
Yeah, four times.

Dave Chapman 23:48
Four times. Yeah. Okay. And you had an apprenticeship program, how many people would be on that in one year?

JM Fortier 2 23:57

Dave Chapman 23:57

JM Fortier 2 23:57
And it’s still running today it’s just one of my apprentices is now the teacher. She’s the director. She’s the woman that I wrote this winter farming handbook with. But it’s two years. And so the way it works is that you come for a first year and you’re learning the ropes and you’re doing a full season. And you’re under the guidance of the second year coworkers. So the second year is they all have a specific role and responsibility. One person is in charge of the nursery, one other person is in charge of the greenhouses, one other person is in charge of, you know, bed prep and doing the seedlings, and one other person is in charge of harvest. And so the way that works is that when you when that’s your responsibility, you have the whole crew with you during that time. So when we’re doing nursery work, everyone works for Dave, because Dave is in charge in the nursery. The next day, we’re in the greenhouse, Dave works for Katherine, because Katherine is the manager of that. And so this way, they’re all learning how to manage a lot of people.

Dave Chapman 25:08

JM Fortier 2 25:09
When it’s their time.

Dave Chapman 25:10
Oh, that’s great. Yeah, absolutely.

JM Fortier 2 25:11
And then the second year, they’re in charge of, you know, managing the first year, explaining to them how to do things, what to do, setting the pace, setting the tempo, just like answering questions. And then I would help the second year become good managers. Because, you know, learning how to manage is also another milestone.

Dave Chapman 25:35

JM Fortier 2 25:36
There’s a lot of things to learn. There’s a lot of ways to go about it. So I would spend time with the second years working with them. So I was actually working with four people.

Dave Chapman 25:46

JM Fortier 2 25:46
And then they were working with the group.

Dave Chapman 25:49
So there’d be like, four second years and six first year.

JM Fortier 2 25:52

Dave Chapman 25:52

JM Fortier 2 25:52
And then we’d flip again, we would usually lose one or two.

Dave Chapman 25:56

JM Fortier 2 25:57
And then we’d have, you know, three or four coming for a second year. And then after two years on that farm, man, these people are high level growers. They’ve touched a lot of things, they’ve gone through the motions. You know, this farm, Dave, is like $700,000 of produce in a given year. There’s 10 of us.

Dave Chapman 26:23

JM Fortier 2 26:23
11 plus me. Big markets is $20,000. And no tractor. So this is high volume of units, 400 bunches of carrots, it’s 400 bunches of beets, it’s, you know, 500 pounds of tomatoes.

Dave Chapman 26:39
And how many graduates have started their own farm?

JM Fortier 2 26:44
So the FQT farm, I founded it in 2015. The first year was just the setup. So it’s been running for almost seven years, it’s going to be the seventh year now. We’ve had more than 40 people that have started their own projects, including some that have trained others.

Dave Chapman 27:08

JM Fortier 2 27:08
And the founder, the philanthropist that is behind it. His goal was to get 100 new farms in 10 years. And we’re off a little bit.

Dave Chapman 27:23
Yeah, but doing pretty well.

JM Fortier 2 27:24
Yeah, I think it has impact.

Dave Chapman 27:26

JM Fortier 2 27:26
You know, I think it has impact.

Dave Chapman 27:28
And then the Masterclass, again, these different ways of touching people and seeing how they change. And what’s fascinating is, Linley has told me when she’s going around, and she doesn’t do it so much now, but before she was actually going out inspecting the farms in the beginning of the Real Organic Project. And she said, Well, I always know when I walk on to a JM Farm, it’s like, Oh, you’ve done the Masterclass. You know, there it is. And actually, Emily Oakley said the same thing about Linley’s greenhouse. She walked on and said, Oh, this is a Long Wind greenhouse, which it was.

JM Fortier 2 28:02

Dave Chapman 28:02
You know, she had built one based on on our ideas. And they’re always well run, they always work.

JM Fortier 2 28:08

Dave Chapman 28:09
The JM Farms work.

JM Fortier 2 28:11

Dave Chapman 28:11
And Davey Miskell just told me about one today. He said, Oh, yeah, well, you know, they’re from that model, and they do a really good job in their first year farm and they’re doing a great job.

JM Fortier 2 28:26
You know, that touches home.

Dave Chapman 28:28
Of course. Yeah, that’s wonderful. All right. So you’re changing the world in a pretty big way for a farmer, and I understand that you’re part of a team.

JM Fortier 2 28:41

Dave Chapman 28:42
And, you know, the Masterclass is not a one person operation. I completely understand that.

JM Fortier 2 28:47
My wife also has been eduring me all these years.

Dave Chapman 28:50
I understand.

JM Fortier 2 28:52
She’s put up with a lot of different things over the years.

Dave Chapman 28:54

JM Fortier 2 28:56
Yeah, it’s definitely not a one man gig, for sure.

