Driving into southern Quebec, off highway 15 towards Sherrington I was debating whether rhubarb was a fruit or a vegetable. After having pushed Renard artisan bistro experiment into the limits of local food, the Nordic winter was a little difficult. We relied mostly on a few preserves, apples and pears. It was easy to abandon olive oil, but fresh fruit?
Down intensely straight rows of lettuce on the dead end rang St-Joseph I was more than excited to begin working with the first fruits of summer. I pulled into the driveway, stepped out and found myself staring in a sort of chaotically organized mixture of gardens, fruit trees, bushes, weeds, post asparagus cloud like beige cotton candy , dog house, farm tools, children's toys, a shed, a goji berry bush? After all those long perfect rows of lettuce this seemed definitely wild, or part of something else. All these 21 arpents I am staring at are part of Les Champs Fruites experiment begun by Valerie Leclair in 2003. We walk through her land as she shows me her cassis, gooseberries, red lake currants, pink champagne currants, ground cherries, Boyne raspberries (juicy soft, the kind you will probably never find in a supermarket), autumn raspberries, toka prunes, mont-royal prunes, Reine Claude prunes, Saskatoon berries, Trappist and Isaac varietals, big late, Juliette and Romeo cherries, blackberries, black raspberries, a few pear varietals, and the camerise a truly boreal tear drop shaped blueberry like fruit that she is testing. I could not help feeling that this compact quiet place was becoming a sort of history of our northern fruits.
Valery's father explains to me that most of the farms in the region had to become larger with a bigger production in order to survive, essentially because of big supermarket's pressure on increased production and lower prices (the frightful modern feudal horn). Farmer's have very few choices, and Valerie's choice is of the micro type kept alive by farmer's markets in cities, the one I would say most sane, honest and sustainable.
She bought two bee hives in 2011 to aid the pollination of her land, and she talked about a sort of asparagus honey which had me immediately thinking about potential dishes....I thought, of course, that is why we have no choice to love our artisans. Playful, intense, chaotic, curious, eternal...a place of real tradition always becoming.