When Rollande Guinois took the stage at the spring meeting of the Quebec Produce Growers Association to receive a lifetime achievement award, the sold-out crowd gave her not one but two standing ovations.
Those who worked with the Carrot and Onion Girl, who recently turned 80, still consider Guinois a friend. Younger growers, hearing her story for the first time, were in awe of the woman who single-handedly opened the U.S. market to Quebec produce in the 1960s, a time when most women worked at home with large families.
History of hard work
In her thank you speech, Guinois shared her award with all the men and women who helped her to advance Quebec agriculture, and with those who continue to choose this difficult way of life.
“I approached my work with love,” she said, “love of people and love of the earth.”
The oldest of 14, Guinois helped raise her siblings after her mother died. She learned the business working in her father Eugene’s Montreal produce store at the age of 14, and opened her own store at the age of 19 when he bought land in St. Remi and became a grower.
In 1964, while working for the family farm, she realized the only solution to surplus produce was to export to the U.S.
Fearless, she headed south and found customers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pennsylvania and Florida.
She eventually added Trinidad and England. To fill orders, she began to build a network of growers in Quebec and Ontario.
“She was pretty well alone because she spoke English,” said Christiane Begin, one of her two children. “After that, a lot of locals got into the export business.”
Her own business
At the age of 53, Guinois formed her own company in St. Remi with Begin, now purchasing manager for Saladexpress in St. Remi.