Dave Chapman 29:01
Yeah. And nothing ever is. We’re always interconnected. So can we talk a little bit about why you do what you do? And, you know, what that means to you? What’s the world you dream of?

JM Fortier 2 29:24
Yeah. Yeah, the why is very present in me. Like I often asked myself, you know, I always do a check. And there’s always a good reason why I do what I do. And I think that propels me, you know, I was saying to you that our farm was having a success early on. And I was seeing other farms not having that success, in my farming community, so I was like, Okay, well, I think I have something to offer there. And that was one of my motivations for my first book. And then what happened is that over the years, we trained a lot of people on our farm. And they started farms here. And then what we saw was that when we got here in this community, there was one other organic farm. Now there’s about 35. You know, we’re opening this farm to table restaurant, but there’s like three cafes all locally sourcing everything that have opened over the years.

JM Fortier 2 30:30
We have Wednesday night Farmer night here in Frelighsburg. Yes, these are small towns, these small villages. And so I’ve seen the impact of multiplying the number of small farms in our community. It’s probably one of the biggest employers in the whole area, all these farms, with the microbreweries and the vineyards. So for me, I see that. And I feel that this has the capability to really change the cultural landscape, everywhere, because small farms that are locally servicing to the community, food grown with care by people who care, and I’ve asked Elliott if I could use that from him, because that was Eliot’s vision. I believe this changes the world. And I’ve seen it here. So that’s the message that I try to bring when I travel, and I go to other places where this is not there yet. And I tell them, It’s not there yet, but if you do it, and if you influence somebody else and influence somebody else. Yeah, perhaps in five years, you’ll be amazed of where this community is at with all these small farms. And so that’s always been kind of my why. And yeah.

Dave Chapman 31:49
So, a small, local decentralized food production and distribution system and retailing systems. It’s got to be something that is desirable for any community in the world.

JM Fortier 2 32:05
Yes, I agree. And, you see, the breweries is the best example. Like, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, you’d have a few big beer companies that own all the shelves everywhere. Now there’s like here. All the beers are from microbreweries from the area, all these old beers, the Molson’s, you can’t even find them. They’re not visible anymore. And, you know, bakeries, charcuterie, wine. This is life. You know, eating is a big part of the culture, you know.

Dave Chapman 32:48
So let me challenge you now.

JM Fortier 2 32:51
Yes, yes, please do challenge me.

Dave Chapman 32:53
So I know of one wonderful farm and they have spawned so many farms, their graduates, the people who have come and worked, and they really teach them and they go out, and their main model is a CSA.

JM Fortier 2 33:11

Dave Chapman 33:12
And a big CSA, and they’re, you know, every kind of meat, milk, eggs.

JM Fortier 2 33:19
The complete diet CSA.

Dave Chapman 33:20
The complete diet CSA, yeah. Beautiful. And now they’re surrounded by kind of complete diet CSAs. And, you know, one partner and the couple is a little bit anxious because…

JM Fortier 2 33:34
It’s competing with them.

Dave Chapman 33:35
It’s now, they’re competing, you know, with their children.

JM Fortier 2 33:38

Dave Chapman 33:38
And it’s fine. The world has competition. But I’m just curious. In your model, one of the things that I have seen is that some people believe that the CSAs are ultimately limited, that it’s a fantastic thing when it happens. But there seems to be a tipping point. And beyond that, certain number of people, most people, will go to the store to get their food.

JM Fortier 2 34:05

Dave Chapman 34:06
Not to the CSA, not to the Farm Stand. And so the question is, can we get our food in the store? And I think that you have a different model.

JM Fortier 2 34:15
Yeah, and I’m not saying that I have the correct answer about this. This is just my perspective. But I really believe in getting people out of the supermarkets. That’s what I believe in. And I don’t think small farms like like this one can compete with big ag., with big marketing, with all the resources that bigger farms have. We just can’t. So what we can compete with is meeting people every week, and the direct to consumer relationship.

Dave Chapman 34:47
And the quality of the food.

JM Fortier 2 34:49
And the quality. The quality, I think you can have quality on a larger scale. I think that’s possible. If it was done right, I think that’s possible. But meeting the farmer, connecting. I think that’s something that’s unique to what we do.

Dave Chapman 35:07
I’m gonna challenge you. I’m sorry. I don’t think you can have that kind of quality on a large scale.

JM Fortier 2 35:11
Well, perhaps we can, I’ve never seen it.

Dave Chapman 35:12
That’s right.

JM Fortier 2 35:13
I’ve never seen it.

Dave Chapman 35:14
It seems like it should be possible to do something big. But the truth is when things become big, they change.

JM Fortier 2 35:22

Dave Chapman 35:23
And you know, I was talking to you about Dan Barbers bread.

JM Fortier 2 35:25

Dave Chapman 35:26
And when I said, Why doesn’t Whole Foods have this bread? And it’s because they can’t, the whole system that made that bread tastes so good is a very….

JM Fortier 2 35:36

Dave Chapman 35:36
Human scale of judgment and feel for the whole process. I think that’s so interesting.

