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The Market Gardener – Make Money Farming on Small Acreage

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The Market Gardener:  A Successful Grower's Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming by Jean-Martin Fortier demonstrates that it is possible to earn a good living on a small piece of land, and provides the reader with the tools they need to do it.

The Market Gardener book

With under 2 acres of cultivated land, Jean-Martin and his wife aren't just small farmers, they're micro-farmers. They have been supporting their family for the last ten years with just 1 1/2 cultivated acres , and achieving a profit margin of over 40%. I live in a state with large amounts of agriculture, and I know most farmers around here are struggling just to break even, let alone post that sort of profit.

How do they achieve these results? Through strategic planning.

The Market Gardener Success Strategy

  • Garden Intensively – Maximize production by optimizing soil fertility, determining the best return per square foot of garden crop, reducing non-productive space and gathering multiple crops per season from the same soil
  • Minimize Start Up Cost – Micro-scale production eliminates the need for large, expensive machinery, which is a huge expense for many produce growers. Additional tools/materials can be added over time and sometimes purchased used. Appropriate sizing and uniform sizing between beds allows production enhancers such as tarps, row covers and hoops to be moved within the garden with minimum effort, and allows a single item to be used in multiple locations over the course of the season.
  • Minimize Production Cost – by operating on a micro-scale and planning for efficiency of labor, Jean-Martin and his wife minimize the need for outside labor, which typically accounts for 50% of costs of market growers.
  • Sell Direct and Add Value – By cutting out the middle man, direct to consumer sales generate maximum return for the market gardener. Focusing on details that add value to the consumer, such as early season vegetables and unique vegetable cultivars, means that their produce can garner a premium price.

What's In The Market Gardener

The book opens with a general overview, and then takes the reader step by step through the process of creating a successful market garden, including:

  • Finding the Right Site
  • Designing the Market Garden
  • Minimum Tillage and Appropriate Machinery
  • Fertilizing Organically
  • Starting Seeds Indoors
  • Direct Seeding
  • Weed Management
  • Insect Pests and Disease
  • Season Extension
  • Harvest and Storage
  • Crop Planning

One particular aspect of their cropping strategy that I found personally appealing was that they do not try to harvest a crop year round. This provides them with a couple of months in deep winter to relax and recharge – even take a vacation – before heading back to work with fresh enthusiasm. It allows reduces the need for supplemental light and heating. (They are located in Canada, so some supplemental heating for early season seed starting is a must.)

There are also detailed crop growing notes, sources for tools and supplies, planting schedules and crop rotation charts. Simple line drawings help to illustrate key points throughout the text.

The Market Gardener excerpt

You can hear from the author himself talk about his inspiration for writing “The Market Gardener”:

If you're ready to “grow better instead of growing bigger”, this may be the right book for you. It's possible to make a living off the land without a large amount of land. Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife have proved it.

Buy The Market Gardener:  A Successful Grower's Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming now.

I received a copy of the book for review. As always, my opinions are my own.

If you have a favorite book for profitable small farming, please share your suggestion in the comments.

You may also enjoy:

The Market Gardener book

Originally published in 2014, updated May 2016. Giveaway was held back in 2014 and is now closed.

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89 Comments

  1. That looks like an excellent book that I would love to read! I have too many questions to even start listing them! 🙂

    1. I agree with Mandy. I could fill the page with questions and still not have them all answered, lol.

  2. This is great! As a fairly new gardener, I can use all the help I can get. We have lots of standing water in the springtime that, unfortunately, drowned 1/2 of my seeds last year. Any suggestions for dealing with excess water, besides trucking in a ton of dirt to make raised beds?

  3. This book sounds wonderful. I wonder what you see as the pro’s and con’s comparing traditional row gardening, square foot gardening, and container gardening. We don’t own our home/yard; I was thinking I’d like to keep things as non-permanent as possible, but I’m open to advice. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise. (And I hope I win the book!) 🙂

    1. I’ve dreamed about selling my homegrown veggies & fruit at a farmers market, this sounds like a good resource!

  4. Thanks for the giveaway! How do you clean your lettuce? I always find grit in my garden lettuce- especially after a good rain when the dirt is splashed deep up into the leaves. Yuck!

