The farmer and the philanthropist

News

Published: 4Feb2020

Finance titan André Desmarais teams up with rock-star farmer to invest in the future of small organic farming

In the first season of Les Fermiers, a hit French-Canadian TV show about vegetable farming in Hemmingford, Quebec, Dany Bouchard [FMT'08], a young trainee, tells his boss and the show’s star, Jean-Martin Fortier [BA’02, Major in Environment], that there won’t be enough turnips to bring to market that week. “We can’t fight the temperature,” Bouchard says. “We have to be patient.”

Later, Fortier demurs. “Our goal this year is to produce half a million dollars’ worth of vegetables. There needs to be pressure to produce.”

Fortier is putting that pressure on for good reason. He needs to teach his trainees how to survive – and thrive – on their own. The 41-year-old knows first-hand that farming can be profitable but that it takes years of practice.

Fortier wasn’t raised on a farm; he grew up in a Montreal suburb. But when he finished his environmental studies degree at McGill University, he and his wife and partner, Maude-Hélène Desroches, crisscrossed North America learning how to grow vegetables. They talked to older farmers, many of whom told them it was too expensive to get into farming, the labour and long hours too gruelling. But determined, they went ahead with it anyway.

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