JM Fortier 2 35:45
Intention, the intentions that are put into these things. And that’s why I relate, now, agriculture to culture, because who’s feeding you? And what’s the end game for that person? If that person’s endgame is to feed his community with healthy bread or healthy food, I think that’s a noble reason why you’d want to buy there. And I think that we’re going to shift towards more of that. So that’s why I see that, you know, having all these small farms, eventually, they contaminate other people to that kind of lifestyle, this way of seeing things. And that’s what I’ve seen here. If we’re all doing CSA, then that’s a problem. If you know, I’m doing a farm to table restaurant now, and then I’m servicing this there, and then I’m buying from other growers also. And then this other farm is doing the farmers market and Frelighsburg, and that other farm is doing, you know, the nearby kindergarten. You know, there’s room for everyone to do stuff. But if we’re all doing the exact same model, if we’re all lining up Saturday morning at the same Farmers Market for a town of 400, it’s not going to work. And we have Montreal, it’s an hour from here, which also makes a difference.

Dave Chapman 35:57
It’s a huge market.

JM Fortier 2 36:35
Yeah, Montreal is like 3 million.

Dave Chapman 37:06

JM Fortier 2 37:07
So I don’t think there’s, you know, there’s not a cookie cutter. But I do think that what we talked about, that intention, and that’s what was there in Europe before, like people would know to find food and they would go to find food. And that was the ethos, you know, the terrior, that’s terrior. And I think here we’re slowly creating this in my community. It’s not perfect. But I like to think that this is happening and evolving.

Dave Chapman 37:43
You know, our symposium this year is called Break’Em Up.

JM Fortier 2 37:48

Dave Chapman 37:48
And it’s about challenging the monopolies that run the world.

JM Fortier 2 37:55

Dave Chapman 37:56
And they absolutely run our food system.

JM Fortier 2 37:58
They do.

Dave Chapman 37:59
And it’s not just the farm monopolies. It’s the distribution monopolies, the processor monopolies, and the retail monopolies. And in each case, they’re getting to be fewer and fewer companies that control more and more of everything.

JM Fortier 2 38:15

Dave Chapman 38:17
I quote this a lot, but it’s an important thing. I asked Michael Pollan in one of my interviews with him, and it was the 15th year anniversary of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was an incredible book.

JM Fortier 2 38:29
Yeah, a beacon of things change.

Dave Chapman 38:33
You know, it really changed people’s minds, and they started to think differently. And I said, Michael, I’m genuinely confused about this. In the 15 years since The Omnivore’s Dilemma, do you think that the food system has gotten better or worse? Because I see both?

JM Fortier 2 38:51

Dave Chapman 38:52
And his answer really clarified it for me, he said, Well, I think people’s understanding has gotten much better and more sophisticated. And now, he was teaching at Harvard that term, he said, I have students here who are asking deep questions about our food system. And he said, 15 years ago, there were no students at Harvard asking deep questions about the food system. And one of them actually ended up coming to work on my farm. When she graduated from Harvard, because she asked me a question on his reference about regenerative agriculture. We got into a great conversation. He said, But the actual food system is getting worse. And, you know, that’s what I see. I see that there’s more glyphosate use in the world now than there was 15 years ago. And everything is more centralized once you get past this Farm to Fork movement. Now, maybe the Farm to Fork movement just in and of itself will threaten that. I get it, but I also have a feeling that we need to challenge the monopolies. That that’s where we have to go and act on a citizen level, to say, That’s not the country we want to live in. That’s not the world we want to live in. What do you think about that?

JM Fortier 2 40:11
Yes, I think putting light on these issues, having people understand, just like, you’re a good example, you and the work of the Real Organic Project, exposing the fact that the USDA wanted to make it possible to have a hydroponic farm being certified, this is something that we need to know, and we need to address, and as a community we need to come together on a higher level. Each person doing his own farming doesn’t solve that problem. So I see, and I understand the need to come together on certain things. It’s just not the area where I feel that I have a lot of power myself. I’ve tried to build a community that’s really broad. But I don’t want to own it, and I don’t want to be the spokesman of that community. It’s an organic thing. And that’s where, personally, I struggle with all of this, because, yeah, I just don’t know how to have change on that macrolevel, on these big issues.

Dave Chapman 41:22

JM Fortier 2 41:23
And I think that some of these issues, and that’s really personal, and I again, I’m not saying that there’s some truth to this, but a lot of these issues has to do with, you know, is there a social system? We have free education here in Canada, that changes the landscape, everyone has access to good education.

Dave Chapman 41:47
Right through college.

JM Fortier 2 41:48
Through college. It’s free kindergarten, it’s free health care. And I don’t want to mix topics. That’s not what I want to do. But it’s like, perhaps if we fix some of these things, the other things will get better.

