(Montreal) Despite inflation, the cost of a subscription to a basket of organic vegetables prepared by a family farmer should not increase too much.
“The price increase is moderate, as far as we can see. This is even less than the increase in the cost of living. What our members want is stability and predictability, says Léon Bibeau-Mercier, president of the Cooperative for Ecological Local Agriculture and owner of the Bibeau farm. So the earlier people subscribe, the better it is to plan the season. »
Every year, some 150 market gardeners make more than half a million baskets of organic vegetables for 30,000 families in Quebec and New Brunswick.
Agricultural producers, especially those working on smaller lands, are not immune to inflation, acknowledges Mr. Bibeau-Mercier, but their resilience is enhanced by the support of the community they serve. “This is what allows agriculture to be more cost-resilient because it becomes less dependent on the price of certain inputs,” explains the Sherbrooke producer.
“For prices, we have no choice but to adapt to the market and the reality we encounter, including inflation,” explains Florient Rossignol, founding member of the Coop Au bout du rang, from Saint- Felix-de-Valois in Lanaudière.
On average, the equivalent of some 250 baskets are donated by the young company each week.
The continuous increase in the number of subscribers to the vegetable baskets also makes it possible to spread the production costs over a larger number of customers, who are considered partners. This business relationship, which is called community-supported agriculture, therefore allows producers to share the risks without passing on all the cost increases to their customers.
This is a practice set up at the Jardins de la Terre, in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, in Montérégie, which sells around 200 baskets of vegetables each week as part of its socio-professional integration program.
“It’s a matter of sharing responsibilities,” says CEO Marie-Salima El Kasmi. Inflation is an element of risk, so we share the impacts with customers, but without necessarily following market movements. »
In doing so, the non-profit organization is content to increase the price of its baskets only once a year, before its customers subscribe to the service for the coming summer. “It’s a commitment for the whole season; the price of the basket will not change, whereas at the grocery store, we can see the price of products increase several times during the same year. »
Beyond obtaining fresh and local market garden products, a large part of the subscribers to the services of a family farmer do so to encourage the local economy. “In fact, people buy the baskets for what they contain, but also to support the production of vegetables, it is a service that we tend to forget. It’s a commodity product, but it comes with its own set of challenges, when you compare it to what’s imported or what’s mass-produced and sells for a more competitive price,” says Bibeau-Mercier. .
“The goal of family farmers is to feed a household as completely as possible with vegetables that are in season. Reducing the quantity or variety of vegetables doesn’t make sense from that perspective,” says Bibeau-Mercier.
Despite everything, making a small agricultural production profitable remains difficult. Many over the years have given up due to the low margin that emerges from countless hours of effort.
Other producers have reviewed their business structure. “In the very short term, we have seen farmers turn to a solidarity cooperative or create agro-ecological social utility trusts in order to distribute the workload, the risk differently, and to integrate a greater number of people into the company’s business,” says Bibeau-Mercier.
This is what led to the founding of the Coop au Bout du rang, when the owner of the farm and her three employees became members of a cooperative responsible for managing production. “In co-op, we have the human resources base which is made up of the members,” says Rossignol. If I was on my own, I would have to go get employees to do what the other members do. »
And in an environment of labor shortages, where other employers in other sectors are able to offer more attractive salaries, recruiting agricultural workers is not an easy task. “That’s when we realize that it’s difficult, because our salaries are not very competitive, and few people are ready to break their backs for so little,” adds the cooperant.
Mr. Bibeau-Mercier speaks of a “triple effort to be made”, namely on the one hand, a reorganization of work by agricultural producers, on the other hand, strong and growing support from the community, and finally , an adjustment of government funds dedicated to supporting local agriculture.
“For us, being a farmer is more than just growing vegetables. At the center of our ambitions, there is a bigger goal that drives us; that of contributing to our community and to a social project serving the collective interest,” he explains.