  5. Now that I have a cow and chickens, I’m trying to learn the right and wrong ways of using their ‘fertilizer’ in the garden. I’d be interested in any tips regarding that.

  6. We have been working on growing more of what we put on our table for the last 3 years. Last year was the worst year yet for our garden. What direction should rows be planned out in?

    1. I don’t usually plant in just rows – too much wasted space and soil compaction – but when I plant in rows within blocks, it varies. Most of the time I plant east to west, and put taller crops to the north ends of beds. Sometimes I plant north to south and use taller plants to shade cool loving plants from later afternoon sun by planting the shorter plants to the east of the tall plants. Prevailing winds, if any, need to be considered, too. I find my corn is a little less likely to tip over in strong winds if I plant the rows in the direction of the winds, but it doesn’t make a huge difference.

  7. I am a North-Westcoast gardener who has just moved to semi-arid Colorado. This year is going to be a huge learning curve as far as gardening goes. Any tips on growing food at high-altitude in drought-like conditions?

  8. We have a small farm and want it to be self sustaining and organic. We can use all the help we can get!

  9. I’ve been working to improve my heavy Ontario clay soil for 10 years but it’s still not great. I compost and add manures, and this past year I’ve spread heavy mulch everywhere. Any extra tips on what I can do to improve tilth?

    1. Sounds like you are on the right track. Make sure to encourage soil life, and add some bulky organic matter that will take longer to break down than finished compost. Our last place had heavy clay soil, and by the end of nine years (when we moved), we were just starting to see significant improvement.

    1. I have been gardening ever since I was a very small girl, grew up with most all the family being farmers of some type..dairy/produce. I still have lots of questions even after all these years!! We are fairly new to chicken keeping also. I have questions about the use of their waste for compost… The ‘hows’ & ‘whens’. I think this book is a great asset to anyone new or old to the gardening scene. We are not using our garden to “profit” from outside consumers, but we are growing for TO-profit from having our own organic fresh vegetables and fruits. We start seeds indoors, and use the “hot box” methods to start outdoors earlier. We also can/freeze our harvest to extend the ‘life’ of our labors. I am also learning more in the storage area of produce, (root cellars), this I think is a huge key to having fresh, whole vegetables in the ‘off’ seasons. I would love to acquire this book, whether or not I am lucky enough to win it!! Thank you for the opportunity!-Danielle

  10. I would find this book very interesting. My husband and I keep talking about market gardening, so this would be very informative.

  11. The points listed under “The Market Gardener Success Strategy” tell me that these folks know what they’re doing. There are too many books out there written by folks who are good at writing, but don’t know the subject matter from personal experience. I can take each of those points and show where they also apply to the software business that I started 19 years ago. That business has allowed me to live and work from my own little homestead on a dirt road. I can work in the garden and work with the chickens and ducks and geese while many of my customers probably think I’m in an office in a large city.

    Farming is a business, whether it’s a two acre organic market garden or a two thousand acre agribusiness. It sounds like the authors of this book understand that and have found that sweet spot where you are doing what you enjoy and making a decent living from it. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

    Stephen Clay McGehee
    The Southern Agrarian

  12. Lovely giveaway. Looks like a great read. I’ve gardened most of my life. The past couple years I’ve had little to no luck trying to garden in our yard. I think between the dogs and the soil not being good its a struggle. I wish I knew what to do (besides fencing off a section of the already fenced in backyard) to keep the dogs out of my garden. Any ideas? They dig too. So I suspect they would just dig under the fence if they really wanted to get to my garden. 🙂

  13. Really looking forward to reading this book. Would also like to know more about growing herbs all year long in our home

  14. This book looks wonderful and I would love to win a copy! Do you have any suggestions for getting rid of wire worms in the soil without using chemicals? I try to do everything organically and I love potatoes but can not grow them here because of these awful worms. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Stone or concrete blocks are the most durable and least likely to leech. In the book, they simply use a specific type of tiller to mound the soil without any structure to hold it. Cedar is good and rot resistant, but pricey.

