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How to feed more people in a healthful and sustainable way?

Some harvests of Jardins Lakou.
Credit: Sonia Charles
Quelques récoltes des Jardins Lakou.
  • Quelques récoltes des Jardins Lakou.
  • Jean-Philippe Vézina, maraîcher, entrepreneur social et propriétaire des Jardins Lakou.
  • Paniers bio offerts aux Jardins Lakou.
How to feed more people in a healthful and sustainable way?

Jean-Philippe Vézina and Jardins Lakou, Dunham

Eating healthfully without depleting the Earth’s resources: this is the great challenge facing humankind today. With his vegetable farm project, Jean-Philippe Vézina decided to pick up a hoe and become an artisan of ecological transition. Locally and organically grown vegetables from this part of the world as well as from the Caribbean and Africa – that’s the original mission of Jardins Lakou, where okra and malanga go hand in hand with carrots and cabbage.

For the young farmer, sustainable change begins on the plate. He hopes to educate Quebecers on where their food comes from: “Transforming our consumption habits is a necessity given the challenge of climate change. One of my motivations is to practice a more sustainable agriculture, one that respects ecosystems.” For him, it’s possible to rethink our food system by integrating normally imported varieties in our fields, to feed the population healthfully and to restore ecosystems, all at the same time.

The ecological transition underway must nevertheless be adapted to erratic weather and new challenges in market gardening. Jean-Philippe Vézina sees the impact of climate change in the fields: “Older farmers talk to me about it. It’s nothing that’s ever been seen before: 30 degrees in March, heavy rainfall followed by periods of drought, late frosts, a migration of new insect pests… Lack of predictability is something we’ll have to adapt to.”

Beyond adapting to the weather, the ecological transition according to him must also involve a reduction in imports through diversifying vegetable production in Québec and through redefining local supply to include new cultivars: “Products that travel 3,000 kilometers and are picked before they’re ripe bear a heavy environmental burden in terms of carbon footprint, not to mention the loss in freshness and the loss of nutrients.”

Taking care of the Earth and communities

The other component of Jardins Lakou – “yard gardens,” in Creole, a West Indian practice involving cultivation of a small plot of land by a number of families – is to care for communities through raising their awareness about health issues related to diet and about the vital importance of biodiversity through crop cultivation that honors the Earth: “We have to remember it’s not for nothing that nature has made thousands of varieties of species, which other species depend on!” Biodiversity, in effect, is the source of soil fertility, of pollination and of the fight against parasites, according to the United Nations Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Biological diversity strengthens the natural control and regulation functions that help manage pests, weeds and plant disease. At Jardins Lakou, cultivation takes place based on bio-intensive production: disturb the microorganisms present in the soil as little as possible by working on small cultivable areas, very tight plantings, with as little plowing as possible. “We’re trying to conserve, even improve our soil quality. We limit our equipment needs and we use natural fertilizers, compost, anti-insect netting and companion planting to avoid harmful insecticides.”

Respecting the cycle of nature

By distributing his organic baskets, he’s also looking to educate people about the seasonal nature of products, about respect for nature’s cycle and about the impact of our choices, here in Québec, “where we often want everything, all the time and right away. There’s a cost for eating strawberries in January. An environmental cost, with transport and water; a health cost, with genetic modifications; and a cost at the ethical level, with the exploitation of certain workers.”

In order to participate in the preservation of biodiversity, he works with the organization SeedChange, which is concerned with safeguarding heirloom seeds. “Every vegetable begins with a seed! But it’s a challenge finding some of them, which have to be imported.” The stranglehold of the big industrial seed companies, the patent holders, makes production autonomy difficult. Which is why, he concludes, encouraging small and medium farms in particular in Québec and buying what grows here as much as possible is one more step in ecological transition.

Montréal Space for Life and Université de Montréal invite you to ask yourself how you can eat healthfully without depleting the planet’s resources in the context of climate change: learn more thanks to Transition Pathways and its citizen workshops.

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