We are back in the warm and laid back atmosphere of Montral during summer time. It's sunny, the tables are out and the restaurants are full. We do some tourism, see some street shows, and hang around Mont Royal and the islands of the city.
Back in Montreal, we stay at Manuel’s, a couchsurfer who kindly agreed to lend us a room in Longueil close to Montréal. He is working as a landscaper and has a strong interest in proper agriculture and also eating well and DIY foods and beverages. We get along really well. He owns the complete house which is separated into several apartments and still wonders what to do with those, trying to think out of the box of ways to have a nice life and a nice community of people. A truly good person.
While at his place, we look for a car. The ones we see at car dealers are so rusted even the dealer says they will never cross over to the other side of Canada in this state. Finally answering an add on facebook, we find one. There starts a little adventure to withdraw enough money in cash to pay as we hadn’t planned properly and because we cannot seem to be able to make Tom’s credit card work. It all finally works out and we come back to Manuel’s with an old Dodge Caravan which is long enough to place a bed into.
Before we head to the Ferme des Quatre-Temps, Jean-Martin Fortier’s farm, himself the author a book “The market gardener” and a reference for the bio-intensive method which is perfectly adapted to small scale vegetable farming, we have a couple of days and therefore decide to explore a bit the urban agriculture by visiting Mylène, a friend of Thomas who left the movie industry to become a gardener and a social animator in different supporting organizations. We meet up at the GRAME (HERE), an old supermarket, converted into a beehive of various organizations out to do some good in this popular suburban area of Montreal. Here is an article about her work:HERE (in FR only, use google translate). I have a very good time there planting various fruit trees on the sidewalk.
Visiting this building and meeting up with Mylène and the various people there, we feel like Québec has all the solutions at hand to improve the quality of life in the cities and in the rural areas as well as their footprint on nature and that they are applying them. It isn’t perfect, it is not going to solve everything tomorrow but they are doing something whereas we get the feeling in contrast that in France, we are still speaking about those solutions, debating which is more efficient, fretting over details and not so much actually starting to act.
Leaving the good care of Manuel, we venture a bit outside Montreal and start to equip ourselves for living from the car. We purchase a two-fire camping stove which looks new but belonged to the woman’s grandparents, it works perfectly! As we don’t have yet a bed in the car, we stay at an airbnb on Pointe Saint-Claire that feels already like a small village out in the countryside alongside the beautiful Saint-Laurent river. The retired lady who lives there is actually an horticultor and practices “no dig”. Seems like everywhere we go we seem to meet involved one way or another into cultivating plants or seeking a better less hectic life. Interesting.
To get there we stop by the Île Bizard which is a completely green island right next to the city where we discover two interesting projects. The “Verger du Bord du Lac” is an impressively vigorous and varied orchard, read more about this beautiful place and his dynamic and very knowledgeable owner HERE and the PACE project which aims at becoming a permaculture center and starting their journey with animals, read more HERE.
Montreal and its surroundings suddenly appear to us filled with active people who want to change the society and urban life into a more naturally paced, lower footprint, higher quality of life place. It is good to find our way back to the Alterculteurs project after having been tourists for two weeks through meeting so many amazing, talented and motivated people. It is inspiring.
Before we start we still have a couple of days which we decide to use to get to the Fermentation Fest in Ontario. Fermentation is such a natural way to transform good ingredients into extremely healthy ones as well as developing incredible tastes. Thomas has become an aficionado of all that has to do with this process, starting from wines to cheese going through kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles and the list goes on. It is thus the perfect place to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon before heading to our volunteering.
At the fermentation fest, we taste really good kombucha, absolutely not acidic like we were used to in France but rather sweet and nicely fuzzy. The star kombucha winner is a green kombucha made with kale, cucumber and parsley; so-called Green Glow by Vox Kombucha, that develops into a surprisingly sweet and soft taste, it is absolutely fantastic! We also have a fiery taste of fermented hot sauces that are surprisingly delicious once your taste buds recover from the heat. Thomas is also happy to meet up with his fermentation star, Sandor Katz. His book discovered in Costa Rica during his first course on Kefir making has been guiding him since then through his journey on fermentation lane so it is a very exciting time to meet him there !
It is with a lot of enthusiasm and a little bit of nervous aprehension that we arrive at the Quatre-Temps farm of Jean-Martin Fortier. During my training as an organic veggie grower in France, we were shown a video during classes about Jean-Martin explaining his agricultural system at his first farm, La Grelinette (HERE). JM is quite famous in the organic veggie growing world until France even. We could not pass through Québec without meeting him !
Thanks to Jodi at the Roebuck Farm in New Zealand (HERE) who also practices market gardening following workshops given by JM and Curtis Stone (the Urban Farmer), we have a first introduction. Then, it is Thierry from Vaihuti Fresh in French Polynesia (HERE) who also puts us in touch as he is also applying this method. A funny thing to remark is that all three are surfers, it is as much a « market gardener » connection as a love for the waves it seems !
This is how JM, after having warned us that this was no holiday camp and that we would have to work well, accepts to receive us on the Ferme des Quatre-Temps (HERE) .