  15. Looks like a Book worth reading!!! Would appreciate winning a copy.
    How can I plant different varieties of tomatoes, corns, melons, squash, pumpkins, ect. and make sure that they will not cross-pollinate? I would appreciate maintaining and producing seed true to each variety. I don’t have much land available but enjoy gardening. I live in a area with a zone 13 designation, without any limitation due to frost. Is there any guild to what can and cannot be grown in land in this zone? We have recieved seed and transplants catalogs, but they usually doesn’t mention our zoning, just up to zone 9. Although I’m aware that some of the plants included strives were I live, I would like to venture with some of the other plants offered in these catalogs, but would like to be sure they will be productive in our zoning.

    1. My best advice is to talk to neighbors who have gardened successfully in your area. Some things just are not likely to grow well, others will likely thrive.

      As for avoiding cross pollination, it comes down to isolation. Corn will cross pollinate over miles, tomatoes tend to be self fertile. Growing a single variety of each is the best way to ensure staying true to type, but to make sure you have a strong gene pool, it’s advised in most cases to have at least 30 plants of a particular variety. This can be tough in a home garden. My favorite book to date on seed saving is “Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners“.

  16. As a lifelong gardener with access to my own land only in retirement, coupled with a need to supplement my retirement income, I have been looking for just such a book. It will be a great addition to my micro-farming library. I hope the authors address the issue of stony ground, since my land consists of 2 acres of it;-)

  17. Gardening becomes more difficult with age and health issues, so being more efficient is more important than ever. Some tips would be great.

  18. With all the critters I have that eat all my kitchen scraps, how do I make compost. My garden needs it, but my compost bin is now empty.

  19. I am so excited to read this book. Imagine living off of 2 acres of land AND making a profit. This is my dream!!

  20. As someone from the country and moved to a city, I am so looking forward to this book.
    My 5 a. garden went down to 1/2 a. so I can use the help.

  21. I am excited to read this book! Like said before, I have a lot of questions and I guess the biggest one would how to get started without getting overwhelmed.

  22. We have a lot of clay in our soil. We have been considering adding our veggie scraps directly to the garden. Any experience with this?

    1. I tried it for a while at our last place, until the skunks or racoons (not sure if it was one or both, since both were in the area) came in and started digging holes in my garden to dig them up.

  23. What an inspiring book! Wonder how I can get my husband onboard with expanding beyond our little backyard veggie and herb patch to the whole yard!

  24. I was just wondering if there is any manure you can add directly to your garden without aging it first?

  25. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my own gardening techniques to supplement my own diet and friends. Thanks

  26. One of my gardening questions that seems VERY common sense but I can’t figure it out: do you plant seeds throughout spring/summer/fall? I’m curious because I’m starting crops this year, but have only gardened on a small scale before. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to plant seeds sporadically according to their germination period so I have crops to harvest throughout the year? Or if you only harvest when each plant is ready, and whatever you get, you get? (I hope this makes sense!)

    1. It depends on the length of your growing season and what you are trying to grow. I am in zone 5, so I do the bulk of my planting in spring to give crops time to mature, but I do plant a few things later for fall crops, such as some greens and root vegetables. cold tolerant crops go in first, then warm weather ones after danger of frost has passed. Seeds are started inside for transplanting weeks before last frost, based on recommendations on the seed packets and personal experience.

      Check “days to maturity” on the seed package to get a rough estimate of time the plant will need to produce.

  27. Looks like a great and very informative book! As a side note, was born and raised in Wisconsin and folks currently live in Wausau. I moved down to Central Texas from Madison going on six years ago. My husband and I get up there though as often as we can (though prefer to do it in the summer months when the weather is nice and we can camp).

    Jessica

  28. As first year market gardeners in our 50s, I’d love more info on how to approach buyers. Thanks for the chance to get this good looking book.

  29. I heard him speak last summer at the Mother Earth News Fair. He was very inspiring. But he admits, it is very hard work!

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