CANADA - Exotic produce in the fields of Quebec

23 August 2018 - Source : La Terre de Chez Nous. Read the article in its context here (French only).

African eggplant and Chinese cabbage, gombo, amaranth, sweet potatoes or babaco: an increasing number of exotic fruit and vegetables are grown in the greenhouses and fields of Quebec. In their search for variety, consumers just can’t get enough, and producers have eagerly latched onto the trend. After all, if we can produce it here, why import it?

At point of purchase, criteria such as traceability or crop growing standards have become decisive factors for many consumers. And when faced with the choice between a pak choi grown in Asia and the same cabbage straight from the fields of Lanaudière, there is every chance that the locally-grown plant will earn the favour and trust of buyers sensitive to health and environmental issues.

This growing demand for exotic vegetables which are additionally grown in Quebec has led an increasing number of producers to take the plunge.

For brothers Philippe and Jacques Forest, who grow napa cabbage, kabocha squash and Chinese cabbage in Saint-Jacques-de-Montcalm, in Lanaudière, it all started eight years ago. “One day, a Chinese gentleman stopped in front out our melon field,” says Philippe Forest. “He was going to retire and wanted to pass on his knowledge. He said he knew of a market for exotic fruit and vegetables.” The Forests then referred him to Julie Nichols, an agronomist who was interested in starting up in business. This is how Organzo came about. Today, the Forests grow 85 hectares of Asian vegetables, all of which is bought up by this firm which then distributes them to the USA and even to Asia.

Small exotic crop projects are also initiated here and there, occasionally by immigrants. Edem Amegbo grows gombo and African vegetables such as jute mallow, amaranth and an array of chili peppers in his Garden of Edem (Jardin d’Edem) in East Farnham. He is perfectly content to make up the organic vegetable baskets of his subscriber customers while selling his production on the market to an African clientele he discovered in Granby. “I wouldn’t make it my main source of income because it is time consuming and risky. If we have a cool summer, production will be poor,” explains Togo-born Edem, who imports his seeds from Africa.

Paterne Mirindi, managing director of the Voluntary Group for North South Rural Development, has set up a project to grow African vegetables in the Ricard Gardens in Louiseville. Feeding his African compatriots, but also providing an opportunity for cultural exchange between the host population and immigrants, are the reasons behind this project that started in 2013.

African eggplant, squash and bean leaves, morelle greens and amaranth all sprout in greenhouses, waiting to be planted out once the risk of frost has passed.

Mr. Mirindi developed his crop methods by drawing on the experience of African farmers and adapting them to the reality of Quebec climate and soil characteristics.

No difference in the climate

“What all these crops from tropical climates have in common is their need for water, heat and fertile soil,” explains Albert Mondor, a horticulturist and a tropical plant expert. Nevertheless, several Asian vegetables, notably those from the cabbage family, appreciate our cool nights, he adds.

Even with global warming, our climate is apparently no more conducive to growing tropical plants that is was before. “Generally, our summers are neither longer nor hotter. What we observe is the summer shifting in time, finishing later but also starting later.” It has become easier to grow tropical plants mainly because farming equipment produces better results and better-suited cultivars have been developed, believes Albert Mondor.