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Small farmers call for “massive” support

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Food autonomy, the occupation of the territory and the vitality of the villages go through local agriculture, argues a group of around 150 producers who will launch a manifesto by the end of the month in the hope of convincing the State to invest massively in this growing mode of culture. In Quebec, the Minister of Agriculture, André Lamontagne, already feels that he is making his contribution.

In the countryside of Quebec, local agriculture, which is marketed in a short circuit, often with baskets of vegetables, has incredible positive effects, argues Émilie Viau-Drouin, president of the Coopérative pour l’ ecological local agriculture (CAPE), a group of 148 farmers.

“By hiring, buying and selling locally, we have a great impact on the territory, says the one who has just been chosen to head the organization. Local agriculture is a solution to many problems, both in terms of supply and the erosion of communities. »

A contribution that is also noted by the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA). “This mode of cultivation came from left field, then spread and energized our regions”, underlines its general manager, Charles-Félix Ross.

“People are on board! »

Local agriculture, organic most of the time, has been growing for a few years in Quebec, and the pandemic has given it new impetus. About 30,000 people are now subscribers to the CAPE farm baskets, a figure that has almost doubled in 5 years.

“In 2020, people were afraid of running out of food and turned to us. It was a record year,” observes Olivier Lamoureux, from the Jardins de la Résistance in Ormstown. At 400 baskets this year, this CAPE member has doubled its offer since 2019. By paying in advance, subscribers don’t have to worry about the effects of inflation, adds Mr. Lamoureux.

“We may have thought, five or ten years ago, that we were saturating the market, but no,” notes Émilie Viau-Drouin, who also works at the Jardins de la Grelinette in Saint-Armand. “I say this a bit jokingly, but we could be 10,000 new market gardeners and I wouldn’t be afraid. People are on board! »

However, even if campaigns like the Blue Basket have had a measurable effect, governments are not doing enough for “the real growth of small-scale agriculture”, believes Émilie Viau-Drouin, who is calling for “massive” public investment.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY LA CAPE

Émilie Viau-Drouin, President of the Cooperative for Ecological Local Agriculture

To fill the territory with small farms that are hiring, you need recurring funding and wage subsidies… And it wouldn’t be complicated to support organic farming by reimbursing certification.

Émilie Viau-Drouin, President of CAPE

The State must also help local markets, insists CAPE, whether local or solidarity grocery stores, baskets or public markets. “I want general stores and markets in all municipalities. That’s what keeps the villages alive, says Mr.me Viau-Drouin. France and the United States do it well. Here, producers hold it at arm’s length. »


PHOTO MARTIN TREMBLAY, THE PRESS

At 400 baskets this year, the Jardins de la Résistance have doubled their offer since 2019.

If the pandemic has boosted subscriptions to baskets, it has been less beneficial for those who sell their production in restaurants or markets. “The model really works on the relationship with consumers, not on volumes, recalls Jean-Martin Fortier, a pioneer in local agriculture. For two years, in the markets, it’s been hell. Meeting someone with a mask, a Plexiglas… the friendliness is no longer there. »

An ally… which has its limits

In an interview, the Quebec Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne, describes himself as an ally of local agriculture. “As soon as I arrived, I put the spotlight on it,” he says, even if he estimates that this sector represents barely 2.5% of all agricultural activity here. The minister cites a series of measures he has put forward to enable small producers to “earn an honorable living”, including a national food purchasing strategy and policies to increase the supply and demand of local foods.

But state support has its limits, he adds. “If what I’m being asked to do is do for the world, we’re not in that business. » Wage subsidies? ” It is not possible. » Reimbursement of organic certification? No more.


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, THE PRESS

André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

We help businesses convert. The consumer is ready to pay a premium for organic, so it’s up to the market to reward this practice.

André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

However, Quebec has “a long way to go”, believes the UPA, especially for those who are starting out. More than half of new farms close after 5 years, even if, “at 40%, the success rate in agriculture remains higher than in all industries, where it is barely 35%”, indicates Charles- Felix Ross.

Jinny Marcotte, from the Du coq à l’ail farm in Drummondville, is one of those who have abandoned bio-intensive market gardening. After just one season. “The heaviness with the Ministry and the Financière agricole has demotivated us,” says the one who now works for a car dealership. “It’s the madhouse. »

The UPA also suggests that Quebec offer new operations a pool of subsidies rather than forcing them to apply each time they need equipment. An interesting idea, recognizes Minister Lamontagne, who mentions the ongoing updating of his department’s programs. “We can do more and better with the money we have,” he says.

With its manifesto, CAPE will also address consumers, whose habits can have major repercussions. Local agriculture, adds the organization, also contributes to reducing carbon emissions linked to the transport of food and the use of pesticides harmful to the environment and health. “The house is on fire, and we need bright solutions,” concludes President Émilie Viau-Drouin. We want to mobilize the population and give them hope. »

Learn more

  • 4442
    This is the number of farms that produce fruits and vegetables in Quebec (all cropping methods combined). From 2014 to 2021, their number has increased by 11%. And half of this increase was observed between 2020 and 2021. According to Minister André Lamontagne, local agriculture largely explains this increase.

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec

    100km
    In 2020-2021, 87% of CAPE member farms served their customers within a radius of less than 100 km. And 63%, within a radius of less than 50 km around their facilities.

    SOURCE: Cooperative for ecological local agriculture

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