The Gleaner
Agriculture

Organic apples in the Haut-Saint-Laurent

One of only a very few organic apple orchards in Quebec is located in the Haut-Saint-Laurent region, on Chemin Polica in Franklin.

It should not come as a surprise, since the region boasts one of the largest apple production areas in the province; but Les Vergers Pomibec remains relatively unknown to the public despite a certain commercial success with more than 10,000 bushels produced annually from some 12,000 trees.

The company sells its products almost exclusively through organic grocery chains, has no website or Facebook page, and does not offer U-pick. However, locals can purchase bushels of apples, pears, and other produce at the orchard by appointment. Smaller quantities are also available through local organic market gardeners.

Having celebrated the orchard’s 10th anniversary in 2023, owners Catherine Larochelle and Justin Denis – both trained agronomists – along with their children Laurent, Louis-Charles, and Adèle, are demonstrating that it is possible to produce high-quality apples and other fruit organically.

 

Justin Denis and Catherine Larochelle in their Franklin orchard on Polica Road PHOTO Vergers Pomibec

 

For Denis, the decision to go organic was a logical one for several reasons: “We wanted to make organic apples to protect the environment as well as the health of all those who work in the orchard – as I once suffered from leukemia – and of those who eat our apples.”

Firmly rooted in the family tradition (Denis is a fourth-generation apple grower), the couple has also invested in complementary products to offer their customers greater diversity. These include pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries, and grapes, all of which are certified organic. The latter particularly deserve to be better known, because of their unique, sweet flavour.

A feature of organic orchards is the lower level of production, due to the ban on hormones that force the trees to produce every year. Like most fruit trees, apple trees produce every two years in the wild. Production is therefore negligible every second year in organic orchards. “The maintenance work remains the same,” Denis points out, with a nod to tree pruning and disease protection.

 

Catherine Larochelle and Justin Deniss family at work with a smile PHOTO Vergers Pomibec

 

To counter the effect of alternating production, the couple simply planted the apple trees alternately, half one year, half the next, to avoid going without apples every other year. This strategy ensures consistent production, but not greater production. “We produce about 60 per cent of conventional orchards,” confirms Denis.

Currently, the main challenges for the farm include “marketing our products in the face of competition from imported products, and producing quality organic fruit in the face of climatic challenges,” says Denis. This year’s late frosts and heavy rains have caused their share of problems at Vergers Pomibec as on many farms across the province, but production should still be good this season.

Despite the challenges, good management and the pleasure of working outdoors in a healthy environment seem to be pointing Les Vergers Pomibec towards a promising future.

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