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.
When I 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 maple candy
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 to Equiterre.
"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 of Equiterre.
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 its baskets.
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
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
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 choices.
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