At Roundabout Hills Market Garden we aim to grow food naturally in the tradition of the French market gardeners of the 19th-century. The tradition of French market gardening reached its peak between 1850 and 1900. During that time, one-sixteenth (or six percent) of Paris was devoted to agriculture, split up into 1 to 2 acre plots of land that were cultivated intensively year around by their owners, known as maraicheurs. At that time, the city of Paris was self sufficient in fresh vegetables and even exported produce across the channel to England.
The Parisian market gardeners of 150 years ago serve as our inspiration and model in several ways. First, they produced a staggering amount of food in a very small area relative to today’s mono-cropped corporate mega farms. On average they harvested at least four crops – and more typically eight – from the same piece of ground in a year. Roundabout Hills, though once a plantation of over 900 acres, is now a relatively small plot of land measuring a little over three acres, with about 1 acre devoted to the house, outbuildings and lawns immediately around it. So the area that we can devote to crops is about 1.5 to 2 acres, very similar in scale to the old French market gardens. In order to be successful, we must similarly ensure that we’re using every inch of our land to its maximum potential. To that end we use techniques like planting quick growing crops such as our French breakfast radishes between larger, slower growing crops like cabbage, paying constant attention to the health of our soil, and low tech techniques that allow us to produce vegetables year around.
Second, as with most farms like ours our market is very local. There was a time when “local” was normal, not a new and trendy idea; and a farmer’s primary consideration was not how well a crop would pack and ship over long distances, but how good it was both in terms of taste and nutritional value. Most of the Parisian market gardener’s clients lived and walked by the gardens every day, and the vegetables and fruit they ate came almost exclusively from Paris! Similarly, we intend to provide our urban, suburban, and rural neighbors with the most nutritious and tasty produce possible.
Third, we farm in way that reduces our dependence on costly external inputs or long distance markets. French market gardeners were working at a time when the main system of transportation was the horse, so there was a constant and ample supply of horse manure to “power” their gardens. Horse manure, mixed with straw from the city’s stables, served as both a source of natural, low cost fertilizer and heat for the hotbeds where fresh salad greens could be grown even in January. Despite their intensive production, the soils of these gardens simply became richer and richer, rather than becoming depleted as is the case with modern methods that rely on a constant supply of external, chemical applications of artificial fertiziliers. At Roundabout Hills, we similarly are working to build up a network of local relationships that will allow us to build up our soil using readily available local inputs and sustain our business by serving families with whom we rub shoulders every day.