Ferme des Moissons: Fresh Garlic, the Spice of Life
The couple, who took over from Daniel’s parents in 1994, owns 80 acres of land in Saint-Urbain-Premier, near Mercier, in Montérégie. A dozen acres are devoted to growing several varieties of garlic. They grow beans, beets and an array of fresh herbs on another six acres, while the rest of the land is rented to neighbours who grow other vegetables.
The average Québec farm is a little over 330 acres, which makes Ferme des Moissons a rather small farm, but the owners don’t take umbrage at that. “It’s small, family-owned, and we want to keep it that way,” says Daniel Brais, a friendly guy who believes in continuing the farming tradition started by his grandfather.
Daniel and Judith are the only ones working the farm full time. They can, of course, count on the help of farm workers and family members during peak periods, but the number of field workers never exceeds ten. “Our parents still help out. At 79, my mother is as good as I am on the tractor, it’s quite a sight,” explains Daniel, laughing.
A lot of the work is done by hand on the farm. It’s not just a question of cost, but also of philosophy. “I don’t want to have dozens of employees and have it become impersonal,” says Judith, smiling. “I want to be with my workers, on all fours in the field. I’m not interested in playing the boss. I want to be close to my people and make sure my product is top quality.”
Handpicking is also best suited for garlic, a fragile plant that must be harvested delicately to avoid damaging the head. The Brais family was among the first to grow garlic in Québec. Over time, it became the farm’s specialty and they’ve been growing it for two generations now. “Garlic has always worked well for us and we’re passionate about it. If you have a passion for farming and you want to keep that passion alive, you have to grow things you love,” says Daniel.
The duo grows several cultivars that can be distinguished by the time of planting (spring or autumn), their type (softneck or hardneck), and even their colour (black or pink). Flavor, Messidor, Arno are some of the varieties featured at the Jean Talon Market kiosk that the farm has occupied for decades. “We have customers who’ve been getting their garlic from us since my father’s time. Others come from as far as Québec City or Gatineau to get their supplies!” says Daniel, proudly.
A Question of Balance
Daniel and Judith, both in their fifties, started working together after completing their college education. That was about 30 years ago. Judith oversees the production in the field, while Daniel manages the kiosk and deliveries. The secret to their success as farmers as well as a couple? Balance. “The fact that he takes care of the market and I take care of the field, it’s like we each have our own office,” says Judith.
The duo is constantly in touch, “We talk 1,000 times a day to manage the operations,” laughs Judith. But when the day comes to an end, after long work hours, the tandem moves on. “Over the years, we’ve taken steps to enjoy a more balanced life. For example, we close the kiosk on Mondays. It gives us a little weekend to recharge our batteries and keep the passion alive. Once the workday is over, we have to have a life too,” adds Daniel.
This busy lifestyle didn’t prevent Judith and Daniel from having children, two young adults now in their twenties. The offspring are not interested in taking over the family business for the moment. A prospect that doesn’t overly concern the parents. “They just finished their studies. They won’t take over just now, but they could decide to sometime later,” says Judith. “Whatever they decide is OK with us,” adds her husband. “It’s their choice. In life, it’s important to do what you love most. We’ve told them, if you decide to come back to the farm, we’ll work longer to help you. And if you don’t, we might just retire sooner!”
Quick Questions to Daniel BraisDescribe the market’s vibe in a few words…
A nice friendly atmosphere, it’s like a small village!A product one must get at your kiosk?
Garlic, of course! And the French beans are increasingly popular.What motivates you to get up so early in the morning?
Because I have to! I enjoy setting up a welcoming kiosk before my customers arrive. It’s become my daily routine.
Read all the FAMILY PORTRAITS
Producers, merchants and artisans together make up the Montréal Public Markets’ extended family. For years, often for generations, they’ve been getting up early, experimenting, sometimes starting over, nurturing, harvesting and flourishing! Day after day, they stand proudly behind their stalls as if by their own dining-room table, inviting us to feast. They’re the heart and soul of the markets – their very essence – and the reason we keep coming back. The Family Portrait series aims to pay tribute to all the pillars of our public markets.This project is funded through the Programme Proximité of the ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation, a program implemented under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership according to an agreement between the governments of Canada and Québec.