Between the short growing season and the tough regulations, growing organic produce in Quebec is too much work for most farmers, said Andre Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.
“We frequently ask big growers to set aside part of their land to develop organic produce,” said Plante, “but it’s expensive and they don’t get the price they need, so after a year or two they give up.”
Quebec’s small organic growers, meanwhile, are having a field day connecting with consumers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture delivery services.
With the help of Equiterre, a non-profit group dedicated to social and environmental causes, 100 small certified organic Quebec farms or those in transition have created a strong CSA network that provides more than 30,000 people a week with baskets of fresh produce.
“For 17 years we’ve recruited farmers, organized training sessions and meetings for new farmers and promoted their program when the local season begins in the spring,” said deputy director Isabelle St-Germain.
Consumers who subscribe to a farm receive a weekly basket of about a dozen certified vegetables and fruit for 22 weeks.
Some farms continue to offer a biweekly winter basket between October and February.
The baskets are transported to 350 drop-off points across the province, nearly half of them in Montreal.
Some are in the parking lot of Metro supermarkets, a program launched last year after a year’s pilot project.
“Metro gave us money for promotion,” said St-Germain, “and it’s a nice collaboration because the farmers don’t have enough volume to offer local organic in the supermarket, so it complements Metro’s offering while giving them a way to support local agriculture.”
Seven of Equiterre’s organic growers have also set up shop at Montreal’s Jean Talon Market in Little Italy.
“Consumer demand is always high for organic,” said Patrizia Cusinato, director of communications and development for the city’s public markets, “and we have customers on social media asking if we have organic growers.”
This year, the growers were invited to open a single stand at Jean Talon in July to give customers a broader range of organic produce and give them more time on their farms.
The stand has been such a success that growers are planning to return next summer, and there may be stands set up in other markets, Cusinato said.