“We couldn’t sell our vegetables,” laments Antony Favron-Kneeshaw. “So, I was driving around Montreal with a car full of bins of fresh vegetables. I went into a restaurant and asked to see the chef. I showed him one of our sucrine lettuces, and he loved it. He bought the whole lot from me!” exclaims the start-up market gardener.
The restaurant was the Montréal Plaza, ranked No. 7 among the best restaurants in Canada by Canadas100best.com, and the chef was Charles Antoine Crête, a star of Quebec cuisine who had served as Normand Laprise’s right-hand man at the Toqué! restaurant for several years. “If I’d known who he was, I’d probably have been too embarrassed to introduce myself,” explains Favron-Kneeshaw, the co-owner of the Les Jardinosaures organic farm in Godmanchester.
He and his partner, Héloïse Piché-Couturier, produce some 40 varieties of vegetables, and have been delivering to the Montreal Plaza every week for the past two years. It’s a real coup for the couple, who have been farming since 2018. They became certified as organic growers in 2019.
The start-up phase is often turbulent for small vegetable farms because it’s simply not enough to grow good vegetables. New farmers must master marketing, social media networks, and direct-to-consumer sales while forging often intimate links with customers with a single intermediary between the farmer and those eating the farm’s produce.
According to Favron-Kneeshaw, it was Crête’s awareness of the issues facing organic market gardeners that led him to take a chance on the Jardinosaures. “He makes it his duty to support market gardeners,” he explains. “I sometimes ask him what he usually pays for a vegetable,” he says, noting the chef responds by suggesting he charge what is needed to keep producing for the next 20 years.
The farm is an oasis of greenery and biodiversity, with a view of the Adirondack Mountains to the south. A lush garden spreads over two acres. Numerous nesting boxes for birds are installed in the vegetable fields, where flowering shrubs and hedges are planted at regular intervals. In addition to its undeniable aesthetic appeal, this arrangement plays an important role in the fight against the many pests that prey on vegetables. The boxes and vegetation attract birds and beneficial insects that allow the farm to reduce the need for human intervention.
This “integrated” agriculture approach is essential for Favron-Kneeshaw, who, along with Piché-Couturier, prefers to work with the utmost respect for nature. More and more Quebec farms are buying into beneficial insects to tackle crop pests, and biodiversity management practices like those employed at the Jardinosaures farm are now recognized as effective tools for reducing pesticide use by the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ).
The barn is also home to the largest maternity colony of endangered little brown bats in the Montérégie. “We’d like to find funding to keep them, so we can renovate the barn and store our tools. We could give them a space and cohabit together,” says Favron-Kneeshaw, who suggests he could harvest the guano, which is an excellent fertilizing material, to spread on his land.
There is no shortage of projects in the works on the small farm. But considering the couple’s already impressive achievements, coupled with Favron-Kneeshaw’s energy and passion for market gardening and life in general, it is easy to assume the best is yet to come for Les Jardinosaures.