September 29, 2003: Canada has traditionally
spent substantially more money per capita on social programs
for its citizens than the U.S., and Quebec leads the way in
this arena. The D-Trois-Pierres Farm just outside of Montreal
is the site of an apprenticeship program for youth and an organic
farm … and it also participates in what is perhaps the
most dynamic community supported agriculture (CSA) program in
North America. All of these activities are supported, in various
degrees, by public funding.
first arrived at the D-Trois-Pierres farm outside of Montreal,
I was concerned that my lack of French speaking ability would
hinder my interviewing. But my fears were quickly allayed
when Julie Tardif, D-Trois-Pierres Farm CSA manager, answered
my questions in easy French-accented English. Virtually all
of the youth in and around Montreal speak fluent English.
Julie trained in a two year organic landscaping program at
the Montreal Botanical Garden. The Farm’s co-manager
with Julie, Ian Aldridge, took his degree from the Macdonald
agricultural college of McGill University.
As Julie helps her crew of five tie tomato plants to stakes,
she explains to me how the apprenticeship program and the
farm work. Originally started in 1986 by an order of nuns,
the sisters of Sainte-Croix, D-Trois-Pierres was formed as
a model farm on which youths could apprentice. Soon after
that the city of Montreal was brought in as a partner.
The 90 hectare farm sits within the 200 hectare Cap-Saint-Jacques
nature preserve owned by the city of Montreal. Youth are placed
into the D-Trois-Pierres farm by a province-wide program,
Le Collectif des entreprises d’insertion du Québec,
a 20-year-old organization of businesses whose focus is placing
youths into socially and environmentally relevant careers.
D-Trois-Pierres is the only agricultural participant in Le
Collectif. A provincial government program pays the apprentices
a wage. Every apprentice spends eight months in the program.
The farm currently lists apprenticeship positions in animal
care, horticultural production, restauranting, and receptionist
The D-Trois-Pierres organic CSA: producing
everything from mixed vegetables and hothouse tomatoes to
D-Trois-Pierres farm has a healthy roster of 134 CSA subscribers,
having started with 26 five years ago. A weekly basket of
fresh produce is made up for each of the subscribers, and
delivered to one of five drop-off points. Subscribers pay
up front for a whole season of deliveries, which, in Quebec,
usually lasts from the first week in June to well into November,
a total of 26 weeks. Depending on the size of the basket the
cost is anywhere from $12 to $26 Canadian, or about $9 to
$19 US. All of the produce is certified organic by Garantie
Bio of Quebec, an affiliate of EcoCert of France.
The vegetables are picked, washed, clear-wrapped or bagged,
and put in re-usable plastic bins for delivery. The farm has
two hectares under diverse vegetable production; snap peas,
lettuce, salad mix, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, herbs,
zucchini, green beans, peppers, spinach, chard, celery, celeriac,
eggplant, onions, garlic, potatoes, pumpkins, beets, and cabbage
are grown. Hay and maple syrup from the 12 hectares of maple
forest are also produced.
The crop rotation is generally three years of pasture followed
by a year of vegetables. Ian generally applies about 20 tons
of compost per hectare in the spring before the vegetables
go in. The compost is produced on the farm from manure from
the farm's livestock. Livestock are kept for training apprentices
in animal care and for visitors and are not for production.
This is a bad year for Colorado Potato Beetle, which is causing
damage to the foliage of many of the crops, especially the
tomatoes. Julie sprays an organically approved Bt-based product,
Novador, which targets the CPB. However, Novador only controls
the larvae. An infestation of adults needed three one-day
passes with teams of workers handpicking the insects off of
the leaves of tomato, potato, and eggplant. Two of those CPB
control days consisted of 25 person teams! Another pest is
the racoon, which prevents corn from being grown.
D-Trois-Pierres farm also produces hothouse tomatoes. Indeterminate
varieties of tomatoes are grown on eight foot high trellises.
Bumble bees are used for pollination. Tomato flowers need
vibration to release their pollen. Honey bees lack this action
when gathering pollen, so hothouse tomato producers developed
special electrical vibrators to do the job. Bumble bees were
found to be superior to the vibrators, and husbandry techniques
for bumble bees were developed in the 1990s. The bees are
housed in boxes in the hothouse.
Another of the products D-Trois-Pierres produces is maple
syrup from the 12 hectares of maple forest on the farm property.
The 12 hectares hold 2,000 “taps”, with 1 to 4
taps per tree. Buckets go up and the trees are tapped in February.
The winter of 2002-03 was so cold and came on so early that
the sap tapped in February was "leaf sap", instead
of coming from the roots which makes the best maple syrup.
Apparently the sap didn't get the chance it needed to move
to the roots from the tops of the trees. Leaf sap is more
watery, takes more boiling, and ends up as a darker syrup,
with a taste that is not as good as root-sap syrup.
After tapping, the liquid, known as "water sap,"
is taken to the sugar shack and boiled down to maple syrup,
which reduces the volume 40:1. The boilers are fueled by wood
from the surrounding hardwood forest. D-Trois-Pierres makes
maple candies to sell and include in subscription boxes.
Equiterre builds a region-wide CSA network
of 70 farms and 5,000 subscribers
The D-Trois-Pierres farm CSA’s ability to grow from
26 participant subscribers to 134 in five years couldn't have
been done without the superb promotional and support work
of the uniquely Quebecois organization, Equiterre. Equiterre,
whose mission is to "build a citizens' movement promoting
individual and collective choices that are both ecologically
and socially responsible," is the umbrella organization
under which the Quebec-wide CSA network functions -- the integrating
force, so to speak.
Every year Equiterre compiles a list of all of the participating
farms in the CSA network and their available produce and publishes
a large fold-out pamphlet that details the products and location
of each farm. Every year in March, Equiterre holds a press
conference announcing the publication of the CSA farm list.
This year’s press release was followed by 150 “media
hits” – announcements or articles on the CSA program
in newspapers and broadcast media. The brochure is sent out
to people who request it, as well as to all Equiterre members.
When a farm attains the optimum number of subscribers, about
150, that farm is taken off of the list, which helps the other
farms make their quota of subscribers. Quota-filled farms
are allowed to continue taking subscribers, they just aren’t
listed as an available farm in the brochure.
Equiterre does promotions at public events, on radio, and
materials are sent by mail to tens of thousands of people.
Without this promotion, many of the farms would not be able
to survive on CSA subscriptions. Once participating farms
have made their quota, they pay about 2% of their profits
"We have taken the role of marketer and intermediary
between consumers and the farms. Our first role is promotion
of the farms to potential consumers. But we also occasionally
play the role of intermediary between farm and subscriber
when problems arise," says Sydney Ribaux, Executive Director
Two types of problems occasionally arise. The most common
problem is when new subscribers don’t fully understand
that they are participating in the farm, and when say, in
June, there are only lettuce and radishes in the food basket,
they complain. Equiterre explains to them that early in the
season there are very few crops yet mature, and that an abundance
of produce is on its way.
There are now about 70 farms on the Equiterre list (D-Trois-Pierres
is number 39), with 5,000 subscriptions from about 10,000
people. When a farm joins the list, they sign an agreement
with Equiterre that they must be certified organic, must have
some type of program for its subscribers to participate in
or visit the farm, and must produce the bulk of the food in
Currently there is more demand for CSA produce than there
are farmers to supply produce in the Montreal area. The amount
of work involved in producing, harvesting and packaging such
a diversity of crops is the biggest factor limiting the growth
of CSAs, according to Ribaux. There just aren't enough farmers
willing to put in all the work involved in producing the diversity
of crops. Most farmers would rather focus on producing a few
crops. Also, dealing with people on a one-on-one basis, which
may be a pleasure for some CSA farmers, is fraught with difficulty
for other farmers.
"We also promote a social aspect of the CSA relationship,”
says Ribaux. “Subscribers are asked to occasionally
participate in some way in the farm, such as doing a half
day of work once a year. This is important, as it helps to
connect the consumers to the source of their food."
Equiterre also brokers a farmer mentoring program, in which
experienced CSA farmers mentor newcomers in the details of
CSA farming. The newcomers visit the mentor’s farm and
observe the critical operations. The mentor also serves the
newcomer for ongoing phone support.
Equiterre's activities range wider than promoting the CSA.
The CSA program is the core element in a larger ecological
agriculture program that promotes organic foods and farming.
Equeterre has three other programs: home energy efficiency
(efficacite energetique), energy efficient transport (transport
ecologique), and fair trade (commerce equitable).
One of the current activities is the promotion of fair trade
chocolate. Equiterre's website lists over 150 points of sale
of fair trade chocolate. As with the CSA program, Equiterre
promotes the products but does not sell or trade. Their winter
newsletter discusses the problem of child labor in West African
cacao plantations, and how fair trade chocolate promotes a
fair price for cocoa farmers, does not allow child slavery
and forced labor, and supports programs that give children
who work in cacao plantations the chance to go to school.
Other fair trade commodities promoted by Equiterre are coffee,
tea, handicrafts, and sugar
The D-Trois-Pierres Farm, Equiterre, and Le Collectif serve
as an inspirational model for communities and organic farmers
in North America, and show how organizations can work together
to promote socially and environmentally sensible and sustainable
Don Lotter has a Ph.D. in agroecology and has worked
in sustainable agricultural development in North America,
Latin America, and Africa over the past 25 years. He can be
contacted via his website www.donlotter.com