THE LOW OF HIGHTECH FARM­ING

Canada’s 100 Best - - Column -

Low in­ter­ven­tion meets high tech: that’s one way to de­scribe the prac­tices at La Ferme des Qu­a­tre-Temps, where tech­niques are both ut­terly mod­ern and an­chored in the en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spect­ful ap­proaches of the past. No chem­i­cal prod­ucts are used to kill pests or en­rich the soil. There is no fos­sil fuel-pow­ered ma­chin­ery.

Most of the work is done by hand. Plants are pro­tected from in­sects with a con­tem­po­rary tex­tile, non-wo­ven polypropy­lene, and UV-treated poly­eth­yl­ene tarps on the ground block the growth of weeds while veg­eta­bles grow through small holes.

The prin­ci­ples mak­ing this farm­ing so ef­fi­cient are sim­ple: with less space be­tween plants, less ef­fort is needed to work on them be­cause farm­ers have ev­ery­thing at hand. And if the land is densely planted with di­verse species, it is more pro­duc­tive by square foot. Also, when farm­ing is re­spect­ful of the soil and no chem­i­cals are used, smart plant ro­ta­tion is enough to keep the earth alive—there is no need for long breaks dur­ing which the soil re­gen­er­ates it­self while not pro­duc­ing any­thing.

“Com­pan­ion” plant­ing is also part of the Qu­a­tre-Temps ap­proach: cer­tain plants are paired be­cause they help each other grow, whether due to their dif­fer­ent nu­tri­ent needs or be­cause dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes pro­vide pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments. Use­ful pol­li­nat­ing in­sects are at­tracted by flow­ers. Birds and frogs eat pests.

On the an­i­mal-farm­ing side, some of the prac­tices are in­spired by the work of holis­tic Amer­i­can farmer Joel Salatin. Chicken coops are on wheels and thus mo­bile, so that hens can al­ways ac­cess new grass—and worms—while en­rich­ing the soil with their ma­nure. The fields are then richer and greener for the cows. The pigs are free to roam in the for­est.

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