From the Farm: 02
In Part II of our newest series, free-spirited Chloé chats about the natural evolution of her business, Floramama Ferme Florale, based in the Brome-Missisquoi Region of Quebec. From growing up in Montreal but fantasising about living in the countryside, to relocating to Frelighsburg with her own family then moving to a small farm (just under 1 hectare) in 2010, she has since built up the land by hand, with minimal tillage and tractor-free farming methods, and today counts old friends, her partner and children, and several four-legged companions as invaluable teammates.
Words below by Chloé.
‘The company has transformed from a very small, one-person-driven business to a medium-sized, well-funded, healthy, multibrains, working ecosystem.’
I was born in Montreal and grew up there until the age of 11. I have always wanted to live in the country, even at a young age. The rare trips out of the city with my father to go nowhere in particular but always seeking a river to walk on rocks (as fast as possible!) were some of my favourite things to do at that time. He then moved to the country when I was 10, on an old beautiful centenary farm in Bedford. I freaked out! I was going there all my weekends, still being at school in Montreal. There was a big barn with small hay bales and I would make tunnels in there for hours. (I also used to carry a Ziploc bag full of hay that I would put in my school bag so I could sometimes take a sniff of it discreetly in class. Just to get a fix…!) There were horses on the farm that I would love to watch breathe in the foggy mornings. Cows that I loved to pet on the nose, pigs which I would ride like a cowboy... It was paradise.
Then I grew up, and later set an anchor in Frelighsburg with the father of my three kids. We separated ten years ago and I moved 1 km away; we have wanted to stay close to each other to keep a good quality of life, for everyone. The region here abounds with cool farming projects so it’s also a very nourishing community to live in. We are literally neighbours, my kids only have to cross the forest to go to their father’s. It’s great!
It’s been nine years now that I have been living here on this farm. Six seasons ago, after plowing an acre of hay pasture, I mounted my first two greenhouses on a piece of land that I had badly evaluated… it turned out to be really heavy clay, so I had to dismount the greenhouses and mount them back on another plot that I had scalped with a turf cutter. After mounting the greenhouses again, but much closer to the barn, I began to cultivate without waiting. All this between the months of October 2013 and April 2014. Geez, when I think back I find it totally crazy! Long live the naivety of the beginner (and the energy of youth!).
We are a family-run farm. But the photos of us that are currently on our website — yeah, I have to change those pictures! The kids were babies in those; they have grown so much in the last six years. Roméo is now 16, Alice 14, and Marin 9. Marin is probably the one who’s the most interested in farming, and in nature in general. My two teenagers, well you know, they make their teenager lives so they no longer spend as much time with me in the gardens as I would like to. Stéphane is my partner in life and he’s taking most of our pictures. He’s a big contribution to the success of the company. We don’t always have the same vision or direction and this sometimes does make small sparks. He is also an inexhaustible source of cultural knowledge and a thoughtful DJ, which I particularly appreciate. And Raphaëlle is a great administrator, which I am not! She was born in Montreal when I was 6, and our parents used to hang out together all the time. I would leave her sung messages on the answering machine and rollerblade in the appartement with her in my arms eating a butter stick... But her mother decided to move back to France when she was a year old. She grew up there and I only got to see her back five or six years ago. Turned out that we complete each other quite nicely to run a business; having her by my side has been a huge blessing. The company has transformed from a very small, one-person-driven business to a medium-sized, well-funded, healthy, multi-brains, working ecosystem. I now really do appreciate, recognise, and desire the benefits of other people’s input in the company.
The way of life at Les Jardins de la Grelinette (a micro-farm in St-Armand, Quebec) deeply changes everyone who gets to spend some time there. Maude-Hélène is an incredibly intelligent woman who knows and deeply understands nature and humans. I was, and even now with us being best friends I am still, impressed by her skills in each and every domain. It was there that I got to learn what I think are the best growing techniques, but also a true and clever way of life, which I am glad to have explored more deeply and which I try to integrate into my everyday.
Then I got the chance to win a place at Erin’s (Floret Flowers) first workshop six years ago. It was kind of a relief to see the farm for real. Even more at that time as I was really doing everything alone and kind of liked it, but it showed me that a good team is necessary for a business to evolve in a healthy direction. Also, I had never done a bouquet in my life before getting there (meanwhile, I had set up two greenhouses and was growing hundreds of seedlings to eventually… make bouquets for a living!). So I gladly took their advices.
Saipua is, for me, an entire entity. The lush of nature, the sheeps, the flowers, the music, the colours, the old farm, the writings, the disco ball, the abundant food, the deep thoughts, her sense of humour. It’s a true inspiration for me. In my daily life, I often think of them, of what’s evolving between people, flowers, food, and animals over there, and I think it’s pretty bold!
What I like best in the morning is to have a cup of coffee and walk my short way to the barn to meet everyone for a quick meet-up for the day. Then I leave all of my empty cups on the counter which is less desirable…
We are currently trying to take Floramama more into e-commerce. I feel the 35 years in my body a bit more than before. I no longer want to work in areas of the business that I don’t think are supporting my family’s basic needs. So we are re-assessing our sales channels right now. We will introduce more derivative products like seeds, dried petal confettis, apparels, and so on. But slow-down? No. Make things better, yes. We are also opening a new parcel of land to be able to make fallows.
‘There is not one method better than the other — you simply have to choose which fits best for you and your reality, your farm, your soil.’
What has surprised me most since starting the farm in Frelighsburg? Maybe it’s that I can grow the same things here in Quebec as on the Northwest Coast, except on a shorter schedule. Also, I have realised only lately that it’s unusual to use almost no fossil fuels on a small farm. I have learned and enjoyed a single model of farming, so it’s natural for me to approach farming this way; I prefer to work the brain for coming up with efficient ways of doing things and the muscles to do the job, rather than a tractor (not that it doesn’t involve brain and muscles when you have one!). I do love tractors, and I think there is not one method better than the other — you simply have to choose which fits best for you and your reality, your farm, your soil. For me, I simply think time and space are used in a better way with a tractor-free model.
I think it’s an important consideration when starting a new project — the impact your products will leave behind. Maybe I’m being naive, but I think I don’t have to elaborate much on the whys and hows to grow respectfully. Leonard da Vinci said: “Nature is the source of all true knowledge.” Those are wise words. If you are looking for a solution somewhere other than in nature, you are wrong. I do believe that there should be plenty of small farms feeding their own community. Less big, one-crop farms who feed people a thousand kilometers away. I think more and more people get it. It's a good era for small-scale organic farming here in Quebec. We are fortunate to have a cool-dude-leader-teacher (Jean-Martin Fortier) who takes the cause to a higher level. And it needs to get there. Agriculture is the backbone of the human race I'd say. If our modern way of living and consuming collapses, we will still need to eat. I believe that Quebec has the desire and the lucidity to make small-scale, organic farming a nationwide project where we can be teachers for and with others. We need to emerge into a new reality, a beautiful and conscious way of sharing space on planet earth. Alleluia! (No, maybe don’t put that word... People will think I’m a fanatic which I really am not!)
To those who are dreaming of starting their own small-scale farm, I would say: Start it! Don’t wait. Make errors (not too much!) and learn from them. Read everything you can on your subject and then take action. Go meet people who are doing it (in my opinion also seek for the bests who are doing it). Also, be unique, yourself. Find your own crowd and stay true to yourself.
Favourite way to start the day: A kiss? From anyone in the house : )
Favourite tool of the trade: The wheel hoe. You will have the shoulders of a goddess, and it is also very satisfying and super efficient for its purpose. Flame weeder is not too far behind.
Recently inspired by: Nature inspires me the most. Always.
Favourite local spot: The river in the woods behind the farm! Beat et Betterave in Frelighsburg, the coolest café ever, being not far behind.
Published on: 12 August 2019. Edited by Fields in Fields. All images courtesy of Chloé, photography by Stéphane Cocke. ■ Floramama Ferme Florale offers subscriptions, wedding and event floristry, and farm visits by appointment. Bouquets are also available at select grocery stores and farmers’ markets in the Frelighsburg and Montreal areas. For more, visit: floramama.ca