We arrive two days before we start in order to get settled. We are already baffled at how we are lodged, in one of the two employees house. It is a big and beautiful house ! We have our own bedroom, super comfy ! We are going to be well installed here and I am anticipating with joy to come back to a nice daily life between veggie growing and good little meaks – there is a beautiful kitchen too !
We quickly get to meet Josiane who also lives at the house, we were in touch beforehand to organize our arrival, she is adorable and super happy, we are charmed. On Monday morning, we discover the whole « gang » (as they say in Québec for team) at the morning meeting. We have to be on time and this little meeting is super efficient, we are immediately integrated into the team. We discover the whole team during our time on the farm, it is a truly nice team and there would be so many good things to say about each of them.
Work in intense, as i like it. Thomas makes the effort and pulls through even with hard beginnings with lots of muscle pains notwithstanding the fact that market gardening isn’t really his calling. Getting to work with nice people really helps to stay motivated and to make time go faster during the more repetitive tasks. We harvest, we weed by hand or with a hoe, we prep beds with the broad fork or with the BCS, we move the tarps (so heavy!), we transplant and saw, we clean and we prepare the harvest for the market, we load the truck and we even attend one market. We get to go through most of the different positions and learn from each team member every day, we discover the team management with its regular and efficient meetings to identify what there is to do and to distribute tasks, the common times for lunch and to relax. The team gets together once a week on a fixed time slot to practice the « rose, thorn, bud » exercise which is a safe space to express one’s emotions and thoughts. It is a real pressure valve release and also a good time for the team members to reconnect to each other in order to keep their beautiful dynamics each week. We let you read the article on the farm HERE if you would like to learn more about its way of working.
The market is one of our best work souvenirs. At the market we had a really good team so the time went pas really fast and we loved the enthusiasm of the customers and the discussions. I have to say that personally more than the discussions – that Thomas really enjoyed and he seemed to have done this all his life too – i prefered the « play shop » kind of aspect, something linked to the games I used to play when i was a lot younger probably. I believe we won't be able to sell for almos 10 000 euros in a day, they are loved and it never stops, impressive !
Outside of work, there are really nice evenings too, the discovery of our housemates who in addition to Josiane with whom we spend really nice moments and a certain affection for good wines too, are Catherine and Léandre, both brilliant people and very good veggie growers and some evenings at the other house where lives the rest of the gang. A spike ball competition (a really fun game!), a hilarious game of « little papers », a memorable party (for those who can recall it of course), moments that imprint our memory and contribute to make us feel « home » that we have when we are welcomed and well integrated, a feeling even nicer that we are missing it when we are on the road for too long. We also discovered a new game, as good as Molki, the Spike ball !
During the first weekend, we spend our time running around everywhere to finish equipping the car. We are already quite tired by our first week and we are get so tired doing this that we end up going home with a completely emptied spirit but not without some things unearthed in second hand shops. We end up buying a foam mattress at the exact width of the car at Canadian Tire because no other mattresses would do. After this, there is only to transform the car. I saw then install the curtains on the front half and Thomas installs cut-up cardboards on the rear half windows. Thanks to the farm tools, i dismantle the rear seats and fold it up neatly so it doesn’t take up too much space. Now when we close up, we have a nice little bedroom though a bit low of ceiling. The car is ready ! Even more so that we had left it at the local garage during the first week, and that while they were checking it, the rod broke, completely rusty and causing quite worrying vibrations on the steering (lucky for us it happened then and not to us on the road!) so he fixed it and on top of it replaced our tires with some he had laying around for free as ours were pretty used up. Good to go !
One weekend we spend at ES-Cargo, an earthshop in the north west of Montréal to discover this unusual type of building. Discover our article HERE. It is another nice weekend and a good reminder that life is also worth spending at a nice quiet pace for the body and mind.
During our last week, we have the chance to spend a day on the first farm of Jean-Martin, managed by Maud-Hélène his wife. We spend a really nice day working there, the team is super nice and the work on a farm which is less than 1ha is really nice ! Discover our article on the Grelinette HERE.
We eat healthy food from the farm, our bodies get adapted to the work, it is hard but the job is so interesting.
Thomas has also the luck to work with Jean Simn and Chris to do some charcuterie !
It is immensely grateful for JM and a really strong hope to see the whole team again one day, on our farm or elsewhere, that we leave this beautiful company that is the Ferme des Quatre-Temps.
We meet Simon who is in Montreal visiting his cousins. Simon is a long time friend and it has been nearly 15 years that we know each other. It is a very nice surprise and we spend our lunchtime debating the rôle of the State and who is responsible for happiness. He is about to launch a new company with his friends linked to the carbon footprint, Carbo (HERE), in order to raise awareness amongst people about their consumption. We have a lot of common interests nevertheless our choices and lifestyles are very different, it is fascinating.
We also enjoyed a lot living in the countryside of Québec. Life there is nice and people are too and there little cool restaurants and farms and small village shops and even a really nice mechanics who helped us a lot and also made us discover his delicious maple sirup.
Off to our next volunteering place !