Know Your Farmer: JM Fortier
JM Fortier: I’m super interested in helping with the Real Organic Project because I’m concerned about what’s happening.
Frankly, I feel that some people have worked 30, 40 years promoting organic, educating people about it, being on the ground and developing not only a big business out of it, but just like a sense of awareness, of consciousness.
And then to have it stolen by big corporations, and to have regulations that don’t respect what, you know, the goal of organic is? For me, it’s very shameful and I feel very disturbed by it.
And so however I can support the battle against that, or for something different, I’m on, I’m in, and I’m ready. I’m ready for battle.
JM Fortier and La Ferme des Quatres-Temps
My name is JM Fortier. For-tee-AY in French because I’m French Canadian.
I farm here in Southern Quebec, in Hemmingford. This farm is called Ferme des Quatre-Temps – Four Season Farm in French.
We grow five acres. It’s a Market Garden, no tractor. We grow on permanent raised beds.
We have almost 600, 100 foot of these permanent beds and I here train a crew of 10 young farmers to start their own two-acre market garden in the next few years.
So it’s a teaching ground.
Soil fertility for us boils down to not tilling, first of all. So we try to build the soil up. So the first few years we work in permanent raised beds and to clean the beds and to start new crops we tarp them.
So we have a lot of these black plastic tarps that we use to cover the beds. And then it’s the absence of light that destroys what’s underneath. And then we can start fresh. So we don’t till to clean our beds.
And then we have two or three crops per year on these beds, so there’s a rapid turnover. And then one of that three crop will get compost, a heavy dose of compost and then the fertility that we add is chicken manure or alfalfa meal to complement the compost-based fertility program that we have.
One field block is going to be in cover crop for half a year, every four years. The cover crops, we want the root systems to really go down and feed the subsoil but we’re working with compost and we’re working with you know not working the soil. So not to deplete the organic matter and to raise it, rather.
JM Fortier on Real Organic Farming
I believe in organic, that’s the reason why I got into farming.
I believe in soil.
You know, we farm without a tractor. Not because of philosophical reasons, but I like being grounded. I like the soil and I think it’s really good for my health and for the people that I feed with my veggies.
And so, for me, organic is the way to go.
And now there’s problems with the certification because of what’s happening with the USDA and hydroponic being certified, which is terrible because it’s soil-less agriculture.
And I don’t believe in that [certifying hydroponic]. That’s not organic.
In Canada, we have a kind of different setup. So far, the hydroponic systems are not being certified organic, but a lot of the things that are happening in the U.S. then become operating procedures for what’s going to happen in Canada, so…
So for me organic, it’s not just a stamp of approval, meaning that you’re not using pesticides or whatever.
It [organic] means that you’re working with nature, you’re working with the soil and you’re a real caretaker.
That’s what it means to me. And you know eating the food that is not grown in healthy soil, that is grown hydroponically, it’s like being fed like in the hospital when you’re with the medical IV; just like, it’s food, but it doesn’t have the oomph!
And I think that’s why we need farmers that care.
So because we care about soil and then we feed people healthy food and then it creates a vibrant community.
For me, Whole Foods is not the answer. That’s not where it’s happening.
Real Organic Food is Local, Seasonal, and Relational
You know local organic, in-season, with the grower, connecting with a CSA or connecting through a food hub or connecting through, you know whatever, a farmer’s market. That’s where the good food is.
That’s the good food revolution, is to have a lot of these farms present so that we can feed a lot of people. That’s what we need.
That’s something that nobody can ever take away from us and from what I do.
What I’ve observed, this is going to be my 16th – 17th year, is the connection I have with my customers and the kind of vibe that they have coming to my farmer’s stand.
It’s just like they want my food because they taste it, they see the freshness, they feel it, and they see my hands and they see my face and there’s something there that’s real and that’s profound also.
You know and they thank me for the food. And I thank them for being there and there’s a relationship.
And this relationship I don’t think will never be co-opted. I don’t think it’s possible to co-opt this kind of relationship.
From my CSA they’ve come to my farm, I know their kid’s name, there’s this sense of community.
So I think the alternative is going to have a lot of these kinds of circles of like-minded people feeding one another like that.
But you know, there’s going to be a need for a lot of farms to connect on that level, and smaller farms, I think, because if you want to keep it personal, then you’re not wholesaling all the time, you’re direct selling or you’re marketing your stuff in a closer niche market.
So I believe in that. That’s what I do. And I like that.
It really boils down for me to “the food grown with care by people who care.”
And that’s where the farmers, they play a role, because they’re the connector in that way.
Can USDA Organic Be Saved?