Dave Chapman 42:06

JM Fortier 2 42:07
Because there’s a lot of ignorance. And that’s how we’re fed, what we’re fed. You know, could it be that less ignorance, in a way, or more education on these things, would have people make better choices? And have less of a market for this crappy food? These are the things that sometimes I’m thinking myself, do people really have enough headspace to think about the food system at all? Or are they just being fed? You know?

Dave Chapman 42:43

JM Fortier 2 42:43
And I don’t want to sound elitist. That’s not what I’m saying. We should have all the people thinking about these things. We should have education at lower levels and high schools and preschools, and we should have people understanding the importance of soil and gardening and the environment and all of this. Anyway, sidetracking.

Dave Chapman 43:07
No, no, no it’s not a sidetrack. It’s not a sidetrack, JM. These are the issues, and we all feel a lack of power.

JM Fortier 2 43:14

Dave Chapman 43:15
In the face of these huge forces. But when the USDA took over organic certification from groups like Vermont Organic Farmers, I felt completely powerless.

JM Fortier 2 43:26

Dave Chapman 43:27
Nobody asked me what I thought about that.

JM Fortier 2 43:28

Dave Chapman 43:29
I didn’t think it was a good idea, right.

JM Fortier 2 43:31

Dave Chapman 43:31
But it was like, Well, what are you going to do, the US government just did this. Now, in retrospect, I don’t think that was the critical mistake. The truth is whether the government took it over or not, it wasn’t the government that said, We want hydroponic to be called organic, or we want confinement livestock to be called organic. It was corporations that were making money from that. They controlled the government. So we had to look one step further. And they would have done the same if there hadn’t been a government control of it. And they do, look at what’s happening to regenerative right now.

JM Fortier 2 44:09

Dave Chapman 44:10
And it they just are grabbing the word and redefining it in front of our very eyes. And we’re like, Wait, I thought it meant? And like, No, no, it means this. And of course, there’s still people who go, No, no, that’s not what I mean. God bless them, I consider them part of the real regenerative movement. But, you know, we all have to face this confusion about stuff where we clearly, not only feel out of power, we are out of power. Everybody is. You know, even Tom Vilsack, head of the USDA, is actually powerless, I think, to change the system. There is no one person who is the Tsar, everyone is controlled by these forces. But what do we do about it? That’s the question.

JM Fortier 2 44:57
Yeah, and I think, Dave, this is the second time that we sit together like this, and you bring me on that. Because I remember now a few years ago, we did this and, I don’t have the best answers about that, but I’m certainly looking up to those who are acting. And that’s why I’m a part of, Let’s say, the Real Organic Project, and I’m a part of other groups. Because, you know, I’m not thinking about these issues, but they’re important to me.

Dave Chapman 45:24

JM Fortier 2 45:25
And so I think that opens the discussion about being organized, somehow structured.

Dave Chapman 45:32

JM Fortier 2 45:33
And that means there’s a level of democracy that in these organizations, it brings down to community coming together in a structured, power dynamic way.

Dave Chapman 45:48

JM Fortier 2 45:49
And that’s a whole other thing.

Dave Chapman 45:54

JM Fortier 2 45:55
And I believe, I’m not the one that’s kind of standing on my own hill, fighting my own battle, I’m certainly involved socially, here in Quebec, a lot. But yeah, sometimes it really feels powerless. It really does.

Dave Chapman 46:15
Yeah, you know, I just gave a talk a week ago at a Churchtown. And I talked about this, this is what we’re talking about. And I quoted Vincent Stanley, who was a wonderful human being. And he said, “A sense of agency is more important than a sense of optimism”.

JM Fortier 2 46:40
I like that.

Dave Chapman 46:40
And you think about that, because I’m not an optimist. I’m not, I don’t think this is going to work out well. And that could really make you frozen, but I don’t feel frozen. And I do have some sense of agency for myself at least, I can choose to do this, I can choose to drive up here to Quebec, and talk to my friend JM about these issues.

JM Fortier 2 47:04

Dave Chapman 47:04
And people will hear this, and they will think about it, and they will come and talk to somebody else.

JM Fortier 2 47:11
We’re evolving.

Dave Chapman 47:13
We’re evolving. We’re evolving together. Coevolution.

JM Fortier 2 47:17
No and I appreciate the fact that you do that. You know, I think we need to rally around something that we can all understand. And that’s why part of my slogan has always been small scale farming is changing the world. Let’s do it. Let’s do it together. Let’s act like that. Let’s represent. And, you know, let’s try to substitute the higher forces with different things. But I think culture will play a big role in that.

Dave Chapman 47:51

JM Fortier 2 47:52
Culture. And that’s why I opened the restaurant. When people come here, they not only see that, you know, local food in season is available year round here in Quebec, they eat it. And they have a good time.

Dave Chapman 48:07

JM Fortier 2 48:07
And they appreciate the food. And that, for me, I think they leave here and then they’re impactful to others because they’re like, Yeah, this is great.

Dave Chapman 48:16
That’s right.

JM Fortier 2 48:18
You know?

Dave Chapman 48:19
Okay, I’m gonna add another one to this, because it’s so interesting.

