The Gleaner
Agriculture

Valley haskap farmer nominated for award

Callan Forrester

Petits Fruits St-Louis is a farm that focuses on an unusual berry, the haskap. Haskaps look like elongated blueberries; they are sweet with a tangy edge, almost like a blueberry/black currant crossover. One of the farm’s owners, Nathalie Lacroix, has recently been nominated for an award for her contributions to regional agriculture.

Lacroix and her husband, André Léger, started this farm by planting 8000 haskap plants in 2012 and 2013. She explains that they make a great team, working hard together every day. After a few years of waiting for a yield – and lots of weeding – Petits Fruits St-Louis started harvesting and selling their products in bulk. Things went well for a while until 2018, when their buyer decided to drastically lower the price. At this point they decided to start selling products around the Valley to expand their customer base. Lacroix says “We didn’t have anything, not a logo, nothing at all! We weren’t ready. We started with five tonnes of haskaps in the freezer and I started being the company representative.”

The decision to plant haskaps took some time. Because of the small size of their land, they knew they had to plant a small fruit. When considering what to plant, they saw haskaps on a list and weren’t sure what they were. After some online research, they found out that they were delicious berries full of antioxidant properties, and they searched for some to try. “We had never even tasted them. In the summer we went to Lac Saint-Jean because we found a producer there. We went to try them, and we really liked them and decided to grow them.” At first, they had planned to only plant haskaps on half of their land, but quickly changed their minds and planted the whole plot.

This past season was successful for Petits Fruits St-Louis, regardless of its challenges. The pandemic didn’t stand in their way too much, as the U-Pick is, of course, outdoors and there is no boutique on-site. The damaging spring frost only minimally affected the berries; Lacroix says, “The haskap flowers are more resistant than blueberry flowers; I know a lot of blueberry farms had issues.” They had a good yield, and, as of this summer, they are certified organic by Ecocert Canada.

 


Natalie Lacroix with her family on their haskap farm in Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague. Lacroix has been shortlisted for the Coup de Cœur des Agricultrices du Québec award. PHOTO Courtesy of Les Petit Fruits St-Louis

 

This year Lacroix has been nominated for the Évènement Coup de Cœur des Agricultrices du Québec award. “Each year they do a gala and each region of Quebec chooses one person who has worked hard or stood out,” she explains. Because of the pandemic, Agriculturices du Quebec has not been able to host an in-person gala for the past couple of years. Now the event is online, and the nominees are being voted on by the public. “It’s a bit bizarre,” says Lacroix. I feel like I’m in an election!”

This award was created to showcase women in agriculture which is a traditionally male-dominated field. “[Women] aren’t always put in the spotlight. The goal of this is really to get their names out there,” says Lacroix, adding that more visibility for women in agriculture is needed. “We always think of the man on the tractor, but not always the woman who’s there too and who works so hard.”

Support from the agri-food community is also important to Lacroix. As a business that sells uncommon produce, the help from other producers was huge. “Lots of entrepreneurial partners who cooked with our products were really generous when we started selling with our haskaps. They shared recipes and tagged us on Facebook, promoted our You-Pick, etc.” She emphasizes that community support is important in all sectors, not just agriculture.

She says that next steps for them include getting a building in which to set up their products, which will help them reach more customers. Currently the products are sold online and at a wide variety of stores in the area. On the website, camerisesst-louis.com, you can also find recipes for how to use their unique berries.

To vote for Nathalie Lacroix for the Quebec-wide Coup de Coeur award, you can go to agricultrices.com/evenementcoupdecoeur.

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