Fernand Théorêt: A Whole Life at the Market!
Every single day from March to November, the fruit and vegetable stalls of Ferme Fernand Théorêt offer an ever-changing feast for the eye at Atwater Market. Fernand and his wife, Ginette, are very proud of their colourful array of fresh produce and share a strong bond with the market. The family stand has been there for over 70 years, and Fernand’s entire life – even his love life! – is linked to it.
“I grew up in the countryside, in the fields of Mercier in Montérégie. I started working around the age of five. My brothers, sisters and I used to help our parents in the fields. I’d pull weeds and probably a few plants along the way,” laughs Fernand, now 66.
In summer, the boy would go to the market with his mother. He remembers napping in apple boxes. “I loved the warm, family atmosphere of the market. My mother was very chatty. She sold lots of cabbage to Polish women who told her about the horrors of the war in which they had lost family. They would cry together. That left an indelible mark on me.”
In his early twenties, Fernand and his brother took over from his parents. Between them, they farmed up to 68 hectares of land. “It was a huge job.” Sometime later they decided to work separately.
Today, Fernand farms less than four hectares of land to grow corn, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. But that doesn’t mean he works any less than he used to. “From spring to mid-November, I work 100 hours a week.” By day, he’s out in the fields. At night, he goes to the Marché Central to buy produce to sell alongside his fruit and vegetables. In the morning, he brings the lot to Atwater Market. “Today’s customers want variety. We wouldn’t be able to produce everything ourselves.”
His love of the land and attachment to the market come naturally to him. “I can’t describe this passion with words, it’s something deep down. I think you have to live it to understand it. I love seeing the seeds grow into seven-foot corn stalks, and I’m proud to be able to offer customers all these beautiful vegetables after weeks, months of hard work.”
Love at First Sight at the Market !
Ginette has been running the kiosk at the Atwater Market for some thirty years. Come rain or shine, Fernand’s wife serves her customers with the same enthusiasm. Ginette too has the market firmly stamped on her heart. She’s been working there since she was a teenager. In fact, it was while selling flowers there that she met the man who was to become her husband.
“I used to work at the market for my sister on weekends and in the summer. Back then, the merchants would get together at the market restaurant before starting their day. Everyone talked to each other, it was really friendly. I have very fond memories of it. That’s how I met Fernand.”
“She caught my eye!” says the market gardener. So, he asked her out! They got married once her studies were completed. They now have two daughters, including Karine, who works at the market with her mother, and three granddaughters.
Ginette is at the stand every day, or almost every day. She works 65 hours a week. “It’s like a drug! When I set up my counters in the morning, I say to myself: ‘My goodness, isn’t this beautiful!’ I love the interaction with customers, I love giving them advice. We offer a customized service.” She too grew up on the land. When she was very young, she used to go door-to-door selling strawberries. “My parents kept us busy so that we’d stay on the right path! I’ve always loved selling. The minute I get to the market, my worries melt away and I’m in a good mood.”
Loyal Customers for Generations
Over the years, Fernand and Ginette have seen the market change and their customers evolve. “Years ago, we would serve families with six to ten children. People would come once a week and buy in large quantities,” recalls Fernand. “They’d take five dozen corn on the cob to feed their family for the week. We sold 200 cases of cabbage a day. Today, I don’t even sell ten a week. Needs change, tastes evolve, and since the customer is always right, we just adjust.”
« “Some customers come two or three times a week. They like fresh produce and variety,” says Ginette. “We have several loyal customers I knew as babies. I used to serve their parents! It’s heart-warming to see them come back, year after year.”
The couple will soon take a well-deserved winter break, but there’s no way they’ll be twiddling their thumbs! “There’s always a tractor to paint or repair,” says Fernand.
Even if it’s not time to retire yet, Ginette is thinking about the future: “Our dearest wish is to hand over the business to Karine, our daughter, so that it stays in the family.”
Quick Questions to Fernand Théorêt
The market in three words
Friendly, family-oriented, personalized service.
What motivates you to get up in the morning ?
The sheer passion for my work, the sight of my fields.
What are the must-have products from your stand?
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, tomatoes and maple products.
Text by Sophie Allard, magazine Caribou
Photos by Dominique Viau, BODOÜM photographie
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.
Ce projet a été financé par le ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation dans le cadre du Programme d’appui au développement de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire en région.