A Pat on the Back for our Farmers

A Pat on the Back for our Farmers

Article and photos by Sarah Williams

It certainly felt like a preview of autumn — crisp and blustery, yet sunny — for the 2012 edition of Portes Ouvertes sur les Fermes du Québec (Quebec’s Farm Open House).  

This year marked the 10th anniversary for the UPA event, featuring a wide variety of agricultural production.  Spokesperson, Marie-Eve Janvier says that the purpose behind inviting the public to visit a farm is to show where their food actually comes from.  Seeing the produce or livestock first hand, helps to create concrete links in people’s mind between what is on the dinner table and the hard work that goes into putting it there, and hard work it is.  

This introduces another good reason to participate in this activity: to shake the hand of a local farmer, and commend them for their courage.  For it would seem that embarking on a career in agriculture these days can be quite a gamble; one that few up-and-comers are willing to make.

According to David Dupont , author of Une brève histoire de l’Agriculture au Québec (Fides, 2009), here in Quebec the average age of farmers is climbing every year. The “replacement rate” of those ready for retirement by the next generation (18-35 year olds) is on the decline.  There are also fewer and fewer children willing to commit to taking over the family farm.  The sad truth is, unless you inherit a family farm, buying one is not economically viable for those wanting to break into the business, especially a conventional farm that is already integrated into the food supply chain (i.e. providing stock for grocery stores).

Dupont says that the new wave of young, first-time farmers, have the right idea.  To make farming a livelihood they need to find themselves a niche, just like the owners of La Ferme Rustique in Ste-Croix-de-Lobtinère, south-west of Quebec City.  Alexandre Landry and Élisabeth Grenier, farm using old-fashioned values, feeding their livestock (pigs, cows and chickens) vegetables and grain, and giving the animals relatively spacious and comfortable living conditions.  They also deliver their produce directly to their clients, using a “farmer’s basket” system, similar to the one organized by Equiterre. 

By making their products stand out from those of the “big-box” farms, and by building a base of loyal clientele, hopefully small-scale farms like La Ferme Rustique, will manage to make a go of it.

My family have been happily participating in the farm open house event for a few years now.  One year we visited a dairy farm in the Beauce, the next time we went to a farm that raised quail and other fowl. This year we chose to visit La Ferme Rustique, as it also happens to be the farm that supplies us with our fruit and veggie baskets, as well as our meat.  We would not be disappointed; it was a perfect family outing.  The kids were delighted to be able to pet 3-day old chicks, baby piglets and goats, and come into close proximity to other animals, such as cows, pigs and rabbits.  There were also informative posters all around telling visitors about different aspects of running the farm.  Fresh fruit and veggies were there for sale, and pork and veal sausages were cooked up on site for taste testing.  The level of organization involved has to be commended.  

When you peruse the list of participants on the Portes Ouvertes website, you immediately notice that many are these aforementioned niche-type farms (such as the bison ranch, or the cactus grower).  

This can make for a unique and educational experience if you do decide to make a day of it when the time comes around again next September.

About the author:

Sarah Williams is a mother of three young children, and a freelance writer.

Sarah had her first experience living in Quebec while earning her bachelor’s degree in Communications at Concordia University (MTL) in the late nineties.

Hailing from Cobourg, Ontario, Sarah moved to Quebec City in January of the year 2000. For her, this city is the perfect balance of the small town feel of her hometown in Ontario and the vibrant francophone culture of Montreal.

Professionally, Sarah has worked a fair bit in the media as a copywriter and researcher; for Global Television, and for a T.V. cooking show (what’s cooking).

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