JM Fortier 2 48:23
Go, give her.

Dave Chapman 48:23
We were talking about Leah Penniman, I have high regard for Leah. And she was at our first symposium, we had a live conversation. And she was talking to someone whom I respect, and that person was talking about the power of community and of neighborhood and of changing the schools and changing kids attitudes towards food, and, you know, making food for each other that these kids, who had never cooked anything, you know, making some organic food. And I think that’s all wonderful. I completely agreed with that speaker. But Leah said something that I thought was also very true. And she said, I don’t think that making organic muffins for your neighbor is going to change the injustice.

JM Fortier 2 49:23

Dave Chapman 49:24
That, say, black people face in our food system. And I thought, true word. Yeah, true word.

JM Fortier 2 49:30
Uh huh.

Dave Chapman 49:30
And it’s not that we shouldn’t be making muffins for our neighbors, organic muffins. We should, that’s part of creating a culture of food, a culture of kindness and generosity, a culture of community and connection. But we also have to, I do believe this, and you know, this is my question for you, is we also need to connect the community and say we need to change some laws too.

JM Fortier 2 49:58
Yeah, yeah.

Dave Chapman 49:59
And I think we somehow see this as an either/or choice? But I don’t think it is. I think they have to be together.

JM Fortier 2 50:08
Yeah. And I’ve never met Leah Penniman. But I have really, really high respect for her and her work. And I think, if I translate, what she’s saying is that you also need to not think that because you’re making muffins, you’re part of the solution. Like, that’s too big of a shortcut. There needs to be more than that, you know, it needs to be also, your voice needs to be heard on a different level, on bigger issues. It’s hard. It’s hard, the way the political system is organized. It’s really hard. I’m still stuck struggling myself with this, how to have impact. How to be part of organizations, which is very complicated. You’re part of an organization, it comes with a lot of headaches, comes with a lot of meetings. I’m a farmer, I’m used to just kind of running my thing. I plant, I seed, I harvest, I sell, it’s a complete 360. And then, when I’m with meetings, on task groups, for policies for agriculture, these are like endless meanings. Super long. Perhaps I need to grow wiser and have more time for these things and take more time for these things. I don’t know. You’re certainly influencing me. I can tell you that.

Dave Chapman 51:37
Yeah. I don’t know, either, JM. We’re all trying to figure it out together.

JM Fortier 2 51:40

Dave Chapman 51:41
I do say one thing. When I was young, I became an organic farmer. We were all activists. That’s what we’re doing. We were changing the world. We weren’t going to protest marches and rallies, I had done that. I loved it, because this was…

JM Fortier 2 52:00
Hands on!

Dave Chapman 52:00
Touching these plants and putting my fingers in the ground. And I was like, Well, this is such rewarding work. And I really, you know, in the beginning, we were organizing with NOFA. And these conferences, where I was the dummy, I would go to this conference, and these older, wiser people, like Jake Guest, one of my first teachers, and they were giving workshops, and I would go and I would learn, and I would become a better farmer.

JM Fortier 2 52:29

Dave Chapman 52:30
And then I got really involved in making a living and raising my kids. As we do when you enter farming as an economic arena. It’s a tough arena.

JM Fortier 2 52:41
It is.

Dave Chapman 52:42
We know that.

JM Fortier 2 52:43
It is, you need to be dedicated.

Dave Chapman 52:46
Yeah, if you just want to make some money become a lawyer or something, because this is a tough one. So it’s fine. It has its own wonderful things. But we need to learn we need every trick in the book to make a living. But I stopped going to those conferences. I just worked all the time. And if I wasn’t working, I was with my family.

JM Fortier 2 53:08

Dave Chapman 53:08
Who suffered my absence, because I worked a lot.

JM Fortier 2 53:11

Dave Chapman 53:12
As do most farmers.

JM Fortier 2 53:14

Dave Chapman 53:14
And, you know, we all do, or I did. And when I started to become engaged, I just became engaged because what the USDA was doing was so outrageous. I’m like, Oh, my God.

JM Fortier 2 53:28
You felt obliged.

Dave Chapman 53:29
I felt obliged, because I actually knew more about it than most people of what they were doing. And I thought, you know, I made a mistake, I should have kept a little more engagement with the social actions, with the political actions of what we’re doing. I don’t have judgment, I don’t have that kind of remorse about my choices. But if I had it to do over again, I would stay a little more connected to that political community.

JM Fortier 2 54:00
Perhaps that could be advice that you pass on.

Dave Chapman 54:02

JM Fortier 2 54:03
I’ll certainly consider that advice. Because I’m at that point in my farming career where the kids are older, and I did kind of…… Yeah, perhaps it’s time for me also to be more engaged.

Dave Chapman 54:19

JM Fortier 2 54:20
I just like this creating part of it so much.

Dave Chapman 54:23

JM Fortier 2 54:24
For me, it’s so fun to open the restaurant. And I enjoy connecting with people and hanging out with them and, you know, raising their spirit on these things. So I’ll see how this translates into…..

