It is a very special farm as it is a farm-school which aim is to train future veggie growers and to make the demonstration of the market gardening model that Jean-Martin Fortier, author of the book « the market gardener » teaches.
The market gardening method as practiced at the Ferme des Quatre-Temps was invented and systematized by Jean-Martin after he successfully set his own farm Les Jardins de la Grelinette and experimenting it for more than 15 years. Of course, it is inspired by various sources that come from personal experience but also, and to name only two, other market gardeners such as the Parisian market gardener of the XIXth century as well as Eliot Coleman, an american market garderner who took this XIXth century methods and adapted and developed them in our contemporary time..
Nota : The Ferme des Quatre-Temps is a brand that contains two locations, the Ferme des Quatre-Temps at Hemmingford where we helped for a month and the farm at Port-au-Persil, smaller but with the same objective.
With these two farms, the Ferme des Quatre-Temps production is very complete. We were able to eat excellent animal and vegetable products of the farm but we will only present here the veggie production as we did not really experiment the other aspects. Still, it can be noted that at Hemmingford, there is also some cattle raising for meat, some pigs as well as mobile chicken houses for eggs, there are also hives and a professional kitchen for the product transformation.
There is about 8 acres of market gardening. Every bed is 100 feet long and are organised in blocks which compose the main two gardens, south and north. There are also greenhouses that are heated in winter and at the beginning of spring to maintain a temperature above freezing level, mainly located in the south block as well as several « cold » tunnels (unheated). Some beds are also covered with hoop houses, cold tunnels that can be set up quickly, still high enough to walk through.
The last block of land completes the 8 acres, it is the winter garden of nearly one hectare. This one is dedicated to conservation cultures (vegetables that keep in storage for a long time) / longer crop^s that take up more space / crops that can be grown later in the season (knowing that winter in Québec arrives really quick and sets up durably until spring with a lot of snow).
It is described in details in the Market Gardener book of JM Fortier. We here only described what seemed specific to us or that we noticed in particular (what stayed with us in the end I guess)
The standardization of the beds that are permanent is one of the major aspects of this method and enables the use of the bed as a production measure but also a work time measure and to create a daily planning as well as an annual one with much more ease.
The rotations are organized in blocks of veggies grouped for their time to maturity as well as their fertilization needs. Of course, botanical families are also a criteria but with the diversity of the vegetables, the proximity of the blocks as well as their quick rotation, this last criteria isn’t the priority one when choices need to be made.
The post harvest processing room is a very well organized place and equipped in order not to lose time with cleaning and preparation for transport to the farmer’s market while getting a good result and working protected from the bad weather or the sun. It is equipped with big tables covered in metal netting, deep and big sinks and is entirely washable with hoses. It also has a big bubbler to wash the leafy greens. The whole room is pretty big but allows to imagine a much smaller version on a smaller scaled farm.
The preparation of the beds is done with a BCS, a small motorized tiller adapted to push or pull cultivation tools and with a broad fork. With a little practice, using the broad fork becomes a physical but comfortable exercise that allows to keep in good shape ! The fertilization is adapted to the next crop and follows a recipe made from chicken manure granules, poultry blood flour and crushed rock.
The weeding strategy besides the classical manual tools such as a variety of hoes and other less classical such as manual harrows or hoes on wheels for the alleys, uses a lot of huge black tarps in order to cover the unused beds and/or beds in preparation.
A planning for the crops allows to follow the current status of each bed and hereby verify the real and planned planning and retro-planning of the seeding.
The nursery which is attached to the post-harvest processing room is equally impressive, the big space is very optimized in order to receive a maximum number of seeded trays on rolling tables. The ventilation is also very present. Next to this space there are also tables arranged in a semi-exterior space in order to strengthen the seedlings before they are transplanted. In the nursery, foldable tables are used to make the seeding manually or with the help of a vacuum seeder that helps to accelerate seeding. Big rolling containers under these tables help to contain the mixed seedling soil, mixed to the needs, and to gather the excess during preparation of the seed trays which can be done very efficiently.
