Exotic vegetables in the Eastern Townships

DUNHAM | A market gardener from the Eastern Townships has succeeded in making the vegetables that usually grow in abundance in the West Indies and Africa thrive on Quebec soil.

“There is a lot of experimentation, reading, research and errors to be able to adapt them to the climate here”, admits from the outset Jean-Philippe Vézina, owner of Jardins Lakou, Dunham.

Amaranth grows well in Quebec soil, like most leafy vegetables.

Photo Nora T. Lamontagne

Amaranth grows well in Quebec soil, like most leafy vegetables.

Behind him stretch 3.5 acres where tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers rub shoulders with more exotic vegetables that fill the weekly baskets of about sixty of its subscribers.

There grows a collection of hot peppers, here juicy orange berries as common as weed in Africa, and further afield, strong-tasting Egyptian spinach plants.

In this time of bountiful harvest, it is easy to forget all the efforts and pitfalls that Jean-Philippe Vézina encountered in getting there.

Nightshade, a small sweet berry, can be made into jam.

Photo Nora T. Lamontagne

Nightshade, a small sweet berry, can be made into jam.

From zero

In 2019, when he decided to rent a piece of land in Dunham and make a career change, the manager of community organizations had no “real” experience in agriculture.

The West Indian cucumber has almost no bitterness.

Photo Nora T. Lamontagne

The West Indian cucumber has almost no bitterness.

The budding market gardener took online courses on starting an agricultural project, greenhouse cultivation and financial management of this type of business … but nothing on how to grow West Indian vegetables under the latitudes of Quebec!

“There is no training for that,” he laughs.

Finding the seeds of these vegetables from international producers, organic on top of that, was another of his main challenges.

“Things got complicated in the customs service with the pandemic. And we can never be sure that we are not being passed on old seeds, ”he explains.

A land of your own

In this second summer of production, he is now considering buying land to carry out his nourishing forest project.

“It is as much for Quebeckers to make culinary discoveries as for people of West Indian and African origin to find flavors that remind them of their country of origin,” explains the Quebec farmer of Haitian origin.

Each basket is also accompanied by a newsletter that contains recipe suggestions for taming less known products.

Adopted by a Quebec family at the age of one and a half, Jean-Philippe Vézina also conceives of Jardins Lakou as a way of reconnecting with his Haitian roots, among other things through gastronomy.

“I felt a strong need to understand my origins as a teenager, and it’s a path that I have kept in my adult life,” says the 42-year-old.

Farmer and black

It is also an opportunity to ensure a presence of diversity in Quebec’s agricultural world, the vast majority of which is white and homogeneous.

He has also happened on a few occasions to be mistaken for a seasonal employee in agricultural equipment shops in the region.

“There are those who have big eyes, surprised that it is a black who arrives, who knows his project and who is [à la tête d’une entreprise agricole] », Illustrates Mr. Vézina.

“But as much in the Haitian community as in the other black communities of Montreal, people are very proud that one of theirs makes the effort to cultivate these products”, he underlines humbly.


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