Harvesting in winter: when agriculture adapts to the northern cold of Quebec

Récolter l'hiver documentaire - Entrevue avec Jean-Martin Fortier

Supplying yourself with Quebec vegetables all year round is the dream of many people who defend Quebec's food autonomy. However, for a long time, this ambition was limited by the unforgiving climatic conditions of our beautiful province.

But today, market gardeners brimming with motivation and creativity are taming the winter cold to be able to produce an impressive variety of vegetables all year round.

This is exactly what is highlighted in the documentary Récolter l'hiver , directed by Amélie Dussault, in which we follow the daily life of the pioneers of the Ferme des Quatre-Temps, the Ferme Chapeau Melon and the Jardin des Funambules.

To mark the release of the film on Télé-Québec on January 10, we spoke with Jean-Martin Fortier, one of the project's creators, to talk about Récolter l'hiver as well as his experience and his vision of northern market gardening.

Jean-Martin, what is the reaction of people when you tell them that winter market gardening is possible, or even simply that it exists? Has this reaction evolved over the years?

That's a really good question. Personally, I've been talking to lots of people about it for years. But what's new is that people are seeing it, and they're seeing it in a film that really shows all the nuances, all the colors of winter market gardening.

So, we are in a completely different discussion, because here, it is not abstract, it is real, it is concrete. Then the images are very contrasting: you see the snow, you see the cold, you open the greenhouse and bam! you see the vegetables that are there and that are really beautiful!

I've been doing this for twenty years, but I think that for the first time thanks to the film, something will happen [with people].

Vegetables in abundance in a greenhouse in the middle of winter / Photo courtesy of Picbois Productions

Have you noticed that the number of farms that produce in winter has increased since the publication of “Nordic Market Gardening: discovering winter vegetable cultivation”, the book that you and Catherine Sylvestre wrote and which was published in 2021?

That’s always difficult to know because we don’t have a “tracker” on the books. But I think the film will stimulate the imagination.

The book explains how to do market gardening in winter, but it's still hard to get a clear idea of ​​what it really is just by reading a book. But there, watching Harvesting Winter , you really see what we're talking about. People will perhaps want to find out how to do it more, and when they find out how to do it, they will perhaps want to do it. So I think we're going to move forward.

If I rely on my experience at the Ferme des Quatre-Temps, when we had the series Les Fermiers which showed all our technical advancements, it had an impact because people really saw something concrete, and they said “Wow, I can do the same!”.

A farmer working in her cold greenhouse in the middle of winter

In the film, we talk about Asian vegetables which are more resistant to cold. Are there other places in the world where there are potentially cold-resistant vegetables that we might not even know about, or do we have a pretty good picture?

That's a really good question! Maybe [there would be some] in Russia for example and then in these Nordic countries, but you still have to go with greenhouses. It's not like you can go back two hundred years to see what was going on. It's a mix between modern contemporary, and also values ​​perhaps.

Also, places where it's traditionally cold, people don't change their diet. We, in Quebec, are still curious about food. I always complain about people who eat, say, peppers and then vegetables out of season, but at the same time, at the time, it was modern to do that. It was cool to not just eat cabbage then beets, it's fun!

Is it a bit like the pendulum swinging back?

A little yes !

Do you think or hope that Harvesting Winter will inspire bigger players to take up winter farming using the methods you present?

For me, the film is linked to the idea of ​​food sovereignty. Then food sovereignty is a social issue, so it will take supply [to achieve it]. There are many farms that would have the capacity to do this in winter, so all the better if it inspires them, if it encourages them.

Grocers will also have to make space on their shelves, and that hasn't happened yet.

A winter greenhouse

What would it take for grocers to prioritize these winter vegetables on their shelves? Larger volumes? More farms doing it?

Yeah. The grocers will have to move. We're going to have to shake them up. Customers will have to say, “Hey, what you’re offering me today doesn’t look good. On your tablet, there is nothing that comes from Quebec, why? What do you mean you don't have any rutabaga? What do you mean you don't have any cabbages? What do you mean you don't have any vegetables from Quebec in November or December? What do you mean you don’t have any spinach?” while it is possible.

There, he needs to wake up!

As a consumer, what can I do to ask my grocer to offer more vegetables from Quebec in winter?

Write a letter. Okay, maybe I’m “old school”! But even a video can do it!

I am an ecologist, I studied ecology before becoming a market gardener. Then what we learn in ecology is that for there to be renewal, there must be disruption. There has to be a forest fire for it to grow back. So you're going to have to go and "shake" the coconut trees and then say "Hey, so that's your business! » Then, it will wake them up, they will say to themselves “Maybe we could buy some spinach from François Biron from Ferme Chapeau Melon”!

François Biron, owner of Ferme Chapeau Melon, clears snow from the roof of his greenhouse during a storm

What is the message you hope to send with this film, and to whom?

To everyone, [winter market gardening] is a social project. To all Quebecers, three times a day, you have the chance to have an impact, positive or not.

Then to the whole gang of market gardeners who are “out there”, I want to tell them that this is a path that is still very interesting to pursue!

Where and when to watch Harvesting Winter , the documentary about winter market gardening?

Récolter l'hiver will be broadcast on Télé-Québec on Wednesday January 10, 2024 at 8 p.m.

Subsequently, it will be available on the Web and the Télé-Québec app simultaneously, then offered free as a catch-up.


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