Dave Chapman 54:41
Yeah, I consider your work to be very politically active. I think that you’re really helping people to actualize something that, really, it’s a target that’s easily missed. So you’re doing great stuff, but that’s right, part of our conversations I think, need to be, you know, why is it that, I don’t know how it is in Canada, in the US, I mean, I’ve literally seen three major customers of our tomatoes, now, are owned by one Dutch multinational. Ahold USA.

JM Fortier 2 55:22

Dave Chapman 55:23
Right? And it used to be Stop and Shop and Hannaford and Fresh Direct and Giant, all owned by one now. And of course, you know, Whole Foods owned by Amazon, Kroger’s and Albertsons merged. And that’s just the retail. Same things happening in production. Same things happening in distribution. Now there’s two major distributors for organic food. And I know that you’re working on the underground. You know, the rebel alliance.

JM Fortier 2 55:55
Yeah. I feel that organic has been co-opted.

Dave Chapman 56:00
Yeah, yeah.

JM Fortier 2 56:04
I still use the word. I still feel the word. I still am part of it. But I just see the writing on the wall.

Dave Chapman 56:11

JM Fortier 2 56:12
And I don’t think that another word can replace that. I don’t think it’s regenerative. I think it’s connecting people to the local food system. That’s what I think, then, yeah.

Dave Chapman 56:26
Sounds good, JM. Okay, it sounds good. I think you’re doing God’s work. So last thoughts before we before we go?

JM Fortier 2 56:37
Yeah, one thing that really scares me, and this disempowers me a lot, is when I’m hearing now, the conferences, not the small scale farming conferences, but the conferences where I’m sitting at for policy, everything’s about the future of farming being hydroponic towers, mechanized. It feels that we’re really backward with these small scale farms, and having lights, now, to grow in the winter. But these low energy LED lights. You know, technology’s always pushing to be part of this. And I just don’t know, if I’ll be able to cope with, you know, I think I’m going to just end up being an old kind of style farmer. Because it’s going pretty fast with technology. And I’m not sharing that optimism for having technology, clean my beds, you know?

Dave Chapman 57:39

JM Fortier 2 57:41
And that’s what’s being advocated more and more, because they say there’s a shortage of labor.

Dave Chapman 57:46

JM Fortier 2 57:47
You know, our government here, they’re investing a lot in technology.

Dave Chapman 57:51
iIn order to replace labor with machines.

JM Fortier 2 57:53
Yeah. And I just feel that that’s where we lose the intention.

Dave Chapman 57:56

JM Fortier 2 57:57
And that’s where, you know, we become obsolete. And I don’t feel good with that. I don’t want to become obsolete. You know, my wife totally doesn’t want to become obsolete. And she’s not a tech savvy person. And so sometimes I’m really scared by this. Yeah, I don’t feel I have the upper hand on that story. You know?

Dave Chapman 58:24
Yeah. Let me let me ask you a question. This is one that I’ve puzzled about. So when you look at fast food culture, you know, Alice Waters has beautifully laid out these kinds of attributes of cheap, uniform, replicable, right? And one of them is efficient.

JM Fortier 2 58:46

Dave Chapman 58:46
And as you said earlier, it’s your Northstar. And for me too, you know, and I thought, well, how do I make sense of that, that any farmer I know, who’s a commercial farmer, on whatever scale, is really focused on being super efficient. And yet, I see that there’s some truth in what Alice said, that somehow it’s become like a little God. And it seems like there’s a difference in what we might mean by efficiency and what McDonald’s might mean by efficiency. Do you have any words for that?

JM Fortier 2 59:33
Thinking out loud now that we’re discussing this, I think perhaps the next barrier for small scale farming is having appropriate technology for our scale of farming. A board of affordable, appropriate technology. Now that I think about it, that could be super positive. You know, because, having here mechanized roll ups is certainly better than not having the mechanized roll ups. And having, you know, a controller that manages the airflow, the temperature, that’s definitely a benefit for me.

Dave Chapman 1:00:09
And the BCS with a rotary plow.

JM Fortier 2 1:00:11
Yeah, and, if there was a small little robot that would come and hand cultivate everything, if it’s like a couple $1,000. Why not? But, I think this feeling that I have, a lot of craftsmen feel it in their own line of trade, you know, having AI come in, having technology, robotics. So I think this uneasiness that I have is pretty shared. Across the board.

Dave Chapman 1:00:44
Yeah, we’re all uneasy.

JM Fortier 2 1:00:46
Yeah, you know, is this real? Is this even real, what people are seeing? Is this fake JM?

Dave Chapman 1:00:53
Yeah, no, yeah, I know. And we can’t tell.

JM Fortier 2 1:00:59
Being a supporter for Donald Trump all these years, you know?

