While we value local sourcing and farm-to-table consumption more than ever, The press is heading out again this summer to meet artisans and farmhands. Third portrait in a series of six featuring members of the Desgroseilliers family from Jardins Purdélys, a pioneering farm in organic vegetable production in Quebec.
Posted yesterday at 11am
On arrival at Jardins Purdélys it is enchanting to see so many houses surrounding the farmland. Especially since you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Montreal in the distance.
“We all know our neighbors,” states production manager Denis Desgroseilliers.
The dozens of families in Saint-Isidore-de-Laprairie who have a field in the Jardins Purdélys as their backyard can see around twenty types of fruit and vegetables growing: lettuce, strawberries, cauliflower, KalePotatoes…
What sets Purdélys Gardens apart: they produce organically in large quantities. It’s the largest organic vegetable farm in Quebec, so some of the harvest even goes to the United States.
“Our model remains quite unique,” agrees Denis Desgroseilliers. There are very few large organic farms. »
For Montrealers, Jardins Purdélys products fit the definition of “eat locally” as the country is barely 15 kilometers from the Mercier Bridge.
A family story
The Purdélys Gardens are a family business. Denis Desgroseilliers and his brothers François and Michel run the business. His parents and his wife Geneviève Rodier also work there, while his brother Louis devotes himself to the Domaine Labranche, which is a vineyard, orchard and sugar smelter all rolled into one.
The Desgroseilliers family has quite a history! Her ancestor is Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, a legendary lumberjack who enabled the first ship to reach Hudson Bay from the north.
“He couldn’t read or write, so the story mostly quoted his comrade Radisson,” explains Denis.
Médard Chouart helped found the Hudson’s Bay Company and it was his great-grandson Joseph Prosper who cleared the land of Saint-Isidore-de-Laprairie and gave him his agricultural vocation.
The challenges of organic
Generations later, Marcel Desgroseilliers and his wife Marie-France Lohé took over the farm.
“The prettiest of my sons is on vacation,” says Marcel Desgroseilliers, with his deliciously dry sense of humour. And my daughter has been unwell: she is a doctor. »
Denis’ parents are a very nice couple. “Even after 42 years, there is not a day that I tell myself that I would not vote for him again,” says Marie-France.
Your greatest pride as a mother? “Let everyone in the company be happy and passionate. »
“Passionate” is undoubtedly the right adjective to describe his son Denis.
In 2009, after years of transition, Purdélys Gardens underwent an organic transformation. “20 years ago in Quebec and Canada there was little knowledge and models. We took a trip to California and it was a revelation,” he says.
To grow organic, however, you need a high risk tolerance. “We work with nature, and that’s a lot of prevention. »
Fighting through a series of veggies will get your heart spinning!
The unexpected and challenges are part of everyday life for organic gardeners. “But every time we find solutions. »
All fixed faults form valuable baggage. As an example, Denis cites a batch of broccoli seeds that were infested in the summer of 2018.
Discouraged, the Desgroseilliers thought of abandoning the vegetable cultivation that has now become established. But eventually they started a research project with a plant pathologist from the PRISME consortium (a group of market gardeners and professionals). The latter had developed the testing of semen samples using a PCR-type device.
Challenges and ideas for the future
When Denis’ father, Marcel Desgroseilliers, was studying at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire du Québec in Saint-Hyacinthe in the 1970s, he was both a rebel and a grano when he dreamed of organic farming.
“It was voluntary and out of conviction, but we had to be realistic,” he explains.
His son has the same values. You have to strive for an ideal, but also be profitable. “In the early years, the degrees were dark red,” he says.
“I have many friends who have small farms, but there is an incredible workload. »
For Denis, the future lies in the consolidation of farms and the development of automated technologies that can fill the shortage of workers. “Coming together creates volume,” he explains.
If there is a trend for organic products, he points out, it is a market that is still very limited, between 2 and 3% in volume. “It’s growing, but it remains a niche. »
It also often happens that he sells organic vegetables on the “conventional” market. And competition is strong with products from California, which doesn’t pay its workers as well as in Canada.
However, Denis Desgroseilliers insists on one point: the more you grow organically, the less you can take back.