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Growing is a team sport at Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm

Actu - Cultiver en équipe

Meet Renée Primeau. She studied theatre before discovering farming – and a whole new way of life. “I went back to school to study environmental science. I took agriculture courses (soil science, plant science) in the bachelor of science program in agricultural and environmental studies at McGill and I realized that I was more interested in agriculture than anything else. Agricultural production is very hands on, very creative, and that really appealed to me,” she says.

Renée did two internships at organic vegetable farms, in the summer of 2003 at Zéphyr on the island of Montreal and the following summer at the La Terre bleue farm in the Eastern Townships. She worked alongside some of her former classmates: Emily Board, Frédéric Thériault and Reid Allaway, who is now her husband.

One day, when Reid was looking for work from a large-scale organic producer, the producer offered instead to lease him some land. Reid accepted the offer, and went into business with Emily, Frédéric, Renée and another former classmate, Daniel Brisebois. The Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm opened in 2005, and still occupies the same parcel of land today, in les Cèdres, which is about 60 km west of Montreal, in the Vallée du Haut-St-Laurent, a region with a high level of agricultural potential.

Seeds of cooperation

“We formed a co-operative because it was the business model that attracted us most. In addition to producing baskets with a variety of vegetables to sell at markets and directly to community supported agriculture (CSA) partners, we produce seeds that we sell wholesale. We also sell flowers, herbs and herbal teas, because Emily studied herbalism. In the spring, we also sell plants for people to put in their home vegetable gardens. Because there are five of us at the helm, we can try lots of different kinds of projects, which is really fun."

The co-operative adheres to a very egalitarian formula. Everyone has voting rights, responsibilites are divided equally. “We all have a 'manager' hat and a 'labourer' hat,” explains Renée, who manages the seedling greenhouse, organic certification, pest control and flower production. “Learning to work in a cooperative is the most difficult. It doesn’t usually work like this in society. Normally, things are more hierarchical. After eight years as colleagues, and 10 years as friends, you can say that we have stood the test of time!”

Appeal of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

The Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm became a member of Equiterre’s family farmer network in its first year of operation. In 2005, the farm delivered 100 baskets; this year, it delivered 250. With the support of MAPAQ and the Conférence régionale des élus Vallée-du-Haut-St-Laurent, the farm developed a new drop-off point this year at a commuter train station in Vaudreuil – a first in the area. Those who live closer to the farm itself can also pick up their baskets directly, or even pick their own.

“What our customers love about their organic baskets is the freshness, the unbeatable quality, people are always saying it. It’s been really nice to watch the families we serve grow over the past eight years. We say, “Wait this kid was a baby when we started out and now she is a big kid, an eight-year-old!”

To learn more about the Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm.

This profile was made possible thanks to financial support from the following partners: