Chantal Agnew grew up on Anglo Acres, the farm she now owns and operates. Located in Saint-Chrysostome, this second-generation family farm has found new life under Agnew, as she pours her heart and soul into expanding the family business.
She bought the farm from her parents in 2004 when she had just graduated from McGill with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science. The farm includes a cow/calf beef operation that raises 55 Angus-cross cattle. The cows always have access to the outdoors and can graze on pasture; they are also fed quality forages and corn silage that are grown on the farm.
After working as an agronome, Agnew began working on the farm full-time following the birth of her first child. “I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to diversify the farm and stabilize the revenues a little bit more,” she says. In 2015, she and partner and farm co-owner Frank Boyle opened a store, Boutique Bon Boeuf, with the intention of selling their products from the farm. Today, they have a business they are both very proud of.
The original site of the store was a small room at the back of the couple’s house, from which they sold their beef products. Their vision, however, was always to get larger, and in 2019 they were able to build a store on the property – not only with a bigger shop area, but with a commercial kitchen, lots more storage, and an office space.
“Now we’re selling our beef products, our baby beef, we raise some pigs, [and] we transform products as well,” says Agnew. “We make tourtières, spaghetti sauces, chili, meatballs, and we sell products from another farm as well. I buy in chicken products from another farm [in Saint-Dominique]. It’s a good compliment to the beef and the pork.”
One of the more significant parts of the project for Agnew is the farm-to-table aspect. Being able to speak directly to the people who feed you, as well as having knowledge of where the food comes from, are things she recognized as being very important to customers.
“It’s my community, its nice to be able to serve and feed people that I know, and it’s becoming more and more important too. Especially [during the pandemic], we saw a huge increase in people wanting to buy locally,” she says. In a time of large impersonal grocery chains, in a year which has been spent largely in isolation, Agnew sees a desire in people to know where their food is coming from and to reconnect with their communities.
“What’s really nice [about] the store is we sell [our products] and we get to talk to [customers] and answer questions they have about beef production, and just about agriculture in general. There’s a lot of misconceptions, we’re just so much more far removed [from farming] than we used to be two or three generations ago,” she says.
Agnew is grateful to have seen an increase in her business over the last year despite the pandemic, and she doesn’t see this trend stopping anytime soon. “Now that people have made a habit of going out to the local farms, tasting the difference, and having contact with local farmers, I think it’s something they’re going to keep up,” she says. Only six years after opening Boutique Bon Boeuf, the farm business is thriving and ever growing. The sense of community around the project has not only been rewarding financially, but personally for Agnew, who mentions how far out of her comfort zone the endeavour has taken her.
“I think what’s really important [as a farmer] is to surround yourself with people who inspire you and who motivate you,” says Agnew. “There aren’t many of us, and I think it’s important to have those kinds of people to go to if you have issues or questions or insecurities, or even just to talk about the good things.”