Jean-Martin Fortier — JM to those who know him well — is a legend in the world of organic and regenerative agriculture. The author of the award-winning bookThe Market Gardener, Fortier has inspired a generation of farmers, gardeners, and eaters to reimagine their local food systems. From his micro-farm in Quebec, he’s led by example, demonstrating how human-scale agriculture can nurture communities, feed neighbors, and economically sustain small farmers.
Needless to say, we’re big fans. Imagine our delight when we discovered that Fortier is, likewise, a fan of Opinel. From this mutual respect came our new collaboration with Fortier’s brand Growers & Co. — the No. 10 Harvest Knife, designed especially for farmers and gardeners to use while pruning, harvesting, and working in the fields. WIth both centimeters and inches marked on the handle, the built-in ruler makes it easy to make precise cuts and harvest plants at the right time.
“From the time I first started farming, the knife I depended on was the Opinel No.10 for harvesting,” said Fortier. “The knife is also the first thing I give to each one of my students when they first start farming — it’s sort of a rite-of-passage in a lot of ways for growers.”
As we celebrate the launch of this new collaboration, we took the chance to ask Fortier about his life, his approach to farming, and what’s ahead of his farm and his brand.
How did you find your way to a life and career spent farming?
When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I studied environmental sciences at McGill University in Montreal while enjoying time off traveling, planting trees, and building natural and alternative housings. But it’s when I discovered small-scale organic farming I finally found my way.
I started my agrarian journey in my early twenties, after WWOOFing along with my wife Maude-Hélène Desroches in the United States. I discovered what would become my profession thanks to Richard Bélanger, a Quebec market gardener established in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Known as “The Salad King of Santa Fe,” he shared his knowledge with us, and we discovered the positive energy that surrounded the farming community.
When Maude-Hélène became pregnant and we returned to Quebec, our intention was clear: We wanted to start our own farm and grow better, not bigger.
How has small-scale agriculture changed since you began farming at Les Jardins de la Grelinette in 2004?
The movement has really exploded in our neck of the woods. There used to be 2 organic farms in and around our village of Frelighsburg, but that number has now grown to around 20 small organic farms. We even have our weekly Wednesday-night farm gathering at the local coffee shop where it’s packed with farmers, interns and lovers of good food. I have witnessed how small-scale farming has revitalized my community, which is another reason why I’m such a big advocate of small-scale farming — I’ve lived it!
What do you think the year of upheaval we’ve all recently experienced, as a result of Covid-19, will mean for the movement for human-scale food systems?
I do find myself often reflecting on the major disruptions that the pandemic has caused to our lives, work and communities, especially how we’ve been forced to give up one of the most fundamental human needs of all: in-person connection. No matter how isolated we may be, I do think that one silver lining is that more and more people are recognizing the value of healthy, regenerative, locally grown food — and are willing to support it. If there is one advantage to the current crisis, it’s that the work of small farms is being celebrated and encouraged more than ever before!
Many folks have also decided to make drastic changes to their livelihoods — packing their bags, quitting their corporate jobs, and finding work that has more personal meaning in the countryside. It certainly seems that more and more people are considering life on a farm or in the country.
What advice do you have for novices who are very new to gardening or farming?
Field experience and training are the keys to success. I would tell those who want to get started to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way to learn and grow. Be it an internship, a workshop, an online training or a book, it will help you achieve your goals in the least amount of time. And also, don't hesitate to start growing on your own — after a year or two on someone else's farm, just do it!
Tell us about your experience with Opinel! How did you first encounter the brand, and what does it mean to you?
When I first started thinking about Growers & Co., Opinel was always the brand at the top of the list for those to partner and collaborate with. When the opportunity came up for us to collaborate, we jumped at the idea, as it fully represents the brand and everything that a grower stands for. Opinel knives play such a huge role in the everyday life of a grower. From the time I first started farming, the knife I depended on was the Opinel No. 10 for harvesting. The knife is also the first thing I give to each one of my students when they first start farming - it’s sort of a rite-of-passage in a lot of ways for growers.
How are you using your new Opinel x Growers & Co. collaboration knife?
I use mine everywhere, but especially in the field when harvesting. The Opinel x Growers & Co. knife has a great measuring tool engraved on the handle, in both CM and INCH, that allows growers to measure vegetables to make sure they are large enough to harvest, and to measure the perfect place to cut the vegetable when harvesting. I think it’s the one thing that I always have on me, no matter where I am.
What’s next on the horizon for Growers & Co.?
So much! We have so many cool projects that we are working towards for growers and getting our mission out there. First off, there’s of course the functional farmwear that we will release at the end of May, which includes field pants and overalls with knee pads that can be integrated. For the brand as a whole, we are also starting our Growing Change program, which aims to work with boots-on-the-ground associations to provide small-scale regenerative farmers with equipment, knowledge and financial support so they can better feed their communities and provide access to healthy, locally-grown food. We’ve partnered with some great companies in order to bring the program to life, such as Steward, Rodale Institute, The Market Gardener and the National Young Farmers Coalition, among others. And then we’ve started working on the third issue of the magazine, which is always an exciting journey to start where we get to discover and highlight the amazing work that growers and innovators are doing.
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