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Keeping farming in the family

Actu - Le bio dans le sang !

"I had two grandparents who were farmers. I used to spend my vacations with them. I also had an uncle who set up his own farm and another who took over my grandfather's farm. Honestly, I felt as though I was destined to to this," says Jean-Philippe Poussard, who, although only in his 20s, has already amassed extensive experience as an organic farmer.

He studied horticultural production at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire (ITA) in Saint-Hyacinthe, before growing organic grain with his uncle and doing two internships at two organic farms, growing soybeans, wheat, corn and hay. He also worked at another farm for five years producing beans. In 2009, eager to set up his own organic farm, he bought equipment and rented some land.

In the winter of 2010, he met Marielle Joanisse in a required French course for his CEGEP diploma. "She was studying psychology, but immediately got behind my idea of starting a farm, but on the condition that we grow vegetables." That spring, the couple embarked on an adventure, producing organic cucumbers, zucchini, beans and eggplants for wholesalers. 

The experience did not live up to their expectations. The wholesalers would only take vegetables that looked a certain way. "In organic farming, more vegetables grow crooked. We had to throw out almost 50% of the crop at certain times of the year! We adapted, but in the fall, we couldn't sell because there was a surplus of Californian produce on the market and wholesalers found it easier to buy from them."

The couple contacted Equiterre to indicate their interest in joining our family farmer network. "We wanted to keep going, we didn't want to give up."

In particular, they wanted to supply residents of the Vallée du Haut-St-Laurent with locally grown organic produce. With the support of the Conférence régionale des élus (CRÉ) Vallée-du-Haut-Saint Laurent, they set up workplace drop-off points first at Liberté and Assurance Larreau, and then at Cascades in Candiac. They also started a drop-off point at the Sainte-Catherine AMT commuter train station. Their other drop-off points are in Montreal. 

"Right away, the first year, we saw the difference," says Jean-Philippe. "It's much more encouraging to do this type of farming, because despite all the obstacles, you are in contact with the people you serve, you have a different kind of connection with them. It's also better for the consumer. They get to know the producer, they aren't just a number. This year, 118 out of 120 customers said that the vegetables were great and that they would do it again! When I was selling to wholesalers, I only had two buyers, and when they called me, it wasn't because they had nice things to say."

The couple's business is thriving, thanks to the 250 families who buy their baskets.

What does the future hold? "Our goal is to serve 350 partners (individuals or families) and one day 400. We'd like to offer organic baskets as long as possible, eventually on a weekly basis all year long. We would like for more people to eat local, to eat fresh, organic food. Many studies now show the effects of pesticides on human health, especially for children from 0 to 10, who are most vulnerable."

We wish this couple all the best and hope that they will continue to supply us with delicious organic veggies for a long time... all year long. 

To learn more about Jean-Philippe and Marielle's St-Rémi farm, visit aupotagerdupaysan.com (in French only).

Pictures: Jean-Philippe and Marielle of the Au potager du paysan farm.

This profile was made possible thanks to financial support from the following partners: