"Cultivate the smallest possible amount of land, but do so excellently." This was the motto of the Marachers, nineteenth century French market gardeners, whose meticulous precision and devotion to the highest standards of horticulture produced enough food for themselves, for their Parisian markets and a surplus for export to England, whose burgeoning capital, London, sucked in agricultural produce from not only Britain, but other lands.
The marachers are gone,swamped by the undercutting pressures of big producers and a century of two major wars, but not they are not forgotten and as the world swings towards the need for more intensive production, their time is coming again. The concept of bio-intensive agriculture [and horticulture] began to develop again in California in the 1960s when John Jeavons, who had a microfarm, began to promote it again.Jeavons' agriculture is based on veganism, but bio-intensive agriculture does not have to be, and later on we will see that it is a system that can include animals.
Jeavons system included double-dug raised beds,a feature that might run contrary to the modern idea of no- dig gardening, but like all bio-intensive systems it places great store by compost produced on the farm. However, Jeavons grew compost crops, which he called carbon farming, and while this obviated the need to purchase compost, it ensured that fewer crops were produced on the farm than would have been the case were compost brought in from outside. While sustainability is vital, it is the whole system that must be self-sufficient rather than each individual farm. If food is being sold out of the farm, resources are being lost and so must be replaced from outside.
An example of imported fertility comes at La Ferme du Bec Hellouin discussed below, whose owner has compensated for the low fertility of the land, which according to an archaeologist has not been tilled since the Neolithic age,being used only for pastoral purposes, by importing rich manure from a stable owner glad to get it off his hands. This farm is as bio-intensive as Jeavons' farm, but unlike Jeavons farm, which is ideally a closed system operation intended to be internally self-sufficient, La Ferme du Bec Hellouin provides food for the neighbourhood and so is an open system. [See Permaculture.,issue 94, Winter 2017]
The system works on the maximum usage of land, so bio-intensive agriculture applies the principle that crops, which are companion-planted where possible, should be so closely spaced that at three quarters of their growth their leaves should touch.