Team management and organization
The whole method is a lot about common sense and discipline in order to systematize the tasks to be done and to optimize the space in which they are taking place. Our opinion is that this would not be so efficient if it weren’t for the amazing team management and organization of the tasks attribution that are set-up at the farm.
The team is made up of about ten + employed apprentices. There are first-years and second-years, and depending on their experience level as well as their situation on their learning curve, they receive in autumn or the beginning if the next season, their main responsibilities. One person for the harvests, one for the nursery, one for the direct sowing, one for the transplants, one for the tool maintenance,...etc. These responsibilities allow each responsible to use their own perspective and establish the list of tasks to be accomplished according the objectives to be reached as well as with a crop planning that is collectively established in autumn for the next season. This distribution is necessary because the team and the farm are bug. However, even on a little farm, the distinction of these various domains seems interesting to us in order not to forget important tasks to be done and hence observing the list of things to do through several perspectives that complete each other.
The crop planning established from the sales objectives is created collectively in autumn. We have been able to observe its results but not this process as we were there during summertime. It is a « classical » exercise in vegetable growing that is also taught in the market gardening courses in France. From the sales objectives, the vegetables to be grown and their quantities are defined based on yield. Then the block of culture are defined according the rotation priorities and the times to maturity. From knowing the growth period, are defined the sowing dates and even sometimes the dates for intervening in the preparation of the beds in order to ensure that there is enough time between two crops to prepare properly (such as organizing a false sowing for carrots ahead of the crop itself). The key resides then in following the real versus the planned in order to continually collect data that enables the improvement of the planning year after year and to know at any time during the season, the real situation versus the planned one.
For daily practice, there is a weekly meeting on Monday that is organized in the middle of the day between the main responsibles in order to establish the list for the tasks of the week. We haven’t been to one of those but the result was visible on the big white board with all the weekly tasks, separated in responsibility domains as mentioned above. Everyday there is each morning a meeting that is about 10min to 15min in order to distribute the tasks of the day and organize the team. Each responsible presents what there is to do and requests a number of people and then attributes the tasks. JM Fortier is there but only intervenes to provide advice, to correct some things if more pressing priorities need to be identified and in general to provide guidance as necessary. His management style of the team enables the other team members to feel responsible and committed but as well supported when there are critical decisions to make. It is very nice and impressive as an experience. Having had the experience of a special management program in the huge industrial corporation i worked at, and having experienced the managers in this same enterprise (very different than what was being taught), i am thinking that these managers would learn so much watching how this farm is ran because it is quite rare to see a good team management in reality.
Once a week, at a fixed and unremovable time, whatever the emergencies, there is a one hour session to address an exercise called « rose, thorn and bud » where each, using specific communication rules in order to frame and secure one’s way of speaking, speaks for the past week about one situation or topic that went well, another that didn’t or that puts the person into a bad emotion and a last that allows to look at the future and how to improve things. Each point ends with an action to continue or change the situation. It is a privileged and quiet moment that enables each members of the team to communicate between each other, to let be known how they feel and eventually to solve conflicts within the team or at least to express them.
The market garden produces of the farm are sold during the weekend on the central market of Montreal, 45min from the farm. There is also another small market on thursday and deliveries to about 20 restaurants of Montreal. There are also veggie boxes prepared for the farm partners. The revenue of a weekend market is above 10 000 dollars. The sales are happening until nearly the end of the year and start again quickly at the beginning of the year (contrary to Port-au-Persil farm which is located more north of Québec which stops quickly in the middle of autumn and can only start again in April), it is thus vital to lengthen the season thanks to greenhouse crops and conservation crops. Financially, the set-up of this farm-school has been financed by a millionaire who wishes to develop organic agriculture in Québec. However, the objective is to get a profitable farm so there is a real attention to quality and yield as well as the efficiency of the expenses of the farm. It is sometimes necessary to remember that this farm trains market gardeners to work on smaller scale farms while applying the method they learned there so the investments to start are to be brought back to that small scale and not to be compared with those for the farm-school. Since this farm started, more than 9 little farms have been created by the apprentices of the school with that many more market gardeners as some were created in association. A visible success of the apprenticeship practiced at the farm.
Website Ferme des Quatre Temps
VIDEOS MADE ON-SITE - to be published soon