Tips and Insights from Miracle Farms

 In Featured, Travel Stories

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 this amazing Youtube video: 

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 

Bee on Pear in Orchard by Marin

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 timeof of a conventional orchard. 

Apple Tree by Arvind Balaraman

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.

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Showing 11 comments
  • nancy malachowski

    Hello Stefan – Admire the work you do and want to buy your DVD.

    I will be passing through Quebec on my way to Miramichi NB where i recently bought a 12 acre farm on the Barnaby river.

    There i plan to garden organically using your same permaculture approach which is similar to the philosophy and methods described in Masanobu Fukuoka’s inspiring book,”One Straw Revolution.”

    I am hoping to swing by and see what you have done at your place in the afternoon of Oct 8,2014. Is that possible? best regards, nancy

  • Leslie Scrimshaw

    My favorite bit of the short video was where Stefan shows wasps eating the pear and asks why can’t we share some of the bounty with those bugs and birds who have been working so hard for us all season long. Great post. Thanks.

  • James

    Just ordered the digital version. Can’t wait to watch it once it downloads.

    • Stefan Sobkowiak

      Thanks James. Supporting our work in this way has given us the green light for the next project. Hopefully next season we will film: “Your Nursery to establish your Permaculture Orchard”. Or some catchy title about starting or expanding your nursery. A critical step to planting out while saving a pile of money.

  • Connie Barritt

    Hi Rob and Michelle,

    WOW — best way to describe my reaction to 2 things: first — that your family got to experience a cross-canada train trip – one of my dreams – would sure like to hear more about that

    second — what a fascinating ‘life’ Stefan has created — both for people and nature — a model for my next life !!

    I am now trying to sell my ‘new’ house with a few acres with the idea that whoever buys it can finish the landscaping, etc. the way they want it, cut down on my work load, , freeing up my money from the bank, and leaving enough for me to experience the rest of the world (just got back from Peru — what a lesson in finding out what I don’t know !!), and also enabling me to not have to sell a big acreage at this time, saving it for future of energetic bees and people.

    Keep on sharing !!

    Thank you for sharing!

  • AJ Williams

    Hello, to both of you. Rob I plan on contacting you for a pdc in the next year, Stefan I have been planning to get your DVD soon
    Nice to find both my ideas coming together… Both of you great work!
    I have 12 acres in sask that I hopefully will establish this method
    Lots of yard work to do right now, hundreds of sea buckthorn, goji seedlings right now , pears plums cherries saskatoon grapes and looking for apples!
    Building a better way!

  • Mark Allen

    Hi Rob and Michelle what a beautiful video-My wife had a stroke in May and is recovering nicely will be home for good on the 18th of July. I want to congradulate you people on the work you are doing around Calgary. just keep up the good work.any thing we can do to help please let us know/.
    Mark & Pat Allen

  • Stefan Sobkowiak

    Hi Rob, it was great to meet you. Great discussions on the drive to Montreal.
    One clarification: I did not develop the pruning and training techniques we use, they were developed by Jean-Marie Lespinasse at INRA,France. Well described in their book (http://www.amazon.ca/Growing-Fruit-Trees-Jean-marie-Lespinasse/dp/0393732568)

    • rob avis
      Rob Avis

      Thanks for the clairification, we will make the correction in the blog right away. Thanks Stefan!

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