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One of the things many folks struggle with when wanting to move to rural areas is income. Since the increased mechanisation of farming less people are needed to work in mainstream farming operations, and there aren’t many jobs available in these areas. People in cities often feel trapped in them, under the assumption that they need a typical ‘job’ in the country in order to move there.
For most people, a move to the country will involve needing to find a local source of income. Market gardening offers us the opportunity to create our own secure jobs in rural areas.
In ‘The Market Gardener’ by Jean-Martin Fortier he details a system of gardening that managed to make him and his wife a decent income on only 1/5th of an acre. His system involves rich organic soil, closely spaced plants in raised beds, and cultivation mostly with hand tools. They don’t need the extra space that is required for tractor cultivation.
Fortier’s market garden focuses on high value crops such as greenhouse tomatoes, mesclun mix and lettuce, and as many direct sales to customers as possible, usually as part of a CSA (community supported agriculture), or farmers markets. He also focuses on strategies including season extension techniques so that he has vegetables to sell weeks before the other growers have them, and weeks after the frosts have ended the other growers’ harvests. He is also careful about the presentation of his vegetables, selling carrots in bunches with their leaves on, to show their freshness, among other strategies.
For this system to work, the market gardener needs to be reasonably close to places where people will buy these vegetables. There’s no need to live in the cities and towns themselves, but given that selling at farmers markets and CSA drop-offs involves driving to these places once or twice a week in the growing season most people wouldn’t want too long of a drive to get there. Market gardeners might also find that as they become established, more local people begin to appreciate the food that they grow, and they can then reduce the number of trips to the city to sell vegetables.
After a couple of years of gardening on a rented 1/5th of an acre, Fortier’s family were able to obtain 10 acres of their own, where they have increased their market garden to 1.5 acres, and it is productive enough for them to employ people outside their own family. He claims that 2 acres is about the maximum that it’s possible to farm in this intensive hand tools focused way.
Provided there is good soil and enough water for irrigation, and the gardener is able to find plenty of people to sell the vegetables to, the only real downsides I can see to Fortier’s system are long-term ones. Even if it may not seem that resilient to be selling carrots in a bunch with their leaves on for twice the price of bulk organic carrots elsewhere, and choosing to grow 15 beds of lettuces instead of parsnips and rutabagas, it is still far more resilient than relying on city jobs, and the work is much more enjoyable.
Market gardeners work at their own pace, doing varied tasks, and often get to spend the winter either completely away from the garden, or with a minimum of tasks to do, so that we can naturally be in tune with the dark and contemplative days of winter, and the increased energy we feel as the days lengthen in spring. It offers us a chance to connect with the seasons, to have a natural rhythm of resting during the winter, being more active when the days are longer, and being outside with our lungs full of fresh air, our hands in the soil, our bellies full of fresh chemical-free food.
There are of course other systems of market gardening, many of them more resilient than Fortier’s system, but for someone without access to the larger amounts of land needed for other systems, it’s worth looking into this small-scale intensive one.
With this system, it means we can move away from the city, rent a house on 1/4 acre or more in a rural area, and begin a life full of clean fresh air and healthy food, free from the troubles in cities.