Dave Chapman 1:01:03
Right. No, the rate of change is so rapid now that we’re all sort of stunned at trying to digest what’s going on. I’m looking at your ground and you’re talking about cultivating. So let me let me ask another question. Tillage and no till. I have a lot of thoughts about it. But I’m curious about your thoughts. You’re a very intensive market gardener. Well, let me just leave it at that. What are your thoughts about that? No till has become a bit of a religion in our time, often by non farmers, but I’m just curious what you think.

JM Fortier 2 1:01:50
I agree with that. It has become very ideological, often by people that are not farmers. I’ve seen a great no till farm just last week. I was in Maine. Frith Farm. Daniel Mays has a very impressive, very impressive farm. I think it’s a different style. You know, burying your beds with compost all the time or just with organic matter. It’s a different style than cultivating and….

Dave Chapman 1:02:23
Was that what Mays farm was? Really heavy compost?

JM Fortier 2 1:02:26
Yeah compost, but not really compost. It’s more like it’s, you know, compost from leaves. So it doesn’t have a lot of NPK, it’s not high nitrogens.

Dave Chapman 1:02:35

JM Fortier 2 1:02:36
Just like brown/black mulch.

Dave Chapman 1:02:41

JM Fortier 2 1:02:43
Very beautiful farm, very beautiful vegetables. He has, you know, a lot of taste in the aesthetics of the farm. But you know, I think it’s a different style. Which one produces the higher quality of vegetables? That could be an interesting question. Which one takes more work? That’s certainly a very interesting question. Which one has a better bottom line? If you compare two kinds of systems. I think these are questions that are interesting. And I think that overhyping no till, for me, doesn’t make any sense at all. Like some tillage, like you said, is great. I use a broad fork here. I think it’s a great tool. I’ve seen so many farms where they think about no till. And then they’re saying, Well, we don’t want to use the broad fork. And it’s like, they can’t get the broad fork into the ground. If you can’t broad fork, then you need to broad fork. Don’t oversimplify it.

Dave Chapman 1:03:44
Broadfork like a grelinette?

JM Fortier 2 1:03:45
Yeah, it’s like, if you’re having a hard time getting metal tines into the soil, don’t think that no till is great. These vegetables, they need deep rooting systems, that’s the key to the biointensive methods that we use, and so nuances….

Dave Chapman 1:04:02
And they need oxygen to the roots.

JM Fortier 2 1:04:03
And they need that and you know, cultivating in my opinion is still a great way to achieve both, keeping the beds clean, but bringing oxygen into the soil, spending time with the plants. So, I don’t know if I’m turning around the thing, but I’m definitely you know, I think it’s interesting, but that’s not what I want to do here. And there’s a reason why that’s not what I do.

Dave Chapman 1:04:33
And why is that?

JM Fortier 2 1:04:33
Well, because I just think this is more efficient, in my time. And I do produce high quality vegetables. And I think that I don’t want my game plan to be, you know, moving soil around. That’s not why I farm.

Dave Chapman 1:04:51

JM Fortier 2 1:04:52
That’s not what I want to do.

Dave Chapman 1:04:54

JM Fortier 2 1:04:55
It’s a lot of soil to move around all the time. It’s a lot.

Dave Chapman 1:04:59
With a heavy mulching.

JM Fortier 2 1:05:00
Yeah if you’re heavy mulching everything all the time. If you think about it, it’s quite the job.

Dave Chapman 1:05:06
Have you ever been to Brian O’Hara’s farm or encountered Brian?

JM Fortier 2 1:05:09
I’ve read his book.

Dave Chapman 1:05:10

JM Fortier 2 1:05:10
Yeah, but I’ve never seen this farm.

Dave Chapman 1:05:12
It’s beautiful. He’s a very good farmer. And I don’t think it’s so much heavy mulching, I know that Singing Frog and stuff. That’s really what they’re doing is mulching with compost. But I don’t think that’s Brian. Brian uses compost for sure. But I think there are other things. I think he’s an extraordinary farmer who’s developed it very well. I’m sure that somebody could try that and miss by a mile. Miss by an inch, miss by a mile.

JM Fortier 2 1:05:41
Not talking about Brian or him.

Dave Chapman 1:05:43

JM Fortier 2 1:05:45
Just in general, but what’s with the attitude? With no till?

Dave Chapman 1:05:51
You mean, why is it a religion?

JM Fortier 2 1:05:53
Yeah, you know, why aren’t you just kind of doing this and sharing with your neighbors and then going to farming conferences? You know, why such a hype over it? That’s where I’m kind of confused. I think this came out of courses on soil ecology, and then just having this deep feeling that soils need to be really cared for. But why such an aggressive hype around it? Because that’s what I sometimes I see, like, people are very set in their ways.

Dave Chapman 1:06:28

JM Fortier 2 1:06:30
I don’t get that part. Like for me, sharing expertise, sharing knowledge, sharing ways of doing is great. And, you know, perhaps when I was younger, I was pushing the without tractor kind of affair abit much. So I’m perhaps guilty of that. But anyway.

