Should Quebec produce strawberries in winter?

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<p class=They are tasty, sweet and they are produced in Quebec. Greenhouse strawberries are increasingly taking their place in markets and supermarkets, even in winter, but some are wondering if this little fruit should be produced here during the cold season.

A strawberry from the Savoura greenhouse in Danville, Estrie.

Strawberries from Quebec found their place alongside those from Mexico and the United States in supermarkets, even in January. The greenhouse growth strategy announced by the Legault government, which aims to double the production of greenhouse fruits and vegetables by 2025, is bearing fruit. Half of the objective has thus been achieved.

The farmer and author of the book Le jardinier-maraîcher, Jean-Martin Fortier , however, has some reservations about how this industry is developing.

Why put resources into producing a fruit that maybe we shouldn't be eating at this time of year? What can you eat frozen? It doesn't make sense, it's a red herring, he claims.

“The problem , it is technology or government money that is invested in projects to produce strawberries in the winter, when it is not necessary. »

— Jean-Martin Fortier, farmer

Jean-Martin Fortier is known for his book “Le jardinier-maraicher .

We must realize that the goal of Quebec's food sovereignty policy is to feed Quebecers. So, you have to make sure that you are meeting a dietary need, a societal objective. We are not in a logic of market and, even less, of export, believes the farmer.

Follower of an agricultural model on a human and ecological scale, Jean-Martin Fortier believes that greenhouse production must follow the seasons.

We have four seasons in Quebec which bring their challenges, but they are also the guide to what we should eat and at what time of the year. This is important if we want to have a food system that is essentially resilient and that is not dependent on globalization, he argues.

Especially in a context of change climate [droughts, floods, storms] and where pandemics and wars are likely to occur in the coming decades, adds Mr. Fortier.

Listen to Karine Mateu's radio report broadcast on the show World time.

It's in the municipality of Danville, in the Eastern Townships, that the company Savoura, well known for its tomatoes from greenhouse, grow strawberries. The adventure started in 2017 and continues.

A few months ago, the company doubled its production and now allocates six hectares to this little fruit, the equivalent of eight soccer fields.

“The advantage of having strawberries here in Quebec is that we pick them when ripe because they don't have to travel, or very, very little. They go to Boucherville, to Longueuil, that's nothing! »

— André Michaud, spokesperson for Savoura

They are therefore sweeter, assures spokesperson André Michaud. Picked by hand, they are then found in supermarkets in the province.

Strawberry greenhouses from the Savoura company in Danville, in the Eastern Townships

Upon entering the greenhouse, we notice that the lighting is different at the far end, for about one hectare, where the light is whiter. Savoura is participating in a research project with the company Sollum, which aims to equip greenhouses with smart LED lighting in order to increase production and reduce energy costs.

It can be modulated, the intensity of the light can vary, everything can be programmed, it's Sollum technology. It's less energy-consuming, but it's more expensive to buy. That's why there are programs, but technology is advancing, explains André Michaud.

Is growing strawberries more energy intensive than growing tomatoes? I don't know. Is that 3% more energy, 3% less? At the end of the day, I don't think there's a big difference, he says, but it definitely takes up more space. Tomatoes would go all the way to the ceiling, but strawberries grow flat. Yes, everything has a cost!

Savoura spokesman André Michaud in the strawberry greenhouses in Danville, Estrie

“If you wonder why we grow strawberries, I answer: why we grow tomatoes , cucumbers, lettuces, peppers? The consumer demands diversity! »

— André Michaud, spokesperson for Savoura

We are producers. If tomorrow we stop producing strawberries, for one reason or another, I can assure you that there will still be some in the supermarkets, but they will come from Mexico, California or Florida, argues the spokesperson.

Rather, the question, he says, is how far producers should go. Strawberries, for me, lettuces, peppers, I don't see a problem. But pineapples, grapefruits, kiwis, we have reached elsewhere, he concludes.

Quebec consumers are very spoiled. We want everything at all times! I think that, collectively, we have to think: is it necessary to have all the products on our shelves at all times? asks the President and CEO of the Association québécoise de la distribution de fruits et legumes, Sophie Perreault, who above all sees the expansion of Quebec greenhouses with a good eye.

It's very positive, and I think it's not over! It's a matter of circumstances. Government investments, private investments and then the pandemic, it gave us the desire to be even more self-sufficient and it made us think about our supply, she believes.

Nevertheless, according to Ms. Perreault, producers could better follow the seasons, even the greenhouse seasons. There are times of the year when it is easier to heat and light a greenhouse. Winter is more difficult.

Sophie Perreault, CEO of the Association québécoise de la distribution de fruits and vegetables

His colleague, the nutritionist and director of strategy and communication for the Association, Mario Lalancette, believes that we must relearn to love certain vegetables from Quebec. The turnip, which is available practically all year round, is still an unloved vegetable, he illustrates. There are other root vegetables. If we learned to cook them again, to appreciate them, it would allow us to eat locally longer in the year.

During the strawberry season, we eat a lot of them, but we can also learn how to preserve them, how to freeze them. It's the same for many other Quebec products. We are talking about fermentation, bleaching, freezing, he suggests.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec, André Lamontagne

Two years after the announcement of its greenhouse growth strategy, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec, André Lamontagne, is maintaining the course on its objective of doubling the areas of greenhouse fruits and vegetables by 2025 to promote food autonomy in Quebec.

The objective is that we are less and less dependent on crops that are grown outside and the greenhouse strategy aims to replace products that come from all over the world. . Well, let us make them at home! he said in an interview on the show L'L'heure du monde.

It ensures that government assistance benefits all types of greenhouses in Quebec.

Among the greenhouses, there are smaller ones which allow growers to extend their season, slightly larger greenhouses which allow production 12 months a year on a local scale, and the largest greenhouses, which can supply products nationwide. But above all, the goal is to support producers so that they have access to a diversity of incomes, explains the minister.

“About 335 greenhouse projects have been accepted and implemented since we launched our strategy. Of this figure, about 240 are greenhouses that have profiles like that of Jean-Martin Fortier. »

— André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec

Already, 50% of the initial objective of doubling the greenhouse cultivation area has been achieved, assures his ministry.

A strawberry from the Savoura greenhouses, in Danville