Home sweet homestead

By Gordon Lambie

Samm Tanguay and Jason Lessard say that it was a trip to Iceland in 2016 that led them to want to start a small-scale farm back home in the Eastern Townships. Inspired by the multiple successful and established examples of community-based agriculture they saw on their trip, the couple shifted gears so completely that three weeks later they owned the property that is now their home and business, Les Maraîchers de l’or vert in Sawyerville.
“We bought the farm before we knew what to do with it,” Tanguay said with a laugh, recalling that the real-estate agent they had been working with prior to their trip almost wouldn’t believe the difference in what they were looking for upon their return.
Today the Sawyerville couple are four years into their project of making a diversified small-scale farm out of their 12-acre property on Randboro Road. The Maraîchers de l’or vert farm serves several local farmers’ markets and produces 40 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets on either a weekly or biweekly basis.
Although Tanguay lived on a dairy farm in Inverness until he was 12, he said that farming and food production was not on the radar at all for him until the trip to Iceland showed him what was possible on a small budget and with limited resources. Lessard, meanwhile, has a background in business and was steadily employed at Global Excel Management in Lennoxville, but felt just as inspired by the idea of exploring something new.
“We were tired of relying on an employer to make a living,” Tanguay said, “and we are very project-oriented people. We came back excited to get started.”
Self-described perfectionists, the couple said that even if they jumped right into this big new idea, a lot of planning and research went into making the project a reality.
“We were very inspired by Jean-Martin Fortier,” Tanguay said, referring to the Saint-Armand based “market gardener” and regenerative farming advocate but also saying that their process over the years has been one of reading and talking to friends and neighbours about best practices.
In terms of initial goals, the pair said they were looking for a space of between ten and twenty acres.
“We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on property,” Tanguay said, pointing out that it is possible to rack up a lot of debt trying to get too big too fast.
The farm also adopted a back-to-the-basics approach when it comes to machinery as a similar cost-saving measure. Although the farm does own a tractor now, the preparation, seeding and tending of crops is done exclusively by hand or with hand-operated tools based on heritage designs.
“We were taking a chance,” Lessard said, “but there are a lot of things in farming that seem to be about taking risks.”
The couple started to prep their first garden plot, a 50-foot square, in the fall of 2016, and planted the following spring.
“That first year we were both still working full time,” Tanguay said, recalling that between the 40-hour work week and the early mornings and late nights to get their crops established, that first year was both physically and mentally exhausting.
Working on that limited schedule, the young farmers were only working to serve the Sawyerville farmers’ market, which is located immediately next door, but their aspirations were to do more.
The following year the yield was increased so as to be able to put together 20 CSA baskets while also being present at more markets. Last year they doubled that production, to produce 40 baskets, which Tanguay said is the capacity of what he feels can be accomplished by one person.
Recognizing that time is a limited resource, Tanguay stepped back from full time employment during this expansion, doing only occasional supply teaching and some winter contract work to help fill in the holes in the budget, while Lessard continued to split attention between he farm and his job in Lennoxville. The farm’s 40 basket capacity was maintained in 2020, but because of Covid-19, the year proved to be a test run for what is possible with an extra set of hands around after Lessard got laid off from his job.
“You can do things three to four times faster with another set of hands,” Tanguay said, adding that trying to be present for the home business and another job was always exhausting and very challenging.
Today the Maraîchers de l’or vert is growing food on three quarters of an acre with a plan to fill out the rest of that acre in the next year or so. On top of more than 40 different kinds of vegetables and greens, the farm currently has egg and meat chickens and beehives, as well as a back-field of additional acreage that is currently sown with future plans.
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