Dave Chapman 1:06:50
I think a lot of it grew out of livestock farming and heavy tilled row crops. If you’re growing beef or milk cows, and you’re feeding a whole lot of corn and soybeans, so you’re tilling heavily in the big field operations. It’s pretty rough on the soils, it’s not what you’re doing here.

JM Fortier 2 1:07:16

Dave Chapman 1:07:17
And clearly depleting the soils, they’re more prone to erosion. So no till looks really good, especially if it means, now, if you’re doing it with livestock it means you’re going all pasture. You’re going all grass.

JM Fortier 2 1:07:30
Yeah, which is great.

Dave Chapman 1:07:30
It’s all great. It’s all what we want to do.

JM Fortier 2 1:07:33

Dave Chapman 1:07:33
But I think it became a bit coated for, well everything should be that way. And, you know, it’s complicated. So, I think we all should respect it’s complicated.

JM Fortier 2 1:07:47
And I’m certainly willing to, myself, debate ideas and go, you know, compare practices. I like that, actually I really like that. Yeah, and like I say, this farm that I visited was amazing. It was really epic. And, you know, some of the best, best farmers that I know, they cultivate.

Dave Chapman 1:08:10

JM Fortier 2 1:08:10
And they’re just amazing vegetables, beautiful landscapes, great farms. And so, you know…..

Dave Chapman 1:08:21
Yeah, no, I agree.

JM Fortier 2 1:08:23
I was about to say whatever floats your boat, but I don’t want to say that because I think that’s part of the confusion.

Dave Chapman 1:08:28

JM Fortier 2 1:08:28
It’s not just whatever floats your boat, it’s what model are you’re following, and then just kind of stick to that because if you’re trying to pick and choose things from different models, i’m not sure, in the end if you’re getting somewhere,

Dave Chapman 1:08:42
Right, right. I’ve seen some spectacular failures in no till vegetable.

JM Fortier 2 1:08:47
Yes. Oh, for sure.

Dave Chapman 1:08:48
For sure.

JM Fortier 2 1:08:49
And vegetables like we do here.

Dave Chapman 1:08:51

JM Fortier 2 1:08:51
Market gardening style.

Dave Chapman 1:08:53
I don’t know if I’ve ever talked to you about it, but I went and visited these three farms that were part of the Chico State Trial on low till in big field vegetables out in California. And so interesting, JM, they were doing a beautiful job. These were top, top farmers. And, you know, maybe my very favorite was Phil Foster, who has 300 acres of just gorgeous, impeccable organic vegetables, and his low till is he would go through with a chisel foot and a disc, open it up 10 inches, a little chisel and close it all in one pass.

JM Fortier 2 1:09:31

Dave Chapman 1:09:32
He has permanent beds, you know, so he’s never messing with the tractor path. And he would flail the cover crop. So he was big cover crop?

JM Fortier 2 1:09:40
Yeah, that was his mulch.

Dave Chapman 1:09:43
Well, that was his mulch, but that was also his fertility. He did put in some compost, but he really counted on his green manures to really feed his crop. So he would open up and he would end up with a four foot bed, there about, and a 10 inch tilled swath down the middle that he would seed into. And you would think, and everything else was flailed, and it wasn’t a weed problem. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was his yields were reduced by 10%.

JM Fortier 2 1:10:16

Dave Chapman 1:10:17
Where he wasn’t tilling the full bed and the other farms had the same issue. And I said, Phil, why is that? He says, We don’t know for sure, but I think that the cover crop is just sitting on this dry surface. It’s very dry in California. And we’re not getting the benefit of that breaking down organic matter in the soil with all the wonderful things that happen. I thought, Wow, isn’t that interesting, you know?

JM Fortier 2 1:10:48

Dave Chapman 1:10:48
So these are complicated system.

JM Fortier 2 1:10:51
And there’s room for, you know, universities and ag. extension agents can be doing research on these things.

Dave Chapman 1:10:59
That’s right.

JM Fortier 2 1:11:02
Or farmers sharing their insights.

Dave Chapman 1:11:04

JM Fortier 2 1:11:05
I’ve planted many many many times, broccoli in roller crimped cover crops. And I never get the yields.

Dave Chapman 1:11:17

JM Fortier 2 1:11:18
That if I mow it down, I tarp it, you know, really let the cover crop decompose, and then I put landscape fabric and then I put my broccolis into landscape fabric. You know, the broccolis are twice the size. So, is no till better?

Dave Chapman 1:11:34

JM Fortier 2 1:11:35
That’s not what I’m seeing.

Dave Chapman 1:11:36
That’s right. Yeah, I know.

JM Fortier 2 1:11:40
I think I need to hit the road.

Dave Chapman 1:11:41
Absolutely, JM. Thank you very much.

JM Fortier 2 1:11:43
It was a great time.

Dave Chapman 1:11:44
Yeah, it was great.

JM Fortier 2 1:11:45
Next time, I’ll come and visit.

Dave Chapman 1:11:46