Recently Michelle, Rowan, Naomi and I embarked on a cross-country train trip to attend a family reunion in the eastern townships of Quebec. With a little extra time left over after the festivities, I decided to connect with Stefan Sobkowiak of Miracle Farms for a day, having come across Stefan’s work in the amazing YouTube video above.
Over the course of the day, I gleaned some great ideas and tips from Miracle Farms. I’m excited to share my three top insights with you.
Miracle Farms: A NAP Model
Stefan had been farming in a beyond-organic way for over 20 years, with great success. What’s unique is that he interplants multiple NAP species per orchard row — NAP stands for nitrogen fixer, apple, and plum/pear. This method confuses pests while providing much needed fertility for the fruit trees. Rows are separated by harvest date instead of cultivar type. But how can such an orchard be harvested in an efficient way?
Miracle Farms: A Hybrid Operation
Stefan modelled Miracle Farms around “the Small Farm Plan” taken from a book by Booker T. Whatley. In the book, Whatley described the process of generating $100,000 a year on 25 acres. Following that model, Miracle Farms runs as a hybrid CSA/U-pick operation. Over the years, Stefan has built up a base of customers that both want his produce and are willing to come pick it themselves. This approach has the advantage of providing early income for farm operations while simultaneously cutting down on labour costs. The benefit to the consumer is that they get the freshest food for up to 50% less because they are doing the work. A bonus perk is that there is much less packaging waste generated by this arrangement. It’s a win-win situation!
Miracle Farms: On Saving Time
Each of Miracle Farm’s orchard rows was set up like a grocery isle, with edible shrubs (Saskatoon, haskap, currant, and raspberry), vines (kiwi, grape, and hops), vegetables (tomatoes, kale, chard, arugula) and ground covers (strawberry, thyme, oregano). Customers could walk down the row and efficiently gather most of their fruits and veggies in one go.
Over the past quarter century, Stefan has also implemented a host of innovative strategies that resulted in huge time and cost savings. For instance, he made use of a series of pruning and training techniques developed by Jean-Marie Lespinasse at INRA,France that allow him to manage his orchard in one-tenth the time of a conventional orchard.
I came away thrilled at the operations over at Miracle Farms. What Stefan had proven is that Bill Mollison’s ideas can work outside of subtropical areas. Hopefully we’ll be seeing many more examples around the world — great news for both lovers of food and biodiversity alike.
If you are interested in the idea of running a permaculture orchard, you can check out Stephan’s DVD. Verge will also be running three upcoming Permculture Design Certificates where we will explore the nuts and bolts of setting up these types of businesses. You can find those offerings here.