Linley Dixon: Do you think organic, USDA organic is salvageable?
JM Fortier: I don’t think it’s salvageable at this time. But that’s very personal. And I wouldn’t want to, you know…
I just feel that there’s a lot of strong forces out there that are not sensitive to… they’re sensitive to money.
And you know, I’m not sure this is going to work out that way.
You know, I think there’s going to be a lot of us from the ground up again. Like it happened 50 years ago. Starting again from scratch.
But I think there is more and more people wanting to connect with farmers. So that’s positive.
It’s not just the label anymore. It’s the farmer. That’s the revolution.
If you’re an organic grower and you’re concerned about this you should definitely check with what the project is doing right now, because it’s creating an alternative and it’s also creating opposition to perhaps counter what’s happening now.
And I believe in that.
Know Your Farmer! JM Fortier
Linley Dixon: Would you like a label that says, “Know Your Farmer”?
JM Fortier: Yeah, I’m down for that. Know your farmer, have a beer with him! You know, that’s the way to do it!
JM to Dave Chapman: Do you sense that I’m not so optimistic? Or…?
Dave Chapman: I feel exactly the same.
JM Fortier: I’m kind of feeling like climate change, the same thing. I’m like, I don’t think we’re going to make it.
Dave Chapman: I feel exactly the same. But I also think it’s the honorable thing is to try.
JM Fortier: Yeah, I agree.
JM Fortier and Dave Chapman on Trying to Stay Positive
Dave Chapman: I’d like to talk a little bit more about what you were just saying, which is that it’s easy to get very pessimistic and you said, we start facing things like climate change and it quickly can become so overwhelming that we become paralyzed.
And the same has been true in my experience with things like the loss of the Organic label and the USDA. It’s either enraging or it completely causes collapse.
So I’m curious what you think about that and what do we do about that. How do we deal with these hard things that we want to change but we often feel powerless to change?
JM Fortier: I don’t have the answer for sure. But I like solutions and I like people that are passionate about it.
Yeah for me climate change and that [the erosion of organic], there’s something very dramatic and sad about organic being stolen.
Like when you think about all the people that have worked towards that, educating people and all that work just kind of being, it’s very, it’s kind of, it always makes me think about Big Brother, and Big Business taking things and just kind of grabbing and yeah we’re fragile, you know.
And I think we should embrace that more, that we’re fragile and we should be careful with everything and stuff and so I don’t know.
I’m in the mood now, I’m not in fighting mode. I’m kind of sad about that.
I’m going to go over, come above it at one point, perhaps do something. But now I’m just kind of like a bit sad about that. At this point.
Dave Chapman: One time when I was in a very rough time in my life Davey [Miskell] said, he said, “well Scott Nearing told me you plant one radish, and then you plant another radish… And it’s just a way of moving from being paralyzed to action.
You know, you live in a world where every day you’re planting and you’re tilling and you’re harvesting, so it’s a world of kind of strong actions and it’s kind of a cure. But what I’m hearing is that it’s kind of a cure for the people who eat your food too. They feel connected to that action.
JM Fortier: Yup, they do.
Dave Chapman: And when they can buy your food and eat it and feel better, feel healthier, they feel like they’re part of some alternative to that…
JM Fortier: Some positive thing.
Dave Chapman:…to that corporate nastiness. To that theft.
M Fortier: Perhaps the spin off is going to be that, it’s going to bring more people to our tables because they’ll doubt. Instead of having the easy solution of just buying Organic from Whole Foods. They’re just going to think, “perhaps not.” Perhaps they’ll make the jump to really go local and really meet the grower and really connect with the food scene on that end. I don’t know.
But there’s going, there’s a need to have consciousness about the problems. You know, before people make that move.
Dave Chapman: Yeah, and they need to see things that are possible, too. The art of the possible is important. So that’s something very important here.
It’s you know, you did this! You, and a bunch of people did this.
JM Fortier:Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it’s true. Being in the positive, action every day is good. And I’m happy about that.
So perhaps more of us doing that. More young farmers. More, just let’s just do it.
Dave Chapman: You say they came in and stole something, but they didn’t.
You’re doing it.
You know as Eliot says he has many grandparents and great grandparents and people whose gifts he passes on to us. And we pass on.
You know I think when they say that they “stole Organic”, they stole a name, but the reality of organic farming continues and thrives and grows, not always thriving – sometimes stealing the name actually does crush the farming – but a lot of times it just springs up again, like a good hardy weed.
JM Fortier: I love it. I’m down for that. I am, yeah. Cool.
Dave Chapman: I think that’s good. Let’s